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PE: Literature Critique Tips

Thu Jan 19, 2012, 3:23 PM
As part of Project Educate Critique week, the Community Volunteers would like to share more art specific elements to consider whilst giving good critique.

Today we are looking at the Literature gallery, with our Top Tips.

Sweet Tea in the SouthIn the summer I'll hear them chatter and babble and chuckle and cluck like two frivolous chickens in pink polka dot dresses.  I'll be peering down aisle nine and see neat rows of tea and crunchy, sugary biscuits they can shove into their mouths, indulge in their spoken virtues as little crumbs sprinkle onto their laps.  They're heaving tomatoes drenching under summer sun, the crows feet under their baby blue eyes lapping up experience in the years they've lived down here, where sweet tea is a delicacy swimming around fat ice cubes.  They'll haul their modern wagonwheel through the maze of eye twinkling treats, chirping for their tomato faced young while waddling away.
I'll see them breezing past me in a feeding frenzy, two, three, four little chicks hustling over to their rather plump parents.  They'll lug their crusted heels down the path, pecking for some chocolate chip cookies or those spicy pork skins with really mind boggling logo designs.


Before you start



:bulletblue: READ the piece all the way through.
:bulletblue: Read it again, making notes of what you would like to point out in your critique.
:bulletblue: Stay Objective- you are critiquing the piece not the person.

The Tips!


These tips are areas which aren't just necessary in critiquing others' work, but also when self-critiquing your own writing. This is one person's suggestions and I welcome any further tips in addition.

:bulletpink: A good opening. The opening to any form of writing doesn't necessarily need to involve a physical explosion, but it needs to have an initial hook; something to entice the reader in. It needs to be clear, something that sparks interest and leads the rest of the piece. Keep an eye out for opening paragraphs/stanzas that are flat and uninteresting. How can the writer improve their opening lines?

:bulletpink: Show don't tell. I would put my money on those who critique having used this phrase in their before. Showing, not telling refers to understanding your audience and engaging them in your writing. A lot of newer writers often have a great idea for a story and splurge the whole story out as they are making it up as they are going along (like they are telling themselves the story). This sometimes means the audience element is forgotten. Show, don't tell encourages the writer to allow the reader to experience the story for themselves, through the characters perspective and not through the narrator talking at the audience, overbearing with description, blocking the imagination of the reader. The reader wants to be able to be in the story and feel the story for themselves.


:bulletpink: Cutting the fat.- This is a two part phrase- the first which focuses on sentence structure, the second on over description. Often we can get over descriptive or use too many words to make the same point. Although this is a very good skill for a writer to learn in self critique, it is also a very good aspect to review in giving critique to others too. Look out for the "sapphire icy sea-blue eyes that reflected in the sky" when all we care about is the colour is blue. Adjective abuse is a common habit, even for some of the more frequent writers and pointing out these can really help improve a piece.

Sentence structure bottles down to readability- do we have ridiculously long sentences that lack punctuation breaks? Are there random short sentences that have no meaning or significance to the rest of the plot? Look for repetitive sentences and words also.


:bulletpink: Clichés. We've all read the poems with imagery such as "broken wings", "crimson tears" etc, but clichés have a nasty habit of slipping in everywhere. Writers can sometimes use them without even realising it- how many characters have "beads of sweat running down their back" or how many battles are called "epic clashes of steel"? Writing is about originality and although sometimes a little cliché is healthy, it really should only be a little. Helping a writer notice where their clichés lie can encourage more original writing.


:bulletpink: SPAG. SPAG stands for "Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar". This is a fundamental element of good writing. Poor SPAG will usually put the reader off from even glancing at the work and this is essential especially those aiming for future publication. Sometimes people do make small typos and mistakes, so pointing them out actually helps the writer considerably!

:bulletpink: Fluidity. How does the piece flow? Is the piece difficult to read? If certain pieces aren't working, try reading them aloud to see what is tripping the piece up. Does the order of stanzas/paragraphs make sense? Could sections be removed or rearranged to improve it?

:bulletpink: Presentation. Ridiculous small writing can be offputting to read. Often people include things in their writing to "make it unique", but actually sometimes this unique element actually makes the piece unreadable and unappealing to the audience. It is harder for most people to read from a computer monitor than a book and therefore writing needs to clean and clear. How does the writer's piece look visually?

:bulletpink: Style over substance. There are many different forms of literature, different styles and some forms which have specific rules. However some writers often find themselves caught into the style of the poem and forgetting about the content. Also, sometimes people use format to try and make their writing look "quirky" (such as bolding certain words in a poem or spacing verses sporadically) and this doesn't always match the content. Good writing it was readers look for, not fancy formatting unless it enhances the writing.

:bulletpink: Common rhymes Similar to spotting clichés, we look for more creative rhyming. What can be done when words ending "ing" are removed? Or how many times have we seen: Flight/Sight Life/Knife Long/Song etc ? Could the writer use something different and more effective? Does the rhyme necessarily have to be at the end of each line?

:bulletpink: POV and Tense  Does the writing skip around between the first person or third person?  Does it Flick between past and future without clear deliberate reason why? Both of these elements contribute to the consistency of the story.

:bulletpink: Concrete imagery Although a little bit of abstract imagery is okay, they sometimes too ambiguous for the reader to really be shown anything of value to the piece. Really powerful poetry not only uses concrete images; it also describes them vividly. Is the writer using concrete images?


Critique: A BreakdowndeviantArt is a website focusing on art.  Wherever there is art, there is bound to be critique- no exceptions.  While this fact may be aggravating and/or intimidating to younger, more inexperienced artists, they should learn and heed some basic advice on how to respond appropriately to receiving a critique.
This is a little bit of information about critiques- who critiques, what a critique encompasses, the different "styles" or approaches people take when offering critique, and appropriate ways to respond to all kinds of critiques.
• • •
What is Critique
critique
Noun: A detailed analysis and assessment of something; a critical review or commentary, especially one dealing with works of art or literature.
Verb: Evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way
In a nutshell, a critique (or to critique) is to approach something and analyze something in a critical manner.  The key words here are analyze and criti


Want to test out your new found critique skills? Check out the  Critiquable Art  avalaible on deviantART!


Add a Comment:
 
:icontwin-earth:
Twin-Earth Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Beautiful! :clap:
Reply
:iconbattlefairies:
BATTLEFAIRIES Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2014
A great checklist. Thank you for this!
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Your work is featured here! :D
Reply
:iconoli-s:
Oli-S Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012
Yup, I agree with every tip :) 'Show don't tell' is probably the most useful thing I've learnt when writing.
Reply
:iconlekosis:
lekosis Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012  Hobbyist Artist
This is a great list of basic things to look for when critiquing, but it mostly focuses on WHAT to critique. Got any tips on HOW to critique? I occasionally see deviations that are covered in comments that the commenter clearly thought would be constructive, but come across as clumsy, arrogant, or just plain rude--or that wander all over the place without saying anything useful.

I often find that how a critique is presented is just as important as what's said in it--a good exercise in diplomacy and proper phrasing can mean the difference between an artist finding useful feedback and an artist rejecting a comment out of hand because their feelings were hurt, even if the comment had useful information.
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
We covered this in other articles for Project Educate, including some basic critique tips and asking whether people genuinely wanted a critique. Check out the #communityrelations gallery for all the articles :D
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:iconlekosis:
lekosis Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012  Hobbyist Artist
Ah! Splendid.
Reply
:iconrelic-angel:
Relic-Angel Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Nicely well-put. :nod: That's really good advice. ^^
Reply
:iconlexie-star:
Lexie-Star Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I need to make sure that I remember these!
Reply
:iconladykylin:
LadyKylin Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012
Keeping this in my usefull stuff foler. I know a lot of this, but not all of it, and recaps are good as is haveing a quick link to things like this for other people who don't know where to start.
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
Definitely, writing it certainly refreshed me!
Reply
:iconladykylin:
LadyKylin Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
I bleive it, that's part of the reason I like teaching(or at least trying to) people. Best way to really cement something into your head is ot teach someone.
Reply
:iconamnioticoef:
AmnioticOef Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012
Here's a sample for you to practice on.

Once upon a time:

Tentacles, tentacles everywhere. I felt my gorge rising as I fought my way through the writhing mass, but pushed it down just long enough to reach the throbbing, veiny Erogenous Zone of the beast. As I went to work with my hands, the fragile inner membranes deliquesced into a fetid substance that caused me to void my stomach. The monster's climax was awash with juice.

The end.
Reply
:iconfyoot:
fyoot Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
Further to what Vocable said about imagery and all, tl;dr.

I do think pomegranate juice works better and it's chock-full of antioxidants which has to be an important consideration in a piece like this.

I don't agree with Vocable's use of "rubbery" either, since that makes it sound like S&M tentacle porn which I'm sure you want to avoid. I would suggest a more wholesome fabric. Perhaps cotton, with a nice gingham pattern? I'll leave the colour up to you.
Reply
:iconamnioticoef:
AmnioticOef Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012
Reply
:iconfyoot:
fyoot Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
eh?
Reply
:iconamnioticoef:
AmnioticOef Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012
eh :hmm: .
Reply
:iconvocable:
Vocable Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
I'll take a stab at this. I'll be following The Tips in order.

First, the opening. I would recommend striking out "Once upon a time:" and get us straight into the action, which is, of course, "Tentacles, tentacles everywhere." It's a very good opener because I want the tentacles IMMEDIATELY. Also, "The end.' at the last bit is redundant because we already know it's the end.

There's some good showing, like "I felt my gorge rising" and "caused me to void my stomach" but there's also some telling. I'd like to highlight "as I fought my way through the writhing mass" and "As I went to work with my hands". I want more detail, dammit! That is unsatisfactory to my imagination.

"The fragile inner membranes deliquesced into a fetid substance" is somewhat wordy but I don't think it's a case of over-description. It's more of the wrong kind of words used in the description. 'deliquesced' is a particularly big word that I had to google. You could have just said melted. Otherwise, it's pretty good. The sentence structure is good, with a short opener and ending and long sentences in the middle.

There's a bit of cliché with 'writhing mass' and 'throbbing, veiny'. While it's understandable that they're perfect words to describe what's happening, I feel they're overused. While we don't want big words that we have to google (see previous point), we do want something original. You can keep them, but I want them to be expanded a bit more (see second point).

The spelling, punctuation, and grammar is great. No worries there. The fluidity and presentation of the piece is also good. However, the word 'As' I'd prefer you to avoid because it messes somewhat with the sequence of events. 'As' says that something is happening AT THE SAME TIME as something else, which is a bit difficult for the reader to do since we're reading linearly and of course we have to read that something happened first and then you're asking us to imagine something we read later to happen at the same time as the first thing. I recommend 'When' and other such words to replace 'As' if not strike it out all together.

I'm undecided on the capitalization of "Erogenous Zone", since it's quite a stylistic emphasis. I'd prefer it if it were uncapitalized, but that decision's up to you. No rhyme, so no worries.

The POV and Tense of the story is good. No confusion at all. It works well as first person and past tense.

The imagery, I talked about in my second point. I want them to be more concrete and less vague. More details! The last part especially, with the juice. What kind of juice is it? I want to know.

It's not usually polite to show people how you would redo their entire work (since critique is just advice), but since this is a short piece I'll break that guideline and show you how I'd work it. Please remember that it's only how I'd do it and whether or not you'll heed my advice/corrections is entirely up to you.

Here:

Tentacles, tentacles everywhere. I felt my gorge rising when I fought my way through the writhing mass of slippery appendages, the slick rubbery texture of them alien and disgusting. They winded around my limbs and waist, but I managed to push them down just long enough to reach the beast's throbbing erogenous zone. I went to work with my hands, switching between firmly rubbing the fragile inner membranes and tracing a light path across the veiny covering. Under my ministrations, they soon melted into a foul-smelling substance which caused me to void my stomach. The monster's climax was awash with orange juice.
Reply
:iconamnioticoef:
AmnioticOef Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012
Thank you for your detailed critiques, especially yours, Vocable. I've re-written the story, taking some your suggestions into account (the changes are in bold).

Tentacles.


Cottony, Febreze-scented tentacles, tentacles everywhere. I felt my gorge rising at the same time I bored my way through the shimmering cloud but pushed it down just long enough to reach the tempestuous, brobdingnagian ErogenoUs ZoNe of the beast. As I ran my fingers gently along the Volvulus Magnum, I rubbed the sticky Gorgus Rotundus anteriorly and laterally from behind, resulting in the erection of a mantle of dermal papillae in the outer sheath of the Erectus Callosum. the fragile inner membranes deliquesced [link] into a fetid substance that caused me to void my sto
mach. The monster's climax was awash with pomegranates.

The end.


It's better, but there's definitely still room for improvement. Don't worry, I'll polish this thing 'till it shines!
Reply
:iconvocable:
Vocable Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
Beautiful.
Reply
:iconamnioticoef:
AmnioticOef Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012
Thank you.
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
I'm not going to lie, I thought "Tentacles" said something else at first... :lol:
Reply
:iconfllnthblnk:
fllnthblnk Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
You need some more loving!
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
I think once I post my last PE article I shall be having a nap :p
Reply
:iconaxe-cell:
Axe-Cell Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:dummy: The only emoticon that describes my depth in critiquing my own work. XD
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
Well hopefully some of these tips can help you on your self critique skills!
Reply
:icondrekian:
drekian Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012  Student General Artist
:thumbsup:
Reply
:iconjudah-leonardo:
Judah-Leonardo Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012   Writer
Great article! Good thoughts well-said. :love:
Reply
:iconthorns:
thorns Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012   Writer
Wonderful! :la:
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
Like you!
Reply
:iconthorns:
thorns Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
:blush:

Wait.

Are you trying to soften me up so I'll tell about my evil plotting with Grim Face? :shifty:
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
NO, would I do a thing like that? :innocent:
Reply
:iconthorns:
thorns Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
I have my suspicions. :iconimnottrustingyouplz:
Reply
:iconnichrysalis:
Nichrysalis Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
=)
Reply
:iconinknalcohol:
inknalcohol Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012   Writer
More than excellent advice.
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
Why thank you :D
Reply
:iconvigilo:
Vigilo Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2012  Student Writer
:clap:
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
:D
Reply
:iconsrsmith:
SRSmith Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2012   Writer
Fantastic! If I had a nickel for every time I've had to say "show, don't tell", I'd have an awful lot of nickels!
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
If I had a nickel for every time someone used to say that to me, I'd also have an awful lot of nickels!
Reply
:iconsrsmith:
SRSmith Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
Mmmm... nickels!
:-)
Reply
:iconlit-twitter:
Lit-Twitter Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2012
Chirp, it's been twittered. [link] :)
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
thank you <3
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:icondummywooplz:

Read it again--my favorite tip of all time.
Reply
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012   Writer
I know, and its probably painful if the piece is more than 2000 words, but worth it in case you have missed something significant!
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I usually skim the second time, and only reread things I want to call out. It's probably best to get the details right....
Reply
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