Reviewing Stories

I treasure every critical word given to me by my harshest critic, and when he actually says something good about my work, I know he really means it. Recently, I wrote a short story that will be published in the Ménage-à-20 anthology in a few weeks. As usual, I sent my editor a copy. His response?

"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.

Experienced Writers

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.

Recommended Reading

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


  1. Hey! You missed the REST of that dialogue, in which I waxed poetic about how much I could smell the events happening, and how this work was far above what you previously produced. Along with why it was so, I believe.

    Though I did mean it as a compliment in my humble, no-nonsense sort of way.

  2. Oh yes, let me try again:

    "Did you write that?

    "Yes, of course."

    "I didn't know. It was too good to be yours."


    "You have really grown as a writer..."

    Is that better?

    No, you did say many more things than that. Very nice things indeed.


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