Constructive Criticism and Oreos

Many of us are open to it, we love getting feedback and want to improve. Any comment is appreciated. As SirBic says: “Effective feedback can be any feedback; writers just want to be read.”

But if you are going for comments that make a difference, consider how you present it. In the cautious words of August Rode: “You may run into authors who don’t want criticism. They’ll likely tell you so. If they ask you not to critique their work, don’t do so in future.” As a writer, the hardest thing to do is to offer up something you put a great deal of effort into and find it smashed to bits along with your pride. So as a commenter, how should you get the word across that something needs work?

August Rode: “There are many levels on which a piece can be critiqued. On the 1st reading, I’ll usually catch all of the spelling and grammatical errors. With the trivial problems out of the way, I’ll read the piece over several more times. I’m usually looking at flow, pace, consistency across the entire piece, and the effectiveness with which the ideas in the story are communicated.”

I completely agree. You may include any of these in your critique.

One way to break the bad news: The Oreo Cookie Method. Sandwich your critique in among two things you found the writer did WELL. While I prefer the icing in the middle and find it to be the best part of the cookie, the idea here is to put the bad things you want to say in the middle of two good things to lessen the blow.

This doesn’t always work out. Firstly, some stories don’t have anything good to compliment, and if that’s the case, be gentle. Secondly, if you use this method consistently, people may mistrust your real compliments. They may think you are hiding behind what you really want to say.

Another way to critique is a twist on the Feldman method for Art. This makes for not only great negative feedback critiques but also positive.

Describe: tell the writer what confused you, what images you saw as the reader. The goal of the writer is to communicate to the reader exactly what they see in their head, and believe it or not, you CAN do this in 1,024 characters! Sometimes the writer doesn’t realize how confusing their work really is. “I get that the MC is in a lighthouse, but why is it urgent that they jump?”

Analyze: Are there grammar or spelling errors? Do they use the elements of story well? Does the POV work (first, third)? Do the character’s action or dialogue match their emotions?

Interpret: Does the piece evoke an emotion, have a theme, or relate to a certain audience (parents, religious, YA) well? Can you follow what the writer was saying? Are you confused as to what is going on?

Evaluate: Did your reaction to the work change as you read it? Did you learn something? Was there no moral, no anchor to reality; was this intentional?

(For how to deal with biting criticism, see for a three step method to chilling out by our fearless leader THX.)


  • BARomero

    A key thing to keep in mind both in offering and receiving critiques is that just about everything here on Ficly is a work in progress, and it’s likely that 99.99999% of what you read is a first draft. Knowing that, constructive criticism should be seen as offering up suggestions on how to course correct in subsequent drafts (I still wish we could get notices when someone has edited a story we commented or rated) or sequels…

  • ElshaHawk (LoA)

    Now if you had posted that sooner, I could have quoted you! Love it! Great point.

  • August 2nd

    @BARomero: People do that?!? Post their first drafts? What I post is usually very close to being my final draft. Proofreading uses the exact same techniques that critiquing does, but with the luxury of being able to make corrections before anyone else sees the piece.

    @ElshaHawk: I thought there were going to be cookies… :-(

  • ElshaHawk (LoA)

    :D lol! well.. they were hard to scan and transfer into pixels.. you know this kind of thing is Willy Wonka’s area..

  • Miles Letham

    I do find that offering critique takes a lot of effort for me, mostly because of the way I both read and write. I don’t look at individual parts so much as how the entire thing feels and affects me. It’s hard to zoom in on one detail if I’m content with floating in the moment that a writer provides.

    I love SirBic’s quote though, and I think that more or less sums up how I feel about comments. It’s always nice to have a fresh set of eyes to point out mistakes or areas of weakness, but at the end of it all I’d still rather just be noticed. Just to know that somebody read my work, that maybe it touched somebody somewhere.

    That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?

    Someday our printers will be able to print snozzberries. And oh, we will laugh at those who turned everything digital – because there won’t be enough paper left to print with, because they didn’t think paper was important anymore.

  • astronouth7303

    I’ve been leaving a lot more comments and criticisms around lately. I’ll have to see if I can do more of this sort of thing.

  • 32 ^2

    I ALWAYS post my first draft. I usually write on whim, an itch that has to be scratched. But I change it too based on the comments. I love all critiques except one: “I don’t get it”. I comment on a lot of stories I “don’t get”. It’s not up to me to understand every story and no one would write if they thought they had to appeal to 100% of the readers.

    The other trick is that some negative comments are actually the best compliments. When I first started writing I was told to leave out “nonfiction” in my tags and one reader was so upset about my true life he couldn’t read me any more; that’s a COMPLIMENT. On Ficly, I discovered I had a knack for gore. One of my stories (as 32 squared: motor mouth) received negative remarks about the piece being too gory…..COMPLIMENT!

    Finally, become a “specialist”. If there’s a subject your interested in or know a lot about, comment on the content. If not, then comment on technique and rules; but the search function needs to be fixed first.

    Everyone has 2c!