Critique Training Center
Whether you have or have not had training in the art of critique, it's important to note The Writer's Workout has developed a specific system for the handling of reviewing work. We have compiled a list of tips to aid your success in providing critique for your fellow members as well as a short guide to navigate the critique you'll receive on your own piece. This guide is to be used for both Trope Challenge participants and as a training page for Boss Battles*.
Critique etiquette is not something to be taken lightly--for a critique (or feedback) to be considered useful by the recipient, it should be positive, professional, and constructive. Approach the author as an equal; understand they’re here to improve, just like you, and they’re looking for your honest, respectful opinion.
When creating a critique for The Writer’s Workout, the goal is to improve the author's future work as a whole while providing piece-specific suggestions and motivating language. Focus not only on this piece before you but on the way this author writes; consider tone, pacing, sentence structure, and word choice, especially with relation to genre. Completely ignore the entry's formatting: you don't have access to the original submission and The WW team will talk with the author about ways to improve formatting for future submissions.
It’s important to keep in mind that as nervous as you are about writing a critique of someone’s work, someone else is equally as nervous to write a critique of yours. This is why it’s vital to respect the author’s effort and open your critique with a compliment. Follow with a few specific suggestions to help explain which parts of the story were less effective and what the author could do differently if faced with a similar story scenario. Finally, close with a broad-scale compliment: something the author clearly does well in other pieces. This method is the Compliment Sandwich.
Trope Challenge participants:
It's important to read the entry you're given at least twice. The first read-through is to gauge your overall view of the piece. Take notes about how you feel reading certain passages, language usage, plot holes, and most importantly, the incorporation of the month's tropes.
Following creation of the entry's critique (500-750 words), submit your work via email to email@example.com. We'll take care of review and distribution so just watch your inbox for someone's review of your work.
If you're looking to defeat the Critique Boss, email Theresa at for your sample entry package. Upon successful completion of this package, you have Beat the Boss and can advance to other Critique Boss levels.
When creating critique for The Writer’s Workout, please utilize the Compliment Sandwich method as detailed below. Critiques for Trope Challenge entries should be between 500 and 750 words.
The opening compliment is the most important paragraph of your critique. How you handle your opening compliment lets the author know whether you read, understood, and connected with the story so it should say more than “it was good” or “I liked it”. While you may indeed have loved the piece as written, “good” is subjective and doesn’t provide the author with enough substance to understand what they did well. Guide the author through their successes by including specific details that worked for you as the reader within this piece. Point out essential story elements like dialogue, emotion, description, tone, pacing, twists, etc. This is a great space to include a quote from the piece!
The specific compliment section should be around one fourth of your critique’s total length.
The heart of your critique, foundation improvement, is the reason most people ask for beta readers, critiques, workshopping, or feedback. This space shows the author where they were less successful with their words and provides you the opportunity to explore what didn’t work for you within the piece as a whole. Remember, this author doesn’t know who you are so they can’t ask you for clarification; if you mention something specific about the piece, explain your reasons and offer a suggestion to help the author improve. But at the same time--and this is the hardest part of all--avoid rewriting the piece. We all write differently (that’s part of the beauty of this diverse group!), but we have to keep in mind the piece we’re critiquing is not our own. The responsibility of its message, its voice, is not ours--it’s the author’s. We’re here to help guide the author toward finding their voice with constructive criticism.
Use this space to talk about the author’s approach to the challenge, the tropes, and the genre. Consider what you learned from the challenge and what you can learn from the author you’re critiquing. How did this author’s approach to the tropes inspire you? What did you learn about the tropes and their utilization from reading this piece?
It’s also a great space to ask the author a question that helps them consider their literary intent. What about this piece seems intentional but doesn’t quite come through? Did the author mean for that character to vanish from the story and what long-term effect does this have on the piece?
An author truly looking to grow won't remember specifics from this section after they've reviewed their piece again. They'll read it, assess their work, make changes, and move on. An author focused on personal growth will remember the compliments because those are the areas they likely spent the most time when creating the piece initially. Above all else, stay professional. Your tone means everything to the way your critique is received so if you approach this critique objectively and utilize the facts of the story as it exists, you can help the author improve this and future works.
The foundation improvement section should be around one half of your critique’s total length.
Your closing paragraph leaves the author feeling that, while they still have room to grow, they are accomplished. This paragraph shows what the author does well throughout the piece and serves to refocus attention on the positives. Concentrate on the way this author writes and how they approach the genre. Do they have a firm grasp of their writer voice, is their pacing spot-on, does the plot work for the genre, etc. You should use blanket compliments for this paragraph to help the author understand what they do well in other pieces. Here are some examples: “I enjoyed the level of detail you provided throughout the piece,” or “Your narrative voice is clear and strong from beginning to end,” or “The dialogue felt realistic and compelling.” This helps reinforce what the author does well and though some areas need improvement, they have succeeded in others.
The general compliment section should be around one fourth of your critique’s total length.
In this section, we’ve answered a few questions we’ve received from past interns regarding their required critique training. We hope these questions and answers can help you create honest, unbiased critique to help your peers.
Why is everything--the entries we receive and the feedback we give--private?
The entries and feedback are both private to avoid bias. If you are friendly with a fellow writer and you know ahead of time that you are going to read their entry, the feedback could tend toward solely positive simply because you like the author, not the entry. The same could be said if you do not like the author. We critique the entries, not the authors. In that same vein, it provides a safety net for you and your feedback. If the author doesn’t like what you have to say, they might take it personally if they know who you are.
If the feedback is private, can’t I just say certain points suck? Why do I have to point out the strong parts, too?
The compliment sandwich is a tried-and-true way to deliver feedback; if you have participated in the Writer’s Games in the past, you will see this is the form our interns use to deliver their feedback. And every year, we hear from our participants that this method helped them more than feedback and reviews they’ve paid services to provide.
Think of it this way: you get compliments on your work all day, but if you get one negative note, that is usually the one that you pay attention to (and obsess over). It could make a writer second-guess not only their work, but whether or not they should be writing at all. We want to raise our writers up, not tear them down.
Consider this universal truth: there is always something to improve. Writers are constantly learning, evolving, trying new things. What may work for some may not work for others but we are all trying to improve our skills. That’s why we’re here.
What if I receive an entry that triggers something from my personal life? Do I need to keep reading and provide feedback?
Let us be perfectly clear: if you receive an entry that triggers a deep, emotional scar, contact Theresa immediately so she can exchange your entry. Mental health is important; you are important. We know this doesn’t make you less competent. It simply means this piece needs a different reader to critique it.
I’m pretty busy… when do these need to be finished? Who do I send them to?
You have a whole week, including the weekend, to read your assigned entry and write a critique for the author. When finished, please send your critiques to firstname.lastname@example.org. Following a review, during which we may reach out for clarification or other changes, we’ll distribute critiques and you can expect feedback from another Trope Challenge participant in the last week of the month.
And that’s it! It may sound complicated, it might look a little scary, but allow yourself time to get the hang of the structure. Just remember: you are providing a service to your fellow writers and they are doing the same for you. We are all in this together!