How to Give Feedback

Last week I talked about When to Give Feedback, this week let’s talk about how.

Most writers, at some point, will find themselves in a quid pro quo situation with feedback. Critique groups usually expect you to give feedback in order to get it. And writer friends may ask for a return favor after they’ve read your work.

Critiquing can be hugely beneficial. Obviously, the person receiving the feedback has the opportunity to improve their work, and the person critiquing gets to learn from analyzing someone else’s.

However, not all feedback is equal. It ranges from constructive to pointless. Some can be damaging even when well-meaning. Not everyone knows how to give good writing feedback especially those who haven’t received it before.

So, how do we provide feedback that is useful, uplifting, and educational?

Using what has worked for me in the past, below are my suggestions. Keep in mind, you can combine these together. Also, most of these are for developmental level critiques, however, some will apply to other stages as well.

Be nice

This is a no-brainer. It’s scary to share our work with someone else. We secretly hope it’s awesome, but at the same time fear it’s the worst thing ever written. Harsh criticism may lead us to trash the whole project.

  • Start off with praise. If possible, be specific. This not only builds them up, but helps them know their strengths so they can do more of it.
  • Make it clear that all of your feedback is your opinion, someone else may read it entirely differently.
  • Focus on what they need you to focus on.
  • Be constructive. You’re goal is to point out areas that did and didn’t work for you. This gives the writer the opportunity to figure out how to improve.

Phrase feedback as questions

Phrasing feedback as questions can be extremely powerful. One, it’s a softer way to point out areas of weakness which makes it easier to engage and absorb. Two, the question can be a thought starter. It may apply to other areas and maybe even the manuscript as a whole.

Examples:

  • What is the character’s motivation here?
  • How old is this character? Would someone that age do this?
  • Where are they? What year is it?
  • Why didn’t they just go to the police?
  • What is the goal? What is the story problem?

Tell how it made you feel

Making it about your reaction to their work makes it less about what they did wrong and more about your engagement. Because in the end, it all comes down to engaging the reader.

  • I had a hard time getting into the story. I didn’t feel engaged until about the second page.
  • This didn’t feel connected to the plot.
  • The main goal didn’t feel realistic.
  • This felt out of character.
  • The side character felt one deminisonal.
  • I wish there was more in this one section. It was really engaging.

Point out areas of confusion and inconsistancy

Even though we’re trying to be nice and soften the blow, if a critique doesn’t point out areas of improvement it doesn’t help the writer improve. This is true of grammar and stylistic choices too.

  • I don’t understand why this happened.
  • I got lost in this section because there was so much going on – too much description.
  • The main character is sometimes referred to Dave and other times Mr. Dave. It feels inconsistant.
  • It’s fall in the begining, but then seems to be summer.
  • The magic didn’t start until halfway through the story and there was no setup. It felt like the first half was a different type of story.

Don’t fix it for them

This may apply differently to a professional editor, but when you’re a beta reader giving feedback, don’t fix the problem for the writer. Remember this is their work, not yours. Don’t give suggestions based on how you would have written it. By this, I mean don’t say things like the following:

  • Your character should be a car salesman instead of a phone salesman.
  • Wouldn’t it be cool if you added a scene where your character went to the beach?
  • For emotional impact, you should kill off this character.
  • I like brunettes, you should change this person’s hair color. It would match their personality better.

What else do you think should be added to the list? What type of feedback do you prefer?

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