Giving good feedback for bad writing

I enjoy reading the numerous questions via Yahoo Answers on the subject of books and writing. I wish the site offered areas dedicated to just writing, or at the very least, move all the Twilight fans to their own section, but instead, the questions on books, authors, and writing all get meshed into a long line of questions for all sorts of readers and writers.

I offer what I can in feedback for the writers offering a piece of their work for feedback. Unfortunately, too often I see other answers insisting their work is great, that they should get it published, and to finish the work. I say unfortunate because I can see the glaring mistakes of not just spelling and grammar, but sentence structure and primarily the complete lack of conflict to their story.

Almost immediately you realize the writing is from a teenager dreaming of becoming the next Stephanie Myers or JK Rowling. Giving a thumbs up to what they offer now does a huge disservice to a writer, when you’re given an opportunity to help them improve towards their goal.

I’m not brutal. I don’t bring out the red pen to slash their dreams into a messy puddle. I most certainly do not tell them they are terrible writers. Instead, I offer constructive criticism to help them understand what makes a story and how they adjust their style to accommodate that.

Whenever giving feedback on a piece of writing, consider the following:

Characters– Can you see them clearly in your head? Do they seem real to you? Are their personalities illustrated through manner and description? Are they well rounded, having both flaws and goals to achieve?

Conflict– Every story must have a conflict. Is the conflict foreshadowed or revealed in the piece of writing? Can you guess, already, what the character must do in order to resolve the conflict?

Style of writing- Does the author have a unique Voice to their writing, such as colorful, dry, concise, or uses metaphor? Are they clear without being boring? Is the writing too heavy with descriptive words? Should there be more, or less, of a style?

Grammar and punctuation- I’m surprised how often I see glaring mistakes in writing, even my own, that writers tend to overlook. Don’t hold back when critiquing writing that shows many mistakes. A good writer needs to understand to capitalize, use periods, spell correctly, and form proper sentences, otherwise its too difficult to read.

Do not be cruel, but also don’t hold back to give praise and constructive criticism. Remember, your critique can provide valuable tips to the writer to improve and thereby achieve their goals.


3 Replies to “Giving good feedback for bad writing”

  1. Having been a recipient of said criticism, I have to agree with what has been said here. I’m a very green, newby writer and my first work, which started out as a short story, had some good things going for it, but I KNEW there were some things wrong with it. I couldn’t see those things for myself, so I asked others to read it and tell me what they thought.

    The best critique I received was the very hardest to read. I cried the whole way through it, but he was absolutely right. He said EVERYTHING I had been trying to figure out! If he hadn’t have had the courage to be gently honest, I would still be floundering around trying to fix something I couldn’t see!

    Please understand, the reason why I cried so hard wasn’t because he had been so cruel, on the contrary. It was because I didn’t know how to fix the things he had said. After getting all the tears out, however, I started coming up with ideas and methods for solving the problems, and you know what? I DID solve a lot of the problems.

    I’m still working on the story, but it’s become a much richer and more enjoyable piece of work and there’s still more to come. And going through that process gave me a tremendous amount of joy in the end. It was worth every tear!

    In contrast, I had a friend who read my story, and said rather loosely that it was good, but I could tell by the look on her face that there was something wrong with it. She didn’t have the courage to tell me what it was so consequently I can’t look at the problem she found.

    In summation, BE A TRUE FRIEND and find a way to tell the writer, in a gentle but concise way, what you felt might be wrong with the work. You’ll be doing them a HUGE favor!!


  2. Such a good subject for a post. I’ve been critiquing novels professionally for about seven years now. Thankfully the majority of my clients tell me how grateful they are for what I say, although they may be a little shocked when they first read my report! Thorough, honest criticism can seem very harsh and unappreciative of the immense amount of effort the writer has gone to. The key is not to take it as a personal criticism, or a criticism of your deepest feelings or secrets. It is an evaluation of the novel, not of you. And when you’re giving criticism, it helps if you make that clear!


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