Writing: Giving Feedback or "Critiques" (Part 3)
Continuing on from the previous posts about what are the aspects of critiquing one must be aware of, this week I'm going to show you the different ways a critic can deliver the goods and bads of a piece of writing. This list is by no means exhaustive and there is no one size fits all for giving feedback, and I'd love to hear about any other different ways you've come across.
The Shit Sandwich
How it's done: literally what it says on the tin. You give one good point about the writing (the bread), then one criticism or suggestion of improvement (the filling; not necessarily "the bad"), and finish off with a good point (the bread). This can describe the entire bulk of your critique (a big slab of bread, a big dollop of filling, then a big slab of bread) or you can do several serving of bread-filling-bread.
One of the commonest ways of delivering feedback. It's not difficult to do and some people find it easier to give and easier to take, because the criticism is sandwiched between praise and therefore reduces the harshness of the impact. It also reinforces the fact that everyone has their good points that they should know to continue (but sometimes they don't realise what they're already doing is good!) and that every piece of writing has positives and negatives.
For others, because the criticism is sandwiched between the praise, the recipient places more attention upon the 'good bits' and neglect the 'bad bits', because "hey, because there are more praises than criticisms, I must be doing well, right?" So some critics feel the shit sandwich devalues the feedback.
Or on the other extreme end of the spectrum, the recipient places more attention on the 'bad bits' and the praise goes entirely over their head. Some may argue the first slice of bread acts as a warning sign that bad news is about to be delivered, so the recipient becomes deaf to both the first praise as well as the last praise, honing only onto the negative part.
Personally, I like it. It's simple, it preserves ego, it encourages establishment of teamwork, and it's a method a lot of people are used to. I alter it slightly when I critique so that I start with praise, then I deliver criticism, then I finish with an overall view, focusing mainly on the positives again with some reminders of negatives (e.g. There are some areas where head-hopping should be tidied up, as I mentioned earlier, and I think you should focus more on character development rather than so much on the action. Overall I think...), but I always end on something positive.
- Clarify Facts
- Recipient comments on pros
- Critic comments on pros
- Recipient comments on cons/areas for improvement
- Critic comments on cons/areas for improvement
- Both discuss areas to focus on to change
What to Give Feedback On
- Structure of the story e.g. clear setting, clear characters, 'starting with the action' or inciting incident, obvious conflict, logical sequence of events
- Voice e.g. the main character's internal thoughts, the storytelling voice of the writer
- Content e.g. is there evident info-dumping? Is the exposition well-balanced? Are any bits too long-winded?
- Conflict e.g. is it original? Is it a fresh twist? Is it obvious? Is it tragic? Is the hook good?
- Characterisation e.g. is the character realistic? Relatable? Hateworthy? One-dimensional? Self-obessed? Are any of the traits intentional? What are their motivations?