Thursday, June 6, 2013

How to give negative feedback

Giving negative feedback is never fun, but sometimes it's an obligation. Being an aspiring writer, I feel that it is part of my duty to be honest and constructive of others' work. Especially in an environment developed for giving/receiving critiques. No one learns from an empty "That was so great! A few typos, but I loved it!" I'm not saying never give people compliments, but if you really have no suggestions of how to make the piece any better, then tell them EXACTLY what you loved about it instead. This way the author knows what it is they're doing right.

Again, it is far from pleasant to give someone negative feedback, but there are ways to make it a little easier.

1. The age-old compliment sandwich. This is my favorite, my GO-TO. I love me a good ol' compliment sandwich. I'll tell the author what I really liked about what they did (maybe they have amazing description, vivid imagery, they really put me in the scene). Then I give them a little constructive criticism (like the fact that the character wasn't developed quite enough, or that the story doesn't have a defined point in the first chapter). What comes next? That's right. Another compliment (like the intriguing hook they have at the end of the first chapter).

I'd like to take a moment here to talk about the term "compliment sandwich." If it were, in fact, a sandwich, shouldn't it go criticism-compliment-criticism? A sandwich with bread-cheese-bread isn't called a bread sandwich...just sayin'. There's a little constructive criticism for whoever came up with that term.

2. Be helpful (but not TOO helpful). Don't read the piece and send it back with something vague like "I just didn't like it" or "It wasn't interesting" or "I don't really like any of the characters." No. This doesn't help anyone, and honestly, it's a waste of everyone's time. You went through the effort of reading it, put in that little bit of extra effort to pinpoint what exactly didn't feel right to you. What exactly didn't you like about the character, was she a snob, did she treat others with disrespect, did she treat herself with disrespect? Did the story have an arc structure or was it too linear? Be specific, but don't try and tell them exactly what to change about it.

Readers will almost always know what's wrong with a piece of writing, but they will rarely know the best way to fix it. Also, how would you feel if you handed your manuscript to someone and they gave it back with a pile of notes like "Jessica is too ambitious, she really needs to just quit her job and stay at home with the kids, that way Scott can focus on his job and finally get that promotion" Bleh. Just don't do it (Trademark. Dibs! Nike, back off.)

But at the end of the day, we're all creators. No one could have possibly created exactly what you yourself have created. Feedback is great, it's typically free and you can choose whether to use it or not. So be generous with the feedback and hope others do the same! :)

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