Before I joined an online critique site, I had a few friends that I would pass stories to and they’d do the same for me. The rule—or at least what I thought—was to not spare the rod. Meaning, give it to them straight. I know I wanted mine that way. It’s a fine line between brutal honesty and constructive criticism. Perhaps I’m a little more of the former. However, I have the best intentions. Just because I have several publications under my belt doesn’t mean I know everything. Critiquing scares the shit out of me as much as it does the person tossing it my way. Sometimes I think I’m being overly rude in my methods. Besides, maybe they’ll tear me a new one in return. It’s a huge sigh of relief when I’ve helped someone out.
For the record, I always critique a piece as I go. I don’t read through it first and make several passes for various stages. I am a reader first and foremost and that’s what I look for beyond obvious spelling errors. I take my time with one pass through. How does flow? Do the characters make sense? Is the accent spelled out in dialogue annoying as fuck? Oh and Grammar? Please don’t ask. I’m not an expert and you can figure that out on your own. This isn’t to say my technique is gospel. Find what works for you and go with it.
My methods haven’t always garnered a ‘thank you’ or a return on investment (AKA a quid pro quo critique). I’ve been told, after giving a critique, that “you’re not my intended audience” or “you’re missing the point of the story.” It begs to question, who is the intended audience? I read a variety of authors and genres so that first one always baffled me. The second part? If I’m missing the point, am I the only straw in the hay pile that will?
On the flip side, I had a friend of mine ask for one of my horror pieces to critique for something outside her comfort zone. Someone had suggested to her to take stab (tee-hee) at something outside of her normal genre. I’m a big fan of encouraging this. Why? Because good writing is good writing. Genre is just the flare inside. The story still has to make sense, be well-rounded, and hook the reader. There’s a big difference between “I’m not a fan of this genre but it’s well written” and “I have no idea what’s going on in this story.”
So, remember, there’s a lot of cow pies to avoid out there but if you step in one, do it with aplomb. A publisher and editor, if accepted for publication, aren’t going to pull punches. Suck it up, Buttercup.