ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Constructive Criticism for Writers Groups

Updated on June 5, 2014

Criticism is a part of every writer's life. Even well-established, commercially successful authors have to deal with rejection letters and criticisms of their work.

For new or emerging authors, the prospect of dealing with an avalanche of other peoples' opinions of their work can be daunting. Months if not years of dedicated effort go into creating a manuscript. To have a someone dismiss all that hard work with a few fleeting and possibly snarky comments can be crushing. And the more successful an author proves to be, the more the critics' knives are sharpened.

This Hubpage gives tips on how to deal with unpleasant criticism, and also offer guidelines on how to offer constructive criticism within a writers' circle.

Girfts for Writers at Spooky Cute Designs!

Heaps of gifts from Spooky Cute Designs.
Heaps of gifts from Spooky Cute Designs.

The Craft of Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism aims to help a person improve their writing by politely pointing out areas of weakness, so that re-writing can then produce a stronger and possibly more saleable piece of work.

Snarky criticism aims to make one person feel superior to another.

The difference between the two approaches is obvious. Within a writers' group, the approach to offering criticism can result either in an inspiring, friendly and forward-moving group or a cliquey, self-defeating group which is destined to lose members.

The Mighty Opinion!

Personal taste is not an indicator of a manuscript's artistic or commercial value.

Take a moment to think about the millions of books waiting to be bought at this very moment. How many of them would you be willing to pay £20 to read? Or £10? Or £5? How many of them would you be interested in reading even if they were free? 10%? 5% of them?

Yet each one of those published books has been considered a viable business proposition by their publisher.

A person's taste in music can be used as a parallel. One person might listen to Vivaldi, Mozart or Le rue Delashay, while another person might prefer Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters or Little Richard. A third might listen to Yes, Rush or The Tea Party; a forth to 30 Seconds to Mars or HIM. Such variations are endless - and nobody is right or wrong in their taste. Each to their own.

A similar principle applies to constructive criticism of writing.

Opinion is not written in stone!

If a piece of writing has no personal appeal, it is possible to find points to admire such as strong characterisations, plot flow, good dialogue or pleasing turns of phrase.

It is never constructive to say, "I don't like it therefore it's rubbish."

Even if someone to was read aloud the most flawed MS you'd ever heard in your life, you could diplomatically suggest ways to improve it.

How to Offer Writers Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism is useful to every writer as it helps to identify aspects of any given piece of work which need improvement. Helping others in this way will also help improve your own work as you get into the habit of looking out for flaws.

Constructive criticism should never be personal. It should always remain polite. Be sure that the writer has invited criticism before offering your opinions.

Grammar, punctuation and spelling errors can be awkward to spot if you're critiquing a work which has been read aloud. However, if the reader stumbles over the same sentence twice then there is probably something which needs fixing. Maybe the sentence is too long, or the phrasing is awkward, or the punctuation is in the wrong place. Sometimes an awkward sentence can be deleted entirely to improve a paragraph.

Reading MS aloud is an excellent way of detecting errors such as repetition of information, words or phrases, the use of cliches or information which might be inaccurate or contradictory.

If a story has a slow start, a flagging middle section or an ending which can be readily predicted, then suggest that the writer takes another look at the flow of the piece. Information which is not relevant to the plot can be removed to improve pace, for example.

Do all the characters add to the plot? If not, do they even need to be mentioned? Good dialogue between characters should drive the plot along. If it does not, can it be edited to improve pace?

Too much information can slow pace enormously. For example, if a walk is described we do not need to know the Latin name of every plant seen, the history of nearby buildings, the types of cars which drive by - unless, of course, any of this is directly relevant to the plot. The reverse of this is when a writer has overlooked description altogether, perhaps even omitting to set the story in a specific location.

Do details about characters change without reason? Maybe a brown-eyed person suddenly becomes green-eyed, or someone who hates coffee is later described as drinking it. The use of character charts (see link below) might be suggested.

After the story has been read, are there any unanswered plot threads? Did a character do something which made no sense within the context of the tale? Or did they not do something which seemed too obvious choice, resulting in a dull conclusion? Ask questions of the story to locate plot loopholes.

Discover the Artisan-Sorcerer Series!

Discover the artisan-sorcerer series. Urban fantasy/paranormal romance by Adele Cosgrove-Bray.
Discover the artisan-sorcerer series. Urban fantasy/paranormal romance by Adele Cosgrove-Bray. | Source

How to Receive Constructive Criticism about Your Writing

If you have invited constructive criticism, be aware that you are not obliged to agree with any comments given. However, if several people make similar comments then they have probably made a point worthy of your attention.

Don't argue against critical comments. It's no use giving extra, verbal explanations to try to justify your work. The story is what is written on paper. If you lift a book from a shelf, you don't have the author stand beside you and tell you all the extra bits which the story accidentally left out.

If someone is confused by an aspect of your story, check to see if the information appears in the writing. Maybe you had an idea clear in your imagination which didn't communicate clearly on the page.

Or maybe the person reading your story stopped paying attention. In this case, were they bored? Perhaps your story simply wasn't their cup of tea, but if ten people's attentions drift then this probably indicates a weakness in that particular story.

Don't take criticism as a personal affront to your undiscovered genius! If you are too precious about your writing you will never improve it. Writing is a craft, and like all crafts it has to be learned and developed over time with continued practice.

Criticism in Writers Groups

A useless writers group says every piece of work is totally marvelous. This may flatter a few egos for a while, but people will feel that they're getting no feedback other than sugary-sweet 'niceness.'

A destructive writers group will spout opinions as if they're absolutes. New members will quickly leave the snarky clique to their snarking, or even be deterred from writing anything else. Snarks aren't interested in anyone's writing but their own, regardless of merit. If confronted with such people, politely enquire into their publishing credits. Most have none.

A useful writers group, on the other hand, offers constructive criticism which helps its members improve their writing. Its members are not in competition with each other; there are no cliques. Its members feel inspired and encouraged to write more, to improve their craft, and look forward to remaining long-standing, active group members.

© 2010 Adele Cosgrove-Bray


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • htodd profile image


      8 years ago from United States

      This is really very inspiring ..Thanks for that

    • Maria Cecilia profile image

      Maria Cecilia 

      10 years ago from Philippines

      this is something very new to me... There is so much that I still must learn as a writer.. thanks for sharing.

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      10 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      Hi, Waterside; thanks for dropping by. I can appreciate the frustration of having a visitor from another group try to poach members for their own group. Maybe it's something that any group has to put up with, as if a person wants to leave and go elsewhere they will. And if you were to start laying down rules, they'd be even more likely to leave in protest.

      Several members of Riverside Writers take active part in other writing groups or classes, and for us it's not an issue. Members are totally free to join whichever clubs they want to join.

      What we do is try to make out own group as interesting as possible through our program of speakers, events and group projects, so that people don't even want to leave.

    • profile image


      10 years ago from Devon

      How do you deal with one Writers Group poaching members from another? I am part of a fairly new but very vibrant Writers Group in Devon and a girl turned up a couple of months ago to join us; yet was reluctant to tell us anything about herself. It has since transpired she is a member of another Writers Group which has falling membership and was overheard trying to 'poach' some of our newer (and younger!) members at the last meeting, including one journalist. There seems to be no hard and fast rules governing this but it is causing the dedicated members to hold back information now when we meet as they don't want her to walk off with any more of our ideas or members. Any suggestions?

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      10 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      Thank you, Manna.

    • profile image

      Manna in the wild 

      10 years ago

      Well done. I like the nice plain English that you used.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)