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It is okay to be brutally honest — as long as you can take what you dish out.
If you are going to correct someone’s grammar ensure that your own is correct, otherwise you will look like a fool and possess even less authority on the subject than you did before.
Do not rush write your responses. If you can’t take the time to double check for spelling errors in your critique, why should the writer care to go back and do the same in their writing? You ultimately harm that individual’s work. I suppose that is cunning if you’re already competing with them in the writing industry, but some might say — I being one of them — that your methods are cruel and unjust.
If you were personally bored by the piece, don’t hide that. It is unhelpful to lie to a writer because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Most likely you are only trying to avoid confrontation. That is selfish. This doesn’t mean you should state how difficult it was for you to stay interested in the story. First you need to determine where the piece lacked luster for you. Is the style simply not for you? Perhaps it’s the subject itself. If that is the case, skip commenting on its entertainment value. You probably found it difficult to sit through for a reason they wouldn’t be able to help unless they changed their style, which is unnecessary. You do not account for their entire target audience. Rather, focus on the quality of the writing itself; more on that later. If you find the reason the piece is boring is due to the writing itself, do not be afraid to share this with the writer. However, it is important to remain tactful. If you have good intentions anyway, then every thing will work out peachy keen. An effective way to tell somebody their work is dull is by suggesting they expand their story and add more detail. Recommend that the writer add more descriptive detail of particular moments where it seems there should be more excitement. Here is a way you could phrase this sort of advice:
“I found the scene where the protagonist of the story encounters the antagonist of the story at location x to be really intriguing. One question in particular that it brought up is: how did the protagonist react when the antagonist entered the scene out of nowhere? You shared where the antagonist came from and what the protagonist said to the antagonist, but was he frightened, eager, angry, etc.? What did he physically do in response? Could you describe the scene in more depth, please? It was a really enjoyable part of the story and I feel the overall product would benefit from fleshing this part out.”
Of course that was an extraordinarily generic example, but the idea is applicable to almost all instances.
They may not take your advice. In fact, they probably won’t. This broaches the question of: why offer this type of counsel? It drops them a hint and they will keep it in mind the next time they write something. Not to mention, they could actually use it if you were especially motivating.
You should always compliment the writer’s prowess in utilizing certain techniques. If he or she is especially talented with imagery or voice you should play on that. Build them up. Allow them a confidence boost. What they proved to be less skilled with, pull examples from their text to demonstrate how what they were doing isn’t working. Maybe their wording was awkward — if so, offer alternate ways of wording the phrase or sentence that work better. Don’t do that for every example. Use that technique only once to exemplify your own abilities and to validate your point. If you do this for every example you have it will seem like you think you are better and more capable than them. For all you know they will write the next modern classic.
Only provide sincere feedback. If you read something that you feel completely neutral about, do not force either praise or criticism. Exclusively contribute your knowledge somewhere you feel it could be made use of. Otherwise, you’ll only serve to waste time.
It is a good idea to reference direct scenes and characters from the person’s writing. This will demonstrate your interest and genuineness.
Follow up on your comments. Look for responses and reply cordially and with interest. If a writer seems to have taken offense to something you said, don’t apologize. If you apologize it makes it seem like you meant offense in the first place. Instead, simply explain what you meant to begin with, and compliment them yet again, but this time with more enthusiasm. Make sure the writer understands you only meant well. If they express a desire for more input you should allow them that. Keep track of whose writing you noticed exceptional potential from, and check back on their writing later. Be sure to inform them when you notice marked improvement in their writing. Compare their previous work to their newer work.
Finally, when you notice a thread in the forums titled “feedback for feedback” or something similar, always view the work they are asking for reviews on before posting the work you want them to evaluate of yours on their post. You don’t want to be stuck reading something you really have no interest in. Like I said previously, it is important only to offer your opinion where it will be of use or have meaningful influence.
The reason I felt compelled to write this is because I’ve been both receiving and noticing poor feedback between writers. This is something I consider to be important. Responses that are not meaningful can be discouraging. It sends a message of, “Your work isn’t really worth the time to take seriously. No offense.” A writer needs to know how to handle rejection, but a peer and an editor need to know how to provide proper guidance too. Not to mention, any advice you are offering to these writers is voluntary. Therefore, there is no reason to leave unhelpful or overly nitpicky comments.