Critique Sheet

"Writing is not just getting things down on paper, it is getting things inside someone else's head."

"The goal is for the writer to come as close as possible to being able to experience his own words through seven or more people. That's all." -Peter Elbow

At last the long awaited(maybe) sheet on critiquing as promised. This, along with my critiques should give you an idea of what I at least, envision as a critique. First, what we are after here is whether or not the writing worked for you, the reader, not whether it is good or bad in the eyes of the world. We need to feel free to try new things here, to experiment. When we risk, sometimes we fail, and this should be a safe place for that. This should also be a safe place to give whatever response we have, without apology, as long as it is honest.


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Ideally, your critique should be a very specific, personal reaction to a particular piece. It should contain the following four basic elements:

1. Pointing
2. Summarizing
3. Telling
4. Showing

1. Pointing - this is simply identifying particular words or phrases which particularly struck you, which jumped out at you, which stayed with you, or even seemed particularly off somehow. Natalia, in her critique of "X-mas" demonstrated this element perfectly. Try to, if you can, describe the particular effect the words had - if they seemed to convey partiuclarly well, if they enhanced the mood, or developed a character, or even if they seemed out of place. These specifics are especially helpful to a writer learning to fine-tune her style.

2. Summarizing - Elbow recommends 4 methods of summary:
a. In about fifteen seconds, just give the key ideas as they strike you, the focal points, the main elements.
b. Then give a one sentence summary
c. Then find a word in the piece to summarize it.
d. Also choose a word not in the piece as a single word summary.

"This isn't a test to see whether you got the words right. It's a test to see whether the words got you right."-Peter Elbow

So do this fairly quickly. What's required is your first impression of how the piece seemed constructed, not trying to puzzle out how it was intended to fit together.

3. Telling - This is a sort of stream-of-consciousness transcript of what went on in your brain as you read the piece. However, try to maintain focus on the writing. It is almost as if we could peer inside your mind and see every thought, picture, or feeling that showed up while you were reading the piece.

4. Showing - This is where you have a chance to be a little creative. Here you're trying to give the reader some of your unconscious reactions to the piece as well as the conscious reactions given earlier. In order to do this you'll have to be a little sneaky and try to relate the writing to something. Here are some examples - I'll probably add some more later after we've all had a chance to give these a try:

If this piece of writing were a color, what color would it be?
If this piece were clothing what would it be?
Describe the piece in terms of movement or motion.
Imagine that the writer was in fact thinking of something quite different when she wrote the piece - tell us what she was really thinking about.
Imagine that you don't know anything about the writer - describe her to us.
Rather than words, the piece is a lump of clay - describe how you would mold it.

Again, be as specific as possible and try not to THINK about the answers to these questions; take whatever comes to mind, you already know the answers, as long as you don't try to block your first response, however crazy it may seem. Some of this may seem a little odd or a little difficult. It certainly is for me. However, if we all stick to it consistently it should really work. Thanks again. -Matthew 8/7/97

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This page last updated:8/7/97