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How to Give and Receive Feedback on Creative Writing

When you’ve finished a novel or short story, it’s helpful to get feedback from people you trust. You may also have a critique partner, or be part of a writing group that offers reciprocal feedback. Here’s how to make feedback useful.

When someone asks for your feedback on a piece of writing, whether it is a short story or a novel, remember that the writer requesting feedback has spent a lot of time laboring over their words, and respect the fact that they are choosing you for your opinion.

When you seek feedback for a piece of writing, it’s important that the feedback you receive is helpful. Telling your beta reader what sort of feedback you expect can ensure that the feedback is pertinent. Here’s how to give and receive feedback on your novel or short story.

The importance of feedback

While part of the writing journey is discovering the story that is within the writer, it’s only when stories resonate with readers that a piece of writing is successful. While you may not intentionally write to please others, the goal of telling a story is to engage the people who read it. The best way to know if your story or novel works is to find out what readers think.

There are many ways to find beta readers, people who read your work to give feedback before you send it out to an agent, editor, or publication. You may ask friends, family members, fellow authors, or you may seek out beta readers in other ways.

As a writer, you may be asked to give feedback on the work of other writers, especially if you are in a writing group where people exchange feedback, or you work with a critique partner. When different people read your manuscript, they may see things that you don’t notice, because you’ve been seeing them for so long. It’s always useful to get opinions on your writing, even if you may not agree with the feedback.

How to request feedback

When you request feedback for a novel or story, you shouldn’t just send it to someone without giving some guidelines. Here are some elements you might wish the feedback to address:

  • Is the work enjoyable, and did the reader feel the urge to keep reading? Did they want to turn the pages and get to the end?

  • Are the characters believable, and are the main characters’ motivations clear?

  • Do the settings feel real?

  • Is anything over-described?

  • Does the dialog feel authentic?

  • Is the plot believable and does the resolution make sense?

  • Are sentences, paragraphs, or chapters too long or too short? Does the prose flow, or does it feel choppy?

Also, ask your reader to mention any specific points that stand out that you haven’t covered.

It’s best to ask your reader not to say anything about typos unless they interfere with the story. You will have to do several editing passes of your manuscript, and you should be able to find these yourself. You may even want to use an online grammar checker, chapter by chapter, to spot this sort of mistake. It’s not a good idea for your beta reader to get bogged down in minor details. What’s more important is hearing what they think about the story, the characters, the flow, the pacing, and all the elements that make a story or novel flow.

Remember to not take any feedback personally. Your reader may praise some things and criticize others, and their criticism is about the work, not about you as a writer. Feedback is a valuable tool for learning more about your writing, so use it wisely.

How to give useful feedback

When someone asks you to give feedback on their work, they may not have enough experience to know what to ask for. The most useful type of feedback is that described above, but the type of feedback they need may depend on whether you’re reading a work by a new writer or someone who has published already.

The first thing to do when giving feedback is to start by saying what you like about the manuscript. Highlight what works well in the piece, whether it’s plot, character, dialogue, description, or anything else. Remember that you’re giving feedback to a person who may be sensitive about the months or years they spent writing, and it’s important to reassure them that their work is valid. Think about how you would like to receive feedback and apply that to the feedback you give to others.

Make sure your feedback is balanced; for every critical point, include a positive point. Don’t shy away from criticizing elements that stand out, but do this in a constructive way. Offer suggestions for points that seem weak, but don’t rewrite entire paragraphs to show how you would have written something.

It’s important that you understand the writer’s intent, and that you are aware of how their work fits in a specific genre. For example, a friend may ask you to read a novel that is not a genre that you generally read. In this case, you may not be able to give appropriate feedback on genre-specific conventions.

When giving feedback, it’s useful to ask questions if you don’t understand something, such as a character’s motivation or a plot point. This may be more useful than criticism, as the writer, in thinking about the question, may discover something they need to improve on their own.

Giving and receiving feedback for creative writing can be sensitive, because writers are often personally attached to their work. Doing this with care and sensitivity can help writers improve their work and move ahead toward publication.

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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