When we critique, we are often faced with a dilemma. We need to provide the person with honest feedback, but it has to be done in such a way that the author does not feel threatened as a person and is able to stay in a mind space that can accept the critique. In other words we need to provide honesty with manners.
This can be a real dilemma for parents as well. You want to teach your children to be honest and sincere, yet at the same time, you don’t want them to hurt other people with unkindness. Children have to learn the delicate balancing act between polite behavior and insincerity.

As critiquers, we walk that tightrope as well. Although it’s certainly nicer to tell the person with the struggling manuscript that everything is fine, it’s not doing the author any good. You need to deliver the bad news (the plot is struggling, the characters are stereotypes, the voice is off putting) no matter how painful. The key is to do this in such a way that you don’t inadvertently hurt the author in the process.

Here are a few things to try:

  •  Find some good stuff – there’s always some there. You may have to dig, but no manuscript is irredeemable.
  • Avoid extreme language – words like hate, detest, unbearable
  • Use qualifiers
  • Remember that you are only offering the author suggestions. Word your ideas as suggestions instead of commands.
    Ex. “Perhaps you might want to consider” instead of “You need to”

There’s no reason to sugar coat a manuscript’s problems, but there’s also no need to be rude. Keeping these tips in mind, there’s no reason why someone can’t be a thoughtful critiquer.

And to get my critique checklist so you never forget what to look for when reading a manuscript, like my Facebook page and download a free copy. You can also get a free copy of the Manuscript Submissions Workbook at the same time.

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
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