Ah, what a welcome sound. An email message has arrived.
But this is not just any message. This is from my CP and contains the file I’ve been waiting for with her latest story.
I open the document, rub my hands together, and prepare to immerse myself in one of my greatest pleasures: performing a critique for my writing partner.
And how do I go about offering my feedback?
I use the Feedback Format I’ve developed over the past two years, which I will share with you.
Before I do, though, I want to stress that this system is what works for me. I’m not suggesting it’s superior to others or that you should adopt it as yours. There are many ways to provide comments for our CPs, and if your system works for you and your partners, that’s what counts. Please consider my format as brainstorming fuel. If, however, you think any part of my Feedback Format would prove helpful to you, feel free to take it, tweak it, and make it yours.
[Please note that the examples you’ll see below are hypothetical, not actual comments I’ve made in my CPs’ files. The visuals are from the first page of one of my early manuscripts—one in desperate need of revision.]
I ask my CPs to send their files as standard Word documents.
Why? Because of the comments function.
I was thrilled the day I learned about that function. I’d spent months typing comments in the body of the text. In order for my CPs to locate them, I turned text color, used the highlighting feature, bracketed items, underlined others, threw in some bolded italics . . .
And was my system ever cumbersome—not to mention time-consuming. There had to be a better way.
My solution came when I judged a contest and the coordinator asked us to use the comments function of Word. “What comments function?” I mumbled to myself. Being a techno dweeb, I did what any mom with a teenager would do: I asked my daughter.
After just a few clicks of the mouse—and a request to repeat them so I could figure out what the heck she’d just done—I was able to make use of the comment function. Who knew that going to View : Toolbars : Reviewing would pop up a colorful banner with “New Comment” smack dab in the middle? OK, probably the vast majority of you. But to me, this was a technological breakthrough.
I experimented on a backup copy of my CP’s file. Lo and behold, those lovely bubbles popped up when and where I wanted. However, they were red. Or was it green? My fifty-year-old mind has lost that bit of info. What I do remember is that they weren’t my favorite color, which is blue. Untold clicks and drags later, I discovered that I could go to Word : Preferences : Track Changes : Color and pick one of eighteen different choices. Moments later, my comments appeared in beautiful blue bubbles. I was good to go.
I spent the next several months fine-tuning my system until I had something that works well for me and that my CPs find helpful. I utilize a combination of comment bubbles and brief notations in the text. Here’s how my system works . . .
I’m a micro reader, so I make plenty of comments. I hope my CPs like blue as much as I, because there’s plenty of it on their pages after I’ve made an editing pass.
Yikes! That sounds like I’m a nit-picky, comment-crazed bubble freak. I am detail oriented, but I do far more than play Comma Patrol. Sure, I mark typos, grammatical errors, punctuation problems, and the like, but I also watch for items such as these:
- POV issues
- Backstory dumps
- Lack of information to ground a reader in the scene
- Adjoining paragraphs that begin with the same word
- Large sections of dialogue without beats or tags to identify speakers
- Was + -ing verbs that could be changed to the stronger –ed form of the verb
Although my focus is on the “small stuff,” I also comment on larger issues such as characterization, pacing, believability, etc.
By now you might be thinking, “Who’d want her as a CP? All that feedback? Can you say overkill?” My CPs haven’t sent me packing, and I think there are a few reasons for that. First and foremost is the fact that they are wonderful writers eager to improve and who welcome my feedback in all areas.
Next is the fact that I take the word constructive seriously. I have the utmost respect and admiration for my CPs, and my goal is to help them. I do my best to convey that in the way I offer my feedback.
I utilize some techniques that offset my copyedit style comments . . .
I state upfront that I view all my comments as suggestions, which my CPs can use or lose. I respect the fact that the stories are theirs and they know best what works for them. I word my comments positively, often using the word suggest in them.
I respect my CP’s authorial Voices. I do, at times, suggest alternate wordings to show what I mean when doing so helps clarify my point, but I don’t expect them to use my examples.
I avoid use of the word you in comments, opting to keep the focus on the story and not the writer. Compare “Your sentence is awkward” to “This seems a bit awkward. I suggest reworking the sentence a bit. Ex: . . . I know you can do far better than this. This is just an idea.”
I make liberal use of comments that are compliments. So that these positive comments stand out, I begin each of them with a little smiley face.
My smiley comments are often brief: “Nice.” ~ “Fun.” ~ “LOVE this!!!” ~ “This made me laugh.”
I make comments that give my CPs my impression of their stories as I go along so they know what I’m thinking as I read and how I’m feeling. “I’m falling for your hero. He just earned some serious hero points.” ~ “The poor dear. She’s been through so much. My heart is aching for her, and tears are streaming down my face as I type. Wonderful job of moving your reader.”
I note big picture issues that are working well: “Oooh. What a wonderful job ramping up the tension. I’m reading as fast as I can.” ~ “Great showing of her change. She’s really grown as a character. I love seeing that she’s now able to . . ..”
The majority of my comments appear in bright blue bubbles, but I have developed a shorthand of sorts that enables me to mark certain items in the text itself.
Because I perform a copyedit, I do mark punctuation issues, including commas. To make this quick I use this notation [+C], which I input wherever I want to suggest a comma be added. I copy this into my clipboard so I don’t have to type it every time. A quick control V, and in it goes. I paste the same symbol when I suggest removing a comma and change the + to a hyphen [-C].
When I note proper nouns that could be pronouns, which can serve to deepen the POV, I note them this way: >Mrs. Smith<. If I see a pronoun and am unclear which person or thing it refers to and suggest the proper name or noun be used, I use the same symbols: >him<.
To note repetition of a word or phrase, I mark the multiple uses this way: >>repeated word<<.
Words I suggest deleting are bolded. I’ll often add a comment to explain why I suggest deleting it. Example: He kneeled down and took her hand in his. Comment: “Suggest deleting adverb because it’s not necessary and removing it would tighten the writing. One can’t kneel up.”
• • • • •
There you have it—the basics of my Feedback Format. As stated above, this is only intended as an example. Those who perform macro reads for their CPs may not need a system for commenting within the file itself as I do, but those, like me, who are micro readers might find something useful.
If you’ve read to this point, I applaud your persistence. Perhaps you love editing as much as I do. Or you’re just a curious type. Whatever it is, I hope the information gets your creative wheels turning as you think of ways to streamline your critique process.
Tomorrow, as we wrap up Critique Week, I will discuss how I develop a Style Sheet to help me perform my critiques.
• • • • •
I wanna know . . .
What type of reader are you: macro or micro?
Which aspects of a story are you most likely to notice as you read and comment on, and why?
When you offer feedback, are you as likely to point out things you like as you are to offer suggestions of things that could be done differently?
How do you provide your feedback? Do you use the comments function, make notes in the text, use a combination of the two, or do something else?
Double the Fun Drawing!
In honor of my blog’s second birthday, I’m giving away two prizes a day during my Critique Week, one each to two winners. To enter the drawing, leave a comment on this post by midnight Pacific Time and leave your email address when prompted. (This way you don’t have to add it to your comment.)
I’ll hold the drawing the following day, post the winners’ names here, and contact them via email to get a mailing address (which I won’t share with anyone or add to any mailing lists.)
Congrats to Rough Draft Writer, winner of the ceramic tile plaque.
Congrats to Jamie, winner of the necklace.
Note: Offer void where prohibited. Odds of winning vary depending on number of entries.
And here are today’s prizes: