On writing

What we mean when we say …

When you critique someone else’s writing it’s always a difficult line between how honest you can be and how careful you must be. Let’s face it, as writers all we want to hear is how wonderful our writing is. We don’t want to know that those words we slaved so hard over need more work.

Sherylyn and I are quite blunt when we critique each other’s work. We can afford to be. We’ve worked together for a long time and we get on well outside of writing too. But for some writers brutal honesty can be damaging, especially when you’re starting out. It takes a lot of courage to show someone what you have written. Thus most of us try to be gentle when another writer asks for feedback.

Here’s our silly season guide to what writers really mean when they politely give feedback on your story.

Say Mean
I felt the story took a long time to get going. The start is boring and long-winded and unnecessary.
I wonder, do you really need the first chapter? I feel the story is strong enough/you would make the story stronger if you started at chapter two. Cut the first chapter. You don’t need it.
I felt the story slowed down in places. The story drags.
I felt the story slowed down in places, especially when you moved away from the main protagonist’s POV. The secondary POV character is boring.
I found it difficult to connect with your main character. Your main character is horrible. He/she comes across as truly unpleasant.
Although your descriptions added colour to the story, there were a lot of them and sometimes they took me out of the story. Are you aiming to win the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest? I can’t see the story because the descriptions get in the way. Cut them. Cut lots of them.
I found your one of your secondary characters, Maria, intriguing and would like to know more about her as the story goes one. Maria is much more interesting than your main character. Maybe she should be the protagonist.
I would have liked more explanation here. I have no idea what’s going on.
I would like to have known a little more about the world here. Put in some world-building please. I can’t even imagine the place you are describing (or rather, not describing).
Initially I thought that Simon was on his own, yet now I realise he’s with a group of friends. I would like to have seen that telegraphed more, especially before they help him out. Where did all these people come from? They just appeared out of thin air.
I felt some of the dialogue was unrealistic. Nobody talks like that.
To me, the ending felt a little rushed/contrived. The ending’s a mess and you left a lot out.
I feel your action scenes are much stronger than your dialogue/description. Your dialogue/description is weak.
I love the new first chapter you added. You have improved the story, and the new start made me want to read on. I love the new first chapter you added. You have improved the story, and the new start made me want to read on.


The last one is a difficult one.  Sometimes it’s a desperate attempt to say something good and you overcompensate by gushing about the things that do work in the book–but I find people don’t say they ‘love’ things about someone’s writing unless they really do love it. Yes, they’ll say positive things, but they don’t generally use strong passionate words like ‘love’ (or even ‘hate’) unless they mean what they say.

Praise indeed.

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