Critique Feedback: Accentuate the Positives

Your email program boinks, your critique partner’s name appears in your in-box, and your stomach does a somersault. This is the file you’ve been waiting for, one that includes her feedback on your work-in-progress.

With a trembling finger you open the document, eager for good news but fearing bad. Did your CP love the story, or did it fall flat?

One way to ease the angst for our critique partners is to offer positive comments along with our suggestions and corrections. I refer to these as smiley face comments. I do my best to include plenty of them in each file I return to my critique partners, and they do the same when they read my work. I include smiley comments in contest entries I judge, too.

Since I use the comment bubble feature of Word to leave my comments, I make sure the positive ones stand out by putting a smile face at the beginning. To make doing so quick and easy, I “copy” a smile face so I can simply click “paste” when I want to add one.

To speed up the process of leaving comments, I rarely capitalize, don’t write in complete sentences, and use punctuation only when needed for clarity. I do, however, make liberal use of exclamation points! I use some abbreviations, which I explain to my CPs each time I introduce one. For example, nice sensory detail becomes NSD.

I’ll share some examples of the type of comments I leave for my CPs.

Positive general comments

LOVE this!
this made me smile
this made me chuckle

Three types of more specific “You rock!” comments I leave my CPs are: technique-related, character-related, and story-related. I look for opportunities to leave some of each.

Positive technique-related comments

nice sensory detail
nice description
nice simile/metaphor
nice alliteration
nice personification

Positive character-related comments

love the heroine’s way of speaking – you’ve given her a great voice
nice job showing the attraction the heroine feels for the hero
love the way you’re bringing your character’s fun quirk into play
great job making your hero a sympathetic character
love how the hero is taking the heroine into consideration

Positive story-related comments

nice job ramping up the tension
great chapter ending – can’t wait to read more
great use of foreshadowing – am eager to see how this comes into play
wonderful showing of the heroine’s goal and motivation
ooh! you’ve really added a great element of conflict

What are some positive comments you’ve received that made your day?

What types of positive comments do you like to give?

What are some comments you’d love to get?

image from Wikimedia Commons

About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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14 Responses to Critique Feedback: Accentuate the Positives

  1. Wendy says:

    My husband and I do this whenver we need to call one another out on something. It really does help and is a great communication tool. We call it pat, pat, poke. 😀

    It always gets me (in the best way) when someone who’s read my book uplifts my writing voice. That’s what it’s all about for me so I love that my story connected with them.
    ~ Wendy

  2. Beth Vogt says:

    One critique group I belonged to developed an elaborate but fun color-coded system for critique. The one color everyone wanted to see? Green highlights!! Anything marked in green meant: LOVE THIS!!
    I’ve also added comments like: LOL or ROTFL if something cracks me up. And smiley faces work for me too.
    I also belong to another group where we read chapters out loud. So I make sure to give a little verbal feedback while we’re reading. It can be as basic as, “Ouch!” or “Ooooh!” or a groan . . . anything to let the writer know they’ve caused a reaction.

  3. Jeanne Takenaka says:

    Keli, 🙂 What a fun and practical post. Thanks for sharing basic, yet specific kinds of feedback for critique partners. I’m still new in all of this, but I want to remember these! Thanks!

  4. I’m not involved in a critique group, but if I were, I’d hope to have a partner as gentle as you. I’m sure that the downside of a critique is difficult to receive without a lot of disappointment. The positive comments would do much to keep the writer from feelings of despair. Blessings to you, Keli…

  5. When I receive my ms back from my editor/mentor she makes sure to put in a lot of positive comments and when it’s a negative comment she’ll often use some very funny phrases which always make me laugh. There was one scene where I had the main woman and man leave the house for awhile to do something and Kathryn noted, “ACK! Where’s the baby?” I had completely forgotten about the infant upstairs in the crib taking a nap! It was a terrible mistake on my part but her comment made me laugh at myself and I changed the scene – DUH!

  6. Julie Nilson says:

    There’s a writer in my critique group who isn’t great at story structure, but is awesome at scene-setting. She uses lots of interesting phrases, so I started underlining everything I liked with a squiggly line. I always know she’s going to get a lot of critique on her structure, so I want her to easily see all the things that were good. I also use a bright pink pen. 🙂

  7. Keli,
    I love your abbreviations. I may steal some! I use lots of !!!! as well and I make sure to let my cp know that I’ve LOLed or ROFL when something is funny. I know that feeling of anxiousness when my cp sends me my wip back. It makes the hard stuff easier to take when I have some good stuff mixed in it.

    Great advice!

  8. Awesome post, Keli! It’s so easy when we critique others’ work to focus on what needs fixing, but positive reinforcement is sooo important.

    For me, I love it when a CP writes that something I wrote made them smile or laugh. Since I write lighthearted stuff, it’s always nice to know the joke or one-liner wasn’t a total dud. 🙂

  9. Love this Keli! A smiley face comment goes SUCH a loooong way and erases all kinds of pricks when it comes to swallowing the hard stuff.

    P.S. I loved your post on the aspiring writer and taking out that adjective. I so agree with that! And also, I’m reading Kristen Lamb’s book on social media too and I love it!!

  10. Love these positive comments, Keli! 🙂 I’m not in a critique group, but when I read my Genesis feedback the judges’ comments were very helpful to me. Especially when one judge wrote “I know you can do it” – – that was like a pat on the back to me! 😉

  11. catwoods says:

    I’m delving into the wonderful world of critiquing for a few blog posts myself and have found it very interesting how critiquers give feedback and what that feels like to the writer. I think gentle, but honest is so important and doing so with a bit of pizazz wins every time.

    Humor goes a long way–like the comment on the baby–in helping us see things without telling us we did something wrong.

    Great post!

  12. I believe in the sandwich system of critiquing. Sandwich any “things to work on” between a few “awesome parts.” My critique partner’s words are so valuable to me–not only for improvement but also for encouragement.

  13. Carradee says:

    My all-time favorite beta comment comes from one who told me, 2 weeks after reading that WiP, that she loved a particular scene that was so funny but sad at the same time, because of what it showed about the narrator — which was exactly the emotional mix I was aiming for.

    Those “Yes! That’s what I wanted you to feel!” moments are my favorite. But those “Hey, what’s happened to [WiP that the beta hasn’t seen in a year or more]?” times are also nice. 🙂

    I love leaving comments that display what I like. I figured out some years ago to couch negative critiques between positive comments.

  14. Great lists.

    I’ll bookmark it to have it 🙂

    Thank you

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