The feedback you give another person can have a huge impact on not only their piece of work, but also on them. No pressure. Giving feedback isn’t easy, though. If you want to truly help the person you’re giving feedback to, there are certain things you should take into account. Some of these are listed below.
1. Be objective
One of the hardest things about giving feedback is being objective. It doesn’t matter how much you do — or don’t — like the person who’s work you’re critiquing, you should be examining the work and only the work. The feedback you give should always be objective.
2. Check the grammar and punctuation
Some writers don’t feel that grammar is important: that’s what editors are for.
You can’t break the rules until you know what they are.
Not only that, but it will be a lot cheaper to hire a professional editor/proofreader if the grammatical issues in it are already fixed.
Aaaaand, to top it off, how you punctuate something can make a tremendous difference to how it’s interpreted. One of the best examples is a classic:
A woman without her man is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
The words are the same. Yet the meanings are entirely changed. One implies that a woman cannot live without a man, whilst the other implies that men cannot live without women.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why grammar and punctuation is so important.
If you want to find out more about grammar and why it’s so important, check out Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.
3. Are there any plot holes?
Plot holes aren’t always obvious, but once you notice them, they stare you in the face like the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk, and it can ruin even your favourite of stories/films/TV shows.
The plot should be consistent. Even minor plot holes can make a major difference.
4. Is it too wordy?
Mark Twain once said we should:
Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
I think this can apply to several other words too including ‘just’ and ‘actually’. Those words seldom serve a purpose in writing.
Being overly wordy is a prime example of something people do, thinking it makes them sound more intelligent/thoughtful. It doesn’t: it makes you sound stuck up, or like a George R.R. Martin imitator.
Your writing style should be your own, and you should try to make it as simple as possible. Like with food, a simple recipe done well is better than a complicated one done poorly.
5. Cliches are not your friend
Especially in poetry.
Cliches will stick out like a sore thumb (ahem) if you’re writing a beautiful, eloquent piece. There are so many ways around them that I would only use them when you feel that it is completely necessary, a character trait, or used ironically.
6. Neither is passive voice
Passive voice is one of those things you don’t notice until it’s pointed out to you, and once it is, you find it everywhere. For example:
Footsteps could be heard from outside.
This is passive voice. In this example there is no subject, which means we don’t know who can hear the footsteps.
She heard footsteps outside.
This is active voice. Active voice is much more immediate. The difference between passive and active voice can make a huge difference in screenwriting. Once you know the difference between passive and active voices, you’ll start to notice it everywhere. Passive voice can work, but it should be used carefully.
7. Are the characters consistent?
What are the characters like?
Are they consistent?
Do they change their personality every few pages?
For characters to be believable, they must be realistic.
People are full of contradictions, but they are believable ones.
For example, someone that’s unsure of their affections for another person may one minute flirt with them, then the next push them away. This is a believable character trait. If they’re sure of their feelings but still push them away without a good reason, it’s not believable.
8. Do the characters go on a journey?
Your character’s (or characters’) arc is a vital part of the story. Their change could be self-imposed (modernist) or it could be thrust upon them (traditionalist). Which you choose is up to you, and will depend on the kind of story that you’re writing. What you do need to remember is that for the reader to stay hooked, your character needs to change and grow as the story happens.
The moments where we are truly challenged are the ones that shape us and show who we truly are. Your characters should be no different.
9. Does the dialogue reflect natural speech?
Dialogue is hard. It should be used wisely, else it risks being misused. Each character should have a unique voice that assists the reader in seeing the character in front of them as they read. Hagrid from Harry Potter is one of my favourite examples of this: the way that he speaks is completely unique to him in the Harry Potter universe, and tells the reader a lot about his attitudes, upbringing and background without him going into depth about it.
There are some things that we say and do when we speak that should still be avoided in writing. This includes fillers — we often pause or say ‘um’ when we’re thinking, but this breaks up the prose and makes it awkward to read. Cliches and passive voice also should be avoided. All three of these can be used as character traits, but be careful when doing this. If done well, it can be effective. If done poorly, it will ruin you character and possibly your piece entirely.
10. Check the facts
Even if they’re writing a fictional piece, if it’s based in reality — for instance, during World War II — it’s still important to make sure the facts are correct. There will always be someone happy to point out to that the facts are wrong, so think about this when you’re giving feedback. Don’t get bogged down by facts, but ensure that they’ve done their research before writing. It will come across if they haven’t.
11. Be in depth
Don’t be one of those people that says ‘this doesn’t work’ and don’t say why. That’s not helpful. Explain the comment(s) that you give people in as much detail as you can. If you’d find your comments confusing, or would ask ‘Why?’ if someone gave it to you, then you’re not going into enough detail.
12. Be nice!
I know this sounds obvious, but when you really get into giving feedback and you really hate something, it can be easy to forget.
It’s important to be objective, but you should always be mindful of other people’s feelings. Not to the point where you sugar coat things, but to the point where you’re honest with them.
Saying ‘This is crap’ instead of ‘This isn’t my thing’ or ‘I’m not sure this works’ is completely unhelpful.
If you don’t like something/think it doesn’t work, give as many reasons as you can as to why. Doing so is more likely to convince them to your way of thinking, and more helpful to the writer, too.
The Short of it
The feedback you give may not be important to you, but it’s hugely important to the person you give feedback to. The suggestions you make could cause minor changes, or it could cause the writer to make huge changes. Think about this before, during, and after you’ve given out your feedback.
How do you approach giving feedback? What do you find the most useful things that people comment on when discussing your work? Let me know in the comments below, or continue the discussion on Facebook or Twitter.
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