If you haven’t read it already, or want to review, Part 1 is located here.

As promised, this article is going to get down into the specifics of what and how to ask in order to get good critiques.

First, an important thing to remember is to treat the person who is taking the time to critique your work with respect. Be gracious, say thank you, and remember that they could just as easily be doing something else. Another thing to keep in mind is that different people like different things. While it can be helpful to get a wide variety of people to look through your work, keep in mind if you write romance and you give your work to an action fan, they may tell you there is too much romance. Take everything with a grain of salt and remember that you don’t have to change anything you don’t want to.

Be professional with your material. Make sure you proofread you work for typos and spelling errors. If it is an early draft you will save your reader time and frustration by doing this step. They will also be better able to concentrate on the story.

Avoid Yes and No questions. Instead of asking “Did you like it?” try asking “What scenes or chapters stuck with you? Which characters did you enjoy the most? Which of the settings seemed the most and least real to you?”

Know what you want. Along with the above advice, knowing what you want will help you to ask detailed questions and get helpful answers. If you want to know if your characters are distinct, ask which characters were the favorite and why. See if your reader was able to pick up on any of the back stories. Maybe they were able to see possible subplots that you hadn’t thought of.

Ask for suggestions. If your reader suggests something broad like “more action,” maybe there is something wrong with your pacing. Reread the story yourself and see if the story moves too slowly. If they suggest something specific like “X and Y should get together at the end,” then perhaps that would make your story better. Consider it, play around with the idea, and if you don’t like it, you can always go back. If it was something that you had thought of previously but dismissed as not being a good idea, maybe you should go back and see if the problem is really something else. Perhaps you didn’t set up the fact that X and Y are not really couple material.

Don’t ask your reader to do your job. There is nothing more annoying to me than someone who says “give me several more ways/scenes/ideas that I can use. You are the writer. Thinking up scenes is your job. You can let the reader know that you are open to suggestions, but demanding them is just lazy.

Avoid argumentative and defensive behavior. The form will also help with this. It’s hard to argue with a piece of paper, and even if you manage it the paper probably  won’t care. If you are speaking to someone, and get argumentative, they will probably respond in kind or at the very least be more hesitant to offer their opinions in the future. Even if you don’t agree, thank them for their opinion and let them know that you will think about it. Even if you never give it another thought, your reader will still feel like they helped you and that you were appreciative.

Avoid prior prejudices. When I write a story, it’s my story. Nobody loves it more. Usually I don’t even know how much I have fallen in love with it until I need to edit. It can be extremely difficult to change something, but it is rare for someone to write a perfect first draft. Don’t go into reading a critique thinking your work is perfect. Acknowledge that something your reader suggests may improve the story and give yourself license to play around with any ideas that you may get.

It’s okay to take a break. Just like your reader may need some time to write the critique, you may need some time to work through it. This is another reason the form is a useful idea. When you feel yourself being overwhelmed by the changes, or that you want some time to work through one of the suggestions, you can always go back to the form to help you remember what was said.

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