Friday, March 16, 2018

Critiques: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Christa MacDonald

Christa MacDonald

It’s tough to receive criticism on our work, and it can also be difficult to offer constructive comments to other writers. There’s a risk that someone’s feelings will be hurt. So, what do we do? Author Christa MacDonald offers some great tips. ~ Dawn

Critiques: The Good,
the Bad, and the Ugly

Every book needs constructive criticism. Nobody drafts, and then edits their work perfectly. Nobody. All writers require an analysis of their manuscript to turn it into the best book it can be. One of the kindest acts authors can do for one another is to read their work in progress and provide feedback. You may already belong to a critique group or partnership. If you don’t, I highly recommend finding one. They are incredibly helpful when done well. So, what sets a good critique apart from the bad (or the ugly)?

  • The Good: Constructive criticism balanced by praise that leaves the author ready to go to work to make the necessary changes. Maintaining a neutral tone in crits, no snark. Find something to cheer. End on a positive.

  • The Bad: Too much praise, too little criticism. Failing to point out where the book needs work to avoid hurting the author’s feelings.

  • The Ugly: All negative, no positive. Pointing out all errors without noting any passages that are good. Condescending or critical tone in crits. Ending without finding a positive to highlight. 

Have you been on the receiving end of ugly feedback? Have you received an email or doc and what you read made you want to open a hole in the floor and drop through it to your doom, never to write another word? That feeling is less about the thickness of your skin and a whole lot more about how that criticism was presented. I’m not saying edit letters are easy. Quite the contrary, they can make an author cry even when they’re done well. I know this from personal experience. But if what was sent makes you want to give up, that’s the ugly stuff. 

How do you avoid giving ugly feedback? Personally, I take a page from my day job. I’ve been a manager for years, and the first skill I honed was how to give constructive feedback that gave the staff member receiving it the motivation to improve. Crushing someone’s spirit isn’t going to get you their best performance. Neither will coddling them. It’s a balancing act between praise and criticism. When providing feedback to writers, the same rules apply. Never end on a negative. Never cast doubt on their ability to write. We all know that writing is maybe 10% talent and 90% practice. Don’t be the person that tells someone they don’t have what it takes.

And do have a checklist. Most critique groups will have their own, but there are loads online to use as well. Be thinking about the theme, character arcs, setting, word choices, etc. as you go through the MS. And when noting what’s not working, be sure to type a comment that you’d want to receive as an author.

What to do when on the receiving end of an ugly critique? Remember that it’s one person’s opinion. Go get more. Don’t give up. Keep writing!

Erin Sullivan has had to endure the rumor mill of Sweet River, Maine grinding through her family's scandals for years. Being a single mom and the subject of small-town misinformation and judgement had taught her not to hope for good things. No matter how strong her feelings were for Pastor Dan Connors, she planned to keep them buried for the sake of his reputation and the good of her own heart. 

Dan Connors had become pastor of the Calvary Church thinking it would be temporary, that his mother would recover from her stroke, and he'd be back in the mission field in a matter of months. Three years later he is struggling in a job he never wanted, waiting for direction from God, and questioning his calling. 

When Erin sees that Dan is alone in his trial she reaches out to help and he comes to rely on her quiet strength and kindness. Erin tells herself it's only friendship, but it quickly becomes more and she has to reckon with a man in the midst of a spiritual storm. As his turmoil takes its toll on them, it may be more than her heart can take. Dan is determined to find his way, but it may have to be without the woman he's come to love.

Christa MacDonald is a 2017 Carol Award finalist for contemporary Christian fiction. She began her writing career at the age of eleven, filling a sketchbook with poems and short stories. After publishing a few short pieces in her college's literary magazine she took a long hiatus during which she embarked on a few different careers, got married, had three kids, and renovated an old barn masquerading as a house. The Broken Trail, published by Mountain Brook Ink, was her debut novel. Her second novel, At the Crossroad, released in October, 2017.

When not working or writing Christa can be found ferrying her kids around, reading, or attempting something crafty. She and her family live along the coast of New England.

To connect and learn more, please visit:

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  1. Great article, Christa! As both an author and an editor, I totally agree with the guidance you provided.


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