Giving & Receiving Constructive Criticism

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criticismOne of the greatest things a writer can get from someone is legitimate constructive criticism. It can help the author to grow and see their work in a different light. It can help them to be aware of things like passive voice and how to better create a sensation for the reader that brings them into the story rather than just having them watch from the outside.

I’ve got some great fellow writers who give very good feedback, and I’ve got some others who mean well but don’t really know how to give (nor receive) criticism.  A writer needs to learn that criticism isn’t meant to bring you down but rather bring your craft to a higher level. It’s not easy to learn how not to take it personally, but if you’re not open to hearing what others have to say, then you’re probably not really looking to improve your writing.

When you belong to a crit group, go expecting to maybe have your ego bruised a bit but know that it will be helpful in the long run. Go knowing others are looking for real feedback that consists of more than “I liked it.” If you really have nothing to say, be honest and say whether you enjoyed the work or not (it’s okay if it’s not your type of story) and tell them you don’t have anything constructive to add. Don’t nitpick just for the sake of having something to say. It’s not constructive to tell them you don’t think a girl from Iowa would have rainbow colored hair or that you would never say what their character said.

I’m going to share with you all the feedback I received from round 1 of NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge. I appreciate that they cover the good and the not so good. For what it’s worth, I think all their constructive criticism is dead on and should I use the piece elsewhere I will look to improve upon those points to make the story that much better. Also, I completely agree with their comment on the title. I hated it but nothing else appropriate came to mind in the time period!

”The Fear Within” by MaryBeth Mulhall –

WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – ……………The opening is fantastic — it’s a grabber, and the reader is thrown into such a conflict he wants to go forward; the mechanics, as far as sentence structure and grammar, are solid, and the narrative flow is smooth. There is also excellent use of syntax (sentences longer and shorter) as a tool to ratchet the tension (for example, “No. Such. Luck.”)…………………………………………This story is great. Lively, funny, original voice, vivid scenes, memorable characters, kickass last line. A+……………….………………………

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – ……………What’s missing here is the reason for the incident — this character is getting a comeuppance of sorts (according to the synopsis), but for what? Being a scumsucker? Relishing the fact that he’s alone and miserable so he wants others to be too?That would be an interesting thing to consider: he loves watching divorces, and show us his motivation for that — and now something dark has come to claim him as punishment.//It’s not made clear up front what he does for a living; the reader won’t have the benefit of the competition parameters.//”an unpleasant smell” — rather than a general that the reader has to contemplate, combine two familiar smells to create an unfamiliar one. For example, “rotten eggs and cherry cough syrup.” Getting the reader to “smell” what you’re imagining isn’t that difficult to do, and it makes all the difference in leaving a strong impression.//”A movement beckoned me from the corner of the office…” although this is active voice, it’s written in a descriptive manner, using longer sentences, so the impact is lost. Instead of the reader feeling tension, he just “watches” what’s there without any emotional connection — this is compounded by the fact that the character isn’t reacting; no fear, no surprise………………………….………………The title isn’t as clever or as fun as the story itself; find a new one. You should be clearer about the main character’s gender earlier on—there’s a noir-ish tone to the narrative that had me picturing a man. A couple of awkward sentence constructions: (There’s an unclear antecedent in this line: “Sharp, manicured nails dug into my palms in the hopes that pain would snap me out of my delusions.”) These are minor quibbles, though. Great story…………………………………….

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