How to review your own or another’s creative writing

The most efficient way to better your own creative writing skills and/or to receive less criticism upon publication of your own work, or that of others, is to learn how to review correctly.  Reviewing work can be done either by reading it, or listening to work read out aloud.  Feedback has to be given to the writer.

During this week’s lesson we learned how to give quality feedback to two fellow students.  We each gave them verbal feedback, after listening to them read part of their work aloud for 5 minutes each.

Whilst listening to them read, we made notes on what we heard, or what we thought we heard.  As we were listening we looked at the following areas and asked ourselves the following questions:

1)      Title – Is the title relevant?  Does it bring anything to the dinner table?  Do you have any suggestions to offer?

2)      Characters – Make a note of who the key characters are.  Do their names sound right for the time and place they are in?  Make a note of, or guess their ages and relationships with each other?  Do they act in or out of character?  Are they consistent?

3)      Plot – Does the plot make sense to you?  Do you know what genre it fits into? Does it follow that genre’s rules?  Do you like where the plot is going?  Whether yes or no, write down why?

4)      Pace – What is the pace like?  If the pace changes, does it sound deliberate?  Do you feel bored, or find it hard to keep focus? If so, why do you think this is?

5)      Dialogue – Does the dialogue sound right, or is it stilted, or inappropriate?  Does it match what you perceive as the correct time-frame for the writing (e.g. 1800’s dialogue)?

6)      Setting – Do you feel that you know where this writing is set?  When the reader finishes, what is your lasting memory?  Does the writing give you a good mood and does that mood linger in your own mind?  Why is this?

7)      Writing – Have you spotted any errors in the tense (past or present), or perspective (first person, third person etc)?  Are there any examples of repetition of words, or any over-writing (excessive explanations)?  Can you point out any examples of telling, rather than showing?  Does the writer stand in his or her story and give an opinion? Can you point out any quotes you thought worked really well?  Can you make any suggestions of doing it better?  Why is this?

After discussing at some great length the above questions, our class learned and came to the following conclusions:

  • Flashback always slows the pace down.
  • Exclusive feedback from a small amount of people may not be representative of the whole.  For example, this is apparent if some of the group do not like, or are not familiar with the genre.  Therefore it is logical and sensible to ignore some feedback and take into account the whole, but not everything.  It is important to share knowledge and learn to cherry pick the advice given from feedback.
  • It is difficult when reading or listening from a mid-point of a piece of writing, a synopsis in these instances would be required beforehand in order for the story to make more sense.
  • It is important to read work aloud as you hear the unwanted repetition of words.
  • All feedback is important whether correctly or incorrectly given.  If we receive incorrect feedback then we need to figure out why?  Is our writing confusing?

Do you have any good tips on how to review either your own work or that of others? If so I’d be really pleased to know.  Please leave your tips in the comment box below, your comments may help other readers. 🙂

2 thoughts on “How to review your own or another’s creative writing

  1. I have noticed at our reading club’s readings that half of the adults out there cannot read aloud effectively. Oh, they can get the words out, but they have no inflection, poor delivery, lack of emphasis in exciting or critical parts…

    • Reading out aloud is a different skill entirely. Having the opportunity to do this regularly at a writing group and hear other people read aloud helps everyone to improve on their vocal skills. At first new readers will read so quickly and quietly that it is impossible to always understand what they are saying. But with time they find their confidence and voice and they start to read aloud clearly, with a good pace and imagination. It just takes time to learn this skill, this does not come naturally to many people.

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