Considering Your Critiques

An excellent rubric saved from graduate school at Saint Mary’s College of California’s Fiction, Creative Writing Program, originally distributed in either Julie Orringer or Rosemary Graham’s workshop. (Please forgive me dear mentors. It was at least five years ago when I received this. Any MFA’ers who are reading this who might remember, please correct me.)

  • Consider the author’s intentions (dramatic, thematic, etc.) for the piece. In what ways did the author succeed in fulfilling this project?
  • Specify which areas need to further developed or reconsidered in order to accomplish the author’s goals.
  • Discuss how the elements of craft function in the piece. Is point of view effectively used? Does the plot provide the drama necessary to sustain the story?
  • What are the external and internal dramas of the story? How do they work together in the story?
  • What were the strongest points/aspects of the story, the areas that helped you understand and appreciate the author’s project?
  • What questions does the draft raise–in terms of logic, drama, theme, etc.–that the author should be aware of?
  • Comment on how language operates in story. What are the identifiable trends, patterns, and qualities to the writing, and how do they lend themselves (or perhaps undermine) the project at hand?
  • What are the thematic possibilities of the story? Should elements of craft (point of view, plot, dialogue, etc.) be considered with respect to the possible themes of the work?
  • These are merely some questions to help you structure your critiques. Some of them you may address, others you may not. Regardless of how you approach your critique, keep in mind that the objective is to help the author accomplish what she has set out to do with their fiction, by identifying what is successful, under-developed, and questionable about the work-in-progress, and by addressing issues of craft, drama, theme, etc.
  • And of course, be respectful and courteous in your critiques. You’re not approaching these letters as reviewers, but as fellow writers working to fulfill a common goal–good fiction.

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