“Critiquing” is not “Editing”

By Maeve Maddox

A reader writes about a problem she is having with a friend who is critiquing her manuscripts.

. . . whenever I use personification, alliteration, or any sort of figurative language, [the friend] edits it out. We have two very different styles, and I’m wondering if she is right in editing my work so drastically that it changes the style, or if my style is really far too “flowery”, as she puts it.

Critiquing is not the same as editing. If the friend is “editing drastically,” the result is no longer a critique but a rewrite.

The chief purpose of a fiction critique is to enable the writer to improve a manuscript by getting rid of unnecessary exposition, character inconsistencies or pointless dialogue. Thoughtful critiques from other writers can help the writer focus on essentials. What exactly is the writer’s purpose? Who is the protagonist? What does the protagonist want? Does each chapter advance the plot?

I belong to a writing critique group. Everyone in it has a different style and different preferred genres. We also have various pet peeves relating to grammar, spelling and idiom. However, individual style is something we are very careful about respecting.

For one thing, different genres call for different language.

For another, every writer must develop a distinctive voice. A writer’s voice may include some “flowery” language.

We respect style, but that’s not to say that we avoid commenting on language we feel is inappropriate or over the top. We make suggestions, but we don’t presume to edit unless we are asked to. It’s always up to the author to accept or reject any comments or objections.

To the writer being critiqued I say: It’s your voice. It’s helpful to have others read our work and comment on structure, story line, believability–that kind of thing. We do not profit from readers who want to rewrite our work to their own specifications.

Critiques should be honest in pointing out plot weaknesses, omissions, and other flaws, but they shouldn’t attempt to recast the author’s work according to the reader’s vision.

In submitting your work for critique it’s a good idea to be specific about the type of feedback you want. If your reader’s comments are consistently hypercritical and make you feel bad, get another reader.

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7 Responses to ““Critiquing” is not “Editing””

  • Karla Marsh

    I’m a technical writer. Writing user guides is quite different from writing a novel. Plain, simple, clear, and concise is the style. Most people don’t understand that, though, and want to “punch up” the writing with unnecessary words and phrases that do nothing to enhance understanding. It all depends on audience for how much of that “flowery” writing you can put in. But as you said, “It’s always up to the author to accept or reject any comments or objections.” One of my writing professors told us that we shouldn’t “be married to our writing,” meaning that we shouldn’t be insulted every time someone makes a comment on our writing that we disagree with. If we can relax and listen to the criticism and then accept or reject the changes, we might be able to learn something new.

  • Daniel

    I’ve found the simplest solution is to find someone else to critique my work.

  • Nancy Beck

    I couldn’t agree more with your post. I’ve been critted before (fiction; fantasy, to be exact), and most of the crits I’ve received I felt were fair.

    Something that I learned when I crit others’ work is to keep in mind what you said: Don’t try to rewrite the story in your own voice. Sure, you can give out examples, but you have to make sure the person being critted understands that it’s what *you* would do, if you were writing the story. It would be so easy (and I have no doubt I was guilty of this early on) to just say, “I did it this way, and so should you.” That’s why I sometimes also include something along the lines of, ” I don’t want to rewrite what you’ve written because I enjoy your voice…” This lets the crittee (is that a word? lol) understand where you’re coming from, and that destroying the crittee’s voice is not your intention.

    Of course, if the critiquer is nasty or insists that everything has to be done his/her way, then it’s definitely time to find someone else to look at your stuff. Life is too short to deal with that kind of crap.

  • Jay Tee

    That’s why I like ythe AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It points out a whole lot of potential problems, but leaves it to me as the writer to know how (and if) I’m going to solve it.

  • PreciseEdit

    You make a good point about the difference between editing and critiquing.

    The issue of author style is complex. One of the most difficult tasks we face when assisting authors is maintaining their voice while revising. This is true for both fiction and nonfiction.

    In a case where we take exception to the author’s style (maybe it is verbose or pedantic, maybe it is padded and flowery), we try to help the reader understand how his or her writing style may reduce reader engagement. However, as you point out, the writer’s style is…the writer’s, not ours.

    If an author were to ask me which is more important, critiquing or revision, I would be hard pressed to answer. Perhaps the answer is determined by the author’s writing ability. Experienced, successfull authors probably need critiquing (development editing) more than revision, because they make the necessary revisions. Novice authors probably need one as much as the other. So, while they are different, they are both valuable.

  • PreciseEdit

    That should read:

    …we try to help the AUTHOR understand how his or her writing style may reduce reader engagement.

    Grr!

  • Jemi Fraser

    This is a really good post! I like the idea of stating what you want before someone reads it. I have 2 crit buddies who absolutely rock – honest, helpful, but who would never presume to rewrite – lucky me 🙂

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