Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, You Are Not Alone

The Sandwich of Critique

sandwichYou may be wondering how a critique group works. There are many methods and styles of critiquing. Some are face-to-face, some online. Some face-to-face groups read the manuscript out loud and then discuss. Some send manuscripts ahead of time, so that the time together is only spent discussing. Online groups might send attached documents so the “commenting” option in MS Word can be used. Others exchange manuscripts and comments directly in email.
Whatever method used, there should always be a sandwich approach to comments. Simply stated: say something good first, talk about problems, end with something positive. It’s good to keep in mind the purpose of critique, which is to help improve writing–not be a mutual admiration time or an opportunity to tear down another person or their writing.

Let me demonstrate using a SANDWICH as an analogy.

BREAD represents positive comments that hold the sandwich together.

    • Sometimes you have…
      …thin slices, or a single slice – not much to say
      …a big fat roll – lots to say
      …whole wheat or white – more detailed or general comments
    • This might include marketing suggestions

CONDIMENTS are a thin spread of the “nitpicky” variety of comments or questions.

    • These can be added anytime during the sandwich making process
      …a specific word that doesn’t work for the listener
      …such things as: “could you name characters with more dissimilar names?–I’m getting confused”
      …remove “that” from your 2nd sentence

VEGETABLES are those healthy comments to improve the story or article.

    • Warnings of off-putting patterns
      …weasel words (those words that just slip in, such as “very” or “seems”)*
      …passive verbs
      …excessive adverbs or adjectives
      …unvaried sentence structure
    • Requests for more
      …”What is the character thinking or feeling?”
      …”I’m having difficulty picturing this scene. Can you put in more details of setting and action?”

MEAT/CHEESE are questions and comments that reach to the heart of problems in a piece.

    • These may be in depth, but mainly deal with “big” issues
      …story is not plausible
      …article doesn’t make sense
      …character doesn’t feel real
      …telling versus showing
      …references don’t support point
      …confusion on who or what the story is about
  • Since these are tough for the writer to hear, it is important to say what IS working

* I love agent Rachelle Gardner’s list of words to cut. Do you have more that slip into your manuscripts? Feel free to share them in the comments here.