Imagine as a writer that your friend gives you their manuscript and you’re expected to offer feedback, i.e. to criticise it. For many of you, you don’t have to imagine this cause it’s already happened. You don’t want to hurt their feelings but you also have a duty to help improve their work. Now, how to go about writing a critique letter without totally demolishing the moral of the author? Let's be honest, any kind of criticisms you give will hurt, even just a little bit. The best thing you can do is lessen the impact and here’s how.
The very first thing your critique letter should have is a summary of the manuscript. A general summary should suffice. Why? As the person who wrote it shouldn’t they know what it’s about? Not only does a summary show that you’ve read their manuscript, but what you understood and took away from the author’s story. From your summary alone, the author can pinpoint some of their strongest scenes and determine if the story they want to get across is actually being conveyed.
The next aspect to a great critique letter is to stay on the positive side. When I was in workshop, I found that writing what was working for the story was not only a huge moral booster but it showed the author what elements of their writing were strongest. Even if the whole manuscript is terrible, try try and try to find something positive in it. I promise that it will help cushion the blow for when you’re actually critiquing their manuscript.
Now, it’s time for the hard part- the criticisms. When I say criticisms, I mean constructive criticisms. Criticisms and constructive criticism are very different; one will make the author cry, the other grateful. A criticism is when someone points out a flaw and offers no solutions. Criticisms such as these feel like an attack on the author and their manuscript. Often times, the author will become offended or hurt and will stop listening. So it’s imperative that your criticisms are constructive. Constructive criticism means you note something that can be improved and how to improve it. By offering feedback and possible solutions, it feels less like an attack on the author and becomes more about how to improve their work. A good rule of thumb is to treat their manuscript in the same way you hope they will treat yours.
If you follow these steps, you’ll find that giving criticisms doesn’t have to be such a terrifying task. In fact, you may even embrace giving and receiving feedback. The trick is staying positive and constructive.
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