Writing: Giving Feedback or "Critiques" (Part 2)(See here for Part 1.)
So let's continue going through Ende's principles and what they mean for us as critics or readers who give feedback.
A reminder of what Ende's principles entailed:
Feedback should be:1) Well-timed and expected.
2) Teacher and trainee working as allies with common goals.
3) Based on first-hand data.
4) Regulated in quantity and limited to remediable behaviours.
5) Phrased in descriptive non-evaluative language.
6) About specific performances, not generalisations.
7) Clearly labelled 'subjective' as appropriate.
8) On decisions/actions versus assumed intentions/interpretations.
As mentioned earlier, feedback should be non-evaluative and objective. Additionally, because you're a reader as well as a critic, in my opinion, you should also be justified to give your opinion (i.e. subjective feedback) on the piece of work. However, you need to state clearly where you are stating your own opinion as opposed to objective feedback.
An infamous way of starting a story is with a dream sequence. Now, I'm sure we've all read a book where it started with one and was used effectively, adding something wonderful to the book. However, most books, particularly those written by amateurs and writers-in-training, do not use that trope well. Is the book necessarily 'bad' because it had a dream sequence? Not necessarily. If the writer is good enough, they can pull it off.
Now, just because a book started with a dream sequence and you don't think they pulled it off well, you should say that -- you didn't think it was done very well, as opposed to it wasn't done very well. Because such a use may actually appeal to some readers, you shouldn't label your opinion as facts.
If there is a book that makes your eyes twitch a bit more than you would like and you've used up your arsenal of "I think this isn't working..." and "I don't really like that part", then below are some good stock phrases for you to use and makes the criticism easier to swallow.
- Some people may find the way you've portrayed Lily as a bit too Mary-Sue-like. (note *some* people may feel that way. Not necessarily you, the critic, but some people! This is phrased so it's not as intense as the "I'm telling you this, therefore I am correct!" line that some critics like to apply.)
- Personally, I wouldn't phrase the second sentence the way you have. It may be better if you wrote it like this... (Notice it *may* be better, so you're leaving the power to change up to the writer. They don't necessarily have to take your suggestion on-board -- as with all critiques! -- but they'll know it could help them if they do.)
- You may find if you left the contents of paragraph two until later in the book, your readers will be more interested as there is an air of mystery maintained. (Again, less personal in how it's presented.)
- Consider changing the way you're describing the city as you're stopping the flow and just describing the aesthetics -- you may want to pepper the description around instead. (Again, empowering the writer to apply the changes, giving them the choice to *consider* changing).
8) Feedback should be on decisions/actions versus assumed intentions/interpretations.
Slightly more difficult in writing, because prose is open to interpretation and everyone views a sequence differently. It may very well be very different to what the writer had in mind, also. What this point means is you should be feeding back on what the writer was doing, rather than what you think they were trying to do. For example, this can be the difference between a writer utilising purple prose (i.e. superfluous language) and a writer trying to portray someone who is meticulous to detail, who is describing everything simply because it's part of their personality.
How do you avoid mistaking intentions as mistakes? Well, sometimes it's obvious what the writer is doing; other times, it's not as obvious. If in doubt, you can say "It looks like you were attempting to..." or "It seems to me you were going for..." This leaves room for the writer to correct you if you are mistaken and also allows a more cautious approach, as well as flagging up to the writer that this part of the critique is how you interpreted the prose (subjective), rather than absolute (objective).
The most important point is to work as a team. Again, as I mentioned in the previous blog post, do not aim to crush the recipient's soul. That is not your job.
A reminder of Ende's principles:
Feedback should be:1) Well-timed and expected.2) Teacher and trainee working as allies with common goals.3) Based on first-hand data.4) Regulated in quantity and limited to remediable behaviours.5) Phrased in descriptive non-evaluative language.6) About specific performances, not generalisations.7) Clearly labelled 'subjective' as appropriate.8) On decisions/actions versus assumed intentions/interpretations.