There are a lot of theories about the best way to critique. The “sandwich” method is one of the most used, especially in Christian organizations. Most Inspire groups, for example, have adopted some form of this method. The idea is to open with something you really like about the piece, share some points of constructive criticism, and then end with another positive comment. This works very well because we need to know what we’re doing right as much as what we need to work on. Besides, receiving a critique with nothing but “negatives” can be disheartening.
But there’s a particularly helpful way to address the middle bit of the “sandwich.” It’s called The One Big Thing. When you’re critiquing a piece, work to discover and express the One Thing (or sometimes, a maximum of two) that would take the piece to the next level. Would more information about the protagonist help you understand her dilemma better? Would more location description help you anchor the speaking characters in their environment? Or is there a lack of dialog present? What about including some Deep Point of View? Even a gently “negative” comment could be helpful: “I’m not yet sure why your antagonist hates puppies so much,” etc.
The value of this is twofold. Because the author will receive several critiques from each submission, there is often an overwhelming amount of information coming at them. It’s hard to sift through dozens and dozens of comments to find the most important elements. The One Big Thing helps cut through all of that information to what’s most important. Less important comments can still be made in the sidebar with Track Changes, but putting the spotlight on what would really make a piece soar is some of the most helpful feedback we can give.
But, you know what else it does? It helps the one who is critiquing a piece as much as the author! When we are forced to look at a submission deeply, and articulate what would help the writer most, we use our writing muscles in a different way. The process of looking at a piece through that lens develops our ability to identify larger issues and to brainstorm solutions. Being able to identify The One Big Thing in someone else’s writing hones our ability to identify them in our own.
Win-win? You bet!
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