Not All Feedback is Created Equal

I've read all the Save The Cat books. Can I critique your manuscript?
I’ve read all the Save The Cat books. Can I critique your manuscript?

Last week I blogged about the difference between critique partners and cheerleaders (answer these 5 questions to find out which is which). In short, cheerleaders are friends or family members who cheer us on and love our writing no matter how bad it is. Cherish their enthusiasm, but never rely on them for helpful feedback. Get a critique partner for that.

Once you find a proper crit partner, you’re golden, right? Well, maybe. Thing is, not all feedback is equal. Today I will answer the age-old question…

What is good feedback?

The most common advice for giving feedback is to sandwich critiques between compliments. But this in no way guarantees quality critique. How to tell a writer what is not working in the story is more important.

Subjective vs Objective Feedback

All feedback is a little subjective, but the best tries to be as objective as possible. The way to do this is to frame the feedback through the writing craft lens. Let’s study some examples:

 

A B
This section is boring. This section lacks conflict.
I don’t care what happens to the hero. I don’t know the hero’s goal, so it’s hard to root for him. OR The stakes aren’t high enough for me to care whether the hero succeeds or fails.
I don’t like the hero. The hero is too one-dimensional to relate to. Even unpleasant anti-heroes need some positive qualities to make them well-rounded and interesting.
I don’t believe the hero would do that. The hero’s actions at this plot point don’t match the character you’ve set up. Either revise the set up or reveal a reason for the uncharacteristic behavior.
The ending fell flat. At the end of this journey, the hero is the same person he was when he started, making the story feel pointless and unearned.

 

Column A is subjective feedback. It may be totally valid, but it causes two problems. First, it’s an opinion that is easy for the writer to ignore, and second, it doesn’t help the writer improve the story.

Column B, on the other hand, is more objective and uses the critiquer’s knowledge of writing craft to define the problem. This has two advantages. First, the feedback sounds less like a personal attack because it’s not phrased as an opinion but rather as an observation of writing craft. Second, it helps the writer zero in on the actual problem. “Boring” is a vague and personal opinion, but “lack of conflict” is a problem with a solution – add conflict!

People who can give you this kind of feedback are invaluable. If you are just starting out, it might be hard to find this type of critique partner because they tend to be experienced writers who have studied craft for many years. If you don’t know any experienced writers, it might be worth hiring a professional story editor to get feedback on your manuscript.

Otherwise, read lots of writing craft books and encourage your writer friends and critique partners to do the same, then practice critiquing each other’s stories. Familiarity with story structure, writing lingo, and general craft will help you give and receive better feedback.

For more on critique partners and feedback, check out these posts:

Cheerleaders vs Critique Partners

Screenwriter Tips for Novelists: How to Handle Feedback

Plenty of Feedback: A Writer’s Guide to Finding a Critique Partner Match

In Favor of Writing Groups

Writing Groups: On the Other Hand…

Men as Crit Partners: The Male POV

 

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Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a cartoon screenwriter, YA novelist, small town fugitive, and late-blooming gymnast. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

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