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Creative Writing Consultations

When critiquing creative pieces, standards are often less evident than with academic essays (especially for those unfamiliar with creative writing). In order to determine how to evaluate the work, try asking two questions, as you would do with any assignment:

1. Was there any kind of prompt or instructions from the professor?

2. What are the author’s goals for the piece? After having a conversation about the goals for the assignment, you can consider touching on some of the following, if appropriate:

  1. Expectations: what does the piece set itself up to deliver? Does it follow through, and is the reader satisfied at the end?
  2. Authority: do readers trust the author? Is authority/credibility developed (this can occur through a strong, consistent voice, the sharing of some specialized knowledge, the sense that the author knows his/her characters fully, etc.)?
  3. Characters: are they well-developed, and do they surprise readers in some way?
  4. Specifics: are details generally more concrete than abstract?
  5. Conflict: does something move the piece along?
  6. Dialogue: is it realistic and consistent for each character?
  7. Pacing and variation: does the piece move, sustain interest, and vary techniques (description, dialogue, action, etc.)?
  8. Sentence-level: does the author maintain active voice, clarity, sentence variation, strong verbs, care with modifiers (adjectives, adverbs)…?

Finally, be conscious of how you are critiquing the piece:

  1. Don’t conflate narrator and author; be careful not to assume the thoughts/experiences of one belong to the other.
  2. Be specific: point to moments in the text whenever possible, rather than telling them to “work on dialogue.”
  3. Balance positive and negative feedback.
  4. Be honest about your own position as a reader: do you like this kind of story? Do you have experience with the genre? Feel free to say, “I don’t know a lot about sci-fi, but this is how I reacted, and maybe that will help you think about what you want to do…” This move helps the author evaluate your feedback, and also might make you more comfortable if you are unsure of your expertise in this type of meeting.

Creative writing consultations can be rewarding for their free-form nature — enjoy yourself, and engage with the author to help them realize their vision!