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-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Article, A Good Judge

Iíve been giving much thought to the skills and attitudes that contribute to a successful critique. Iíve received feedback myself from a number of contests, and I am very comfortable in and grateful for my critique group, so I feel that I have some useful thoughts to share.

Critiquing is a lot like judging.

They have a common goal. You want to assist another writer through your insights and suggestions. You want to help another writer improve her writing skills and her story. Two heads are better than one. I believe we can all benefit from this, because it is difficult to step back and take a dispassionate look at our own work. We are too close to it, and often become deeply emotionally involved with the characters we have created and the words we have selected.

They have a common pitfall. You must take into consideration another personís feelings, and be aware of how you present your constructive criticism.

Whether youíre a contest judge or a critique partner, here are some things to keep in mind:

--> You have to understand what is style and what is a mistake. Beware of trying to squeeze another writer into your form. Among the most useless feedback I have gotten so far from any contest judge was oneís attempt to rewrite my entry in her style.

--> Make sure you are correct when pointing out historical errors. You need to have more than a reference that bolsters your opinion; you need to know the field well. Most Victorian analyses of medieval armor are now scorned as fantasy, although they represented the finest scholarship of their day.

--> Remember to find something positive to say. A spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down. There are few writers who do nothing right, and you want to encourage them to attack their problem areas in a constructive frame of mind.

--> Positive feedback is nice, but negative feedback is required to improve and polish. A successful critique takes two Ė once the comments have been made, the writer must consider each suggestion and implement the ones that improve the story and its telling. This is one reason that itís useful to enter multiple contests or work with several critique partners: if one person mentions something, consider changing it; if everyone mentions something, do change it!

--> Remember that the writer may not be willing or able to accept constructive criticism. If you donít get enthusiastic thanks for your effort, remember that not everyone is looking for honest feedback. The writer may have thought her story was editor-ready!

A good judge is a good critiquer.

This article first appeared in the November 1995 issue of Romantic Penns, the newsletter of the Valley Forge Romance Writers

Copyright 2004 Liddy Midnight

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