"Did you write that?"
"Yes, of course." Why would I have sent it to him otherwise?
"I didn't know. It was too good to be yours."
What kind of answer was that? An insult or a compliment? But I was too amused to be offended.
Even though I appreciate his harsh criticism, my reviews are much different. There are two kinds of writers: the beginners who don't have a clue yet and the experienced who have studied, carefully applied their skills, and have only missed a few things. Each of these need to be critiqued in a different way.
"Anyone who writes is too precious to lose."
--Carlos J. Cortes
I once made the mistake of critiquing a beginner too hard, and the person almost quit writing. After that, I had two rules: (1) Never critique when I am too tired and (2) Focus on what is right more than what is wrong. My purpose is to teach new writers to critique themselves and a few tricks to improve themselves.
As a mother, I have found that telling someone what they have done right builds in them the desire to do more of that. Pointing out the character's strong voice helps new writers dig deeper into POV and keep element strong. Finding the spot with the most showing (dramatization) and then explaining why you admire that section is more useful than saying, "You're doing to much telling." This is called constructive praise, so much more helpful than "Good job."
After that, I will give a few pointers, areas that need a bit of work, things like, "Watch your verb tense" or "Stay in character." Constructive criticism--another means of teaching.
However, when I critique an experienced writer, I'm not trying to teach or encourage. My purpose is to respond honestly to the story that I've read. As with the critique of a beginner, this will include what I like and what I don't, and I will try to do so constructively.
But my focus is now different, for I am ultimately responding to the work of art rather than to the author.
Several other bloggers have written on this topic. If you want to read some more, check out these articles:
What is good? by Patricia C. Wrede
Accepting and Giving Reviews on the blog Canines, Equines, Aliens, and Felines
Reviewing Book Reviewers by D.B. Pacini
Take Your Criticism Like a Pro, Words of Wisdom by Kate Quinn