Monday 20 February 2012

Critically Speaking

In the course of my work I get to see a lot of rewritten stories and novels and I’m always astounded at how quickly writers resubmit after receiving a critique.

Considering the writers are coughing up good money for the benefit of someone’s advice, it seems a bit odd not to take the time to at least digest the comments and suggestions. All too often, within a few days of a critique going out, the story reappears in my inbox (often with a note saying it has been rewritten following the advice given). Um, no, usually all that has happened is a few minor corrections have been made to tidy things up, but the major errors to do with plot, characterisation, dialogue and other important factors remain.

So, here’s some advice on how to get the most from a critique, whether it has been paid for, given freely on a peer review site, or is feedback from a writing buddy.

Do Nothing

That’s right. Do nothing. Don’t set to and rewrite immediately. Take a few days to read and reread the comments and suggestions. Only after absorbing the feedback and letting it run through your subconscious will you be able to decide which aspects of the criticism are valid and which would take your work in a direction you don’t want it to go.

Make Notes

Once you’ve absorbed the criticism, make notes on how to deal with it. How are you going to fix the plot holes? What layers can you add to give depth to the storyline? How are you going to flesh out the characters to make them less wooden? What can you do to improve the dialogue? How can you make transitions into and out of flashbacks smoother? What can you do to improve the settings? How can you balance telling and showing?

On this last point, don’t let anyone tell you that you should always show and not tell. A piece of advice given to me some time ago, which I felt summed up the balance perfectly, is to show (using dialogue and interaction to dramatise) what’s important and to tell (using narration to link dramatised scenes) what isn’t.


Okay, now you have your notes, it’s time to rewrite. If you’ve followed steps one and two above you should now be in a good position to make a really good job of the rewrite.

Be Patient

Put your rewritten story out of your mind for a few weeks. Don’t read it again until at least a week has gone by, but the longer you can leave it, the better it will be for you. It’s impossible to read something objectively too soon after you’ve been working on it. Take the time to write something new – or rewrite another story.

Read Critically

Get out the original critique and your notes and read your story with these in mind. Have you covered everything? If you stumble over a minor point, don’t tell yourself it’s nothing to worry about – make notes on how to fix it.

Finished? Nope, not even close. Repeat steps 1-5 until the story is the best it can possibly be. Then, and only then, resubmit it to the competition. However, by then it might be so good that you could submit it to a competition with even better prize money.
This first appeared as a guest post on the blog of my good friend and fellow writer Maureen Vincent-Northam

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition


  1. Fabulous advice, Lorraine. So true.

    I find the suggestions and (often blunt) comments from my critique partners invaluable in keeping me on the right track. Constructive criticism is vital for developing your writing skills. Where friends may be kind, another writer/editor will view your ms more critically. Always work through the points - your CP is often spot on.

    I can only second your advice. Happy editing!

    Great post.

  2. This would apply if you had major things to change like plot, character depth, ect. It's the vague ones that make you scratch you head.

    I don't have a critique group but more of a concept editor. You do have to watch what weight you put upon any constructive criticism, not all of it is very constructive.

  3. Thanks for a valuable post. I hadn't thought of resubmitting. But if I do, I'm going to give it time before I go back to it. I've bookmarked this page so when the time comes I can remind myself

  4. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. It's good to know the post is helping.

  5. Corinne Lawrence27 May 2013 at 11:56

    Hi Lorraine

    Thank you very much for your critique of my story 'By Appointment Ony'.

    I have read through the informantion on the very helpful website and I will work on your suggestions fully before resubmitting the story.

  6. Thank you for commenting, Corinne. I'm glad you found the critique helpful and I'll look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

  7. Thanks for the advice Lorraine, will take note.

  8. Hello Lorraine. Thank you for the critique I received from you on my story 'Light At The End Of The Tunnel'. I had never heard of the term 'head-hopping' before and I'm so glad that you have brought it to my attention. I'll be working hard to get my point of view just right. Thank you for an encouraging critique.

  9. I'm delighted to hear you found the critique (and this advice) helpful, Lesley.

  10. And many thanks - yes very useful - from another Lesley (Lesley Lodge)

  11. I'm glad you found the critique and this post of benefit, Lesley.

  12. Thank you, Lorraine, for a very helpful piece of guidance. Now is the time for a little thought followed, later on, by a bit of work. Your feedback is very helpful to me, an aspiring writer.

  13. You are welcome, Geoff. I hope to read of your success in the future.

  14. Thanks Lorraine, and also thank you for the critique you sent me in the Writer's Forum competition - you were very encouraging and constructive, and that, together with the advice here, will give me some direction when I come to rewriting it.

  15. I'm pleased you found the critique useful. Good luck with future submissions.

  16. Thanks for your critique of my two stories. Being new to writing I found the comments both helpful and intriguing; I'm obviously making new writer's mistakes but it was only when I got back your critique that I realised that you had been unable to clearly identify the different characters in my story. That was not something that you had commented upon but became very obvious from the comments that you had made. I do like the idea of recording my story and then playing it back - I think that may well make these things more obvious.
    Thanks for the help and the information.

  17. Dear Lorraine, I just wanted to thank you for your feedback (3 so far) for the stories I'd entered into Writer's Forum. They've all have been so helpful and I now feel I know what to address and what to concentrate on - I really can't thank you enough!

  18. Hi Lorraine. Many thanks for your very helpful and encouraging critique of my story, and for all the links to accepted layout and writing dialogue. After sharing your comments with my writing group, and workshopping the piece with them, I have done as you suggested and stepped away from the story for a while. I now feel ready to start re-working the story, before submitting it again. Best wishes, Alison