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Reading to Give Feedback


This week I have been reading some of my friends' writing.  I've done this in the past some, and I have tried to give the same kind of feedback that I would be looking for on my story.  If you are a writer, you have been or will be asked to give feedback on another person's work.  This would be as an alpha/beta reader type of position.  It's important to give feedback that is clear and constructive, because that's the kind we want for ourselves.  Be advised, I am describing feedback done on the entirety of a piece, not a small sample, although I would probably still do that the same way.

Here is a screenshot of some of my comments on a piece done by one of my friends (Thank you, Andrew.)

My first recommendation is to use a running commentary throughout the story.  Read in a word processor that allows you to make notes that you can send to the author, anchored to the piece of the story you are talking about.  The above is in Google Drive where you can store files and share them out pretty easily.  Be warned though, it can get fritzy when trying to handle large chunks of text.  Below is one in OpenOffice.   (Thank you, Jeana.)

The reason I say do a running commentary is two-fold.  First, it helps you keep track of what you are thinking as you read, so that way when you want to give major feedback after reading, you have some sort of reference.  Second, it helps the author keep track of what you are thinking as you read.  They know when you thought something was funny, when you were confused; they get all your reactions linked to the text that's causing them.  They know if you are laughing at the right parts and asking the right questions as the story progresses.  This can really help them know how effective their storycraft is.

Here is another sample in MS Word. (Thank you, Ted.)

What I do not do here is correct grammar or spelling.  Word processors are annoying enough, the author doesn't need me parroting every tiny detail.  I only comment on things that pull me out of the story, like several changes in tense, a misspelling that I might think is funny, or when I feel like a word might be missing that changes the meaning of a sentence.

I also recommend giving an overview comment at the end of chapters or big breaks in the story, just to let the author know you're still buying what they're selling, or, alternately, that you're on a completely different plane.

When you get to the end of the story, it's time to give your main body of feedback.  This is usually where I give a one-sentence opinion of the story before I go in to bullet points and talk about what really stood out to me.  I try to give lots of praise, especially when I know the author is far more skilled than me at certain aspects of storytelling.  I hit the main trouble issues here that give me problems with the story.  I don't go over minutia that I covered in the comments, I only bring up items that I felt came up more than once or made the story hard for me to swallow.

It is very important to NOT give suggestions on how to solve problems, unless the author asks for help, which would be after reading your feedback.  I have made suggestions in the past, and it is not the way to go.  The author doesn't want you to write their story.  Tell them the problems you have with it, and let them fix them.  Or not. This is not your story.  Recognize that the author has final say over what happens to their story, and they are doing a great favor by letting you read it before it is "done."  Let them take or leave your comments as they please.

While it shouldn't be necessary, I will say, "Try to make your critiques constructive."  Do not attack the author, or their writing style, or their chosen genre, or the fact that they don't fit in a genre, whatever.  If you question why something happens in the story, question character motive.  If you think that the dialogue is too flat for a character, say "When a character with three PhD's talks like this (highlighted example) I have problems believing the validity of her degrees," not, "Why would you write her this dumb?"  Do you see the difference?

It is important as writers that we build up each other's confidence.  This is not a competition.  We aren't all biology majors trampling each other to make it in to one of 24 seats for med school.  Writers serve an ever-growing, ever-changing populace.  I want to believe that we live in a world where every story has an audience.  The only way that will happen is if we all work to make it so.

How do you give feedback when you read another's work?  What are things that you do (or don't) like to get back when your work is reviewed?

P.S. - I have recently joined Scribophile, a site you can use for free to give and receive feedback on your work.  They have a few codes of conduct for giving and receiving feedback that are worth looking at, especially if you are not going to be doing feedback face-to-face.  Any other Scribophile members out there?  Look me up and add me, I'd love to read what you've got going on.


  1. My method of feedback is pretty similar to yours. I focus on giving what I often term "reader reactions" as a I go, and overall comments at the end, and I generally only point out grammar/spelling issues if it really pulls me out of the story.

    Most of what I've done has been on sites like Scribophile or Critique Circle where you can do "inline" critiques, similar to what you can do with Word or the like to add comments.


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