How to Critique Flash Fiction

Welcome; if you’re here it means you’re probably looking for some direction on how to give a meaningful critique to the author of a flash fiction story on this site.  We are a very welcoming and accommodating community here at FlashWriters, and we love all kinds of feedback.  Our authors love to hear simple “awesome,” or “I liked it” messages.  They love to hear how the piece made you feel and what you thought of the characters and story.  This is valuable feedback and we welcome it.

Let’s be clear:  It’s OK to tell an author “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.”  We encourage you to do so.

But what if you want to take it to the next level?  What if you wanted to give more than your impression and had some constructive feedback for the author?  Believe it or not, there is a right way and a wrong way to give actual critical feedback.  What follows is a brief tutorial on how to “up your critique game” if you’re so inclined.

How to take your flash fiction critique to the next level

Writers come here to practice their writing, have fun, interact with other writers, and hopefully improve their craft.  And that’s where you come in – the critic.  Giving a critique isn’t hard, but there are a few things you should consider when giving one.

To be a critic and to give critical feedback is to shed your biases.  It’s more than grammar and punctuation suggestions.  It’s more than “I like this, or I don’t like that.”  In fact, what you like or dislike is irrelevant to the critique.

It’s Not About You.

That bears repeating: a critique is not about what you like and what you dislike.  Your personal bias has no place in a critique.

Renowned author A. Lee Martinez put it best:

You must remove whether you like something from the equation as much as possible. It’s a weird idea, but to realize that you may like something that is actually bad or dislike something that is actually good is important.

This is why most people are not good critics. Their default argument boils down to “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” which is valid from an emotional place, but doesn’t actually get into the meat and potatoes of why a particular piece of art works.

Let’s explore that for a second.  As writers, we love it when you tell us you like something, and we aren’t particularly pleased when you tell us you dislike something.  Your likes and dislikes, though, don’t give a lot of indication as to what is missing or what can be improved in the flash fiction piece you are reviewing.  It’s really not important, although it may be the most interesting thing to you at the time.  But remember, it’s not about you.

What is it About?

A. Lee Martinez goes on to further suggest that the goal of a critique is to determine if the writer succeeds at what they were trying to accomplish or not, regardless of your personal bias.  It’s about you trying to help the writer create the story they want to create.  Put another way, you may not like stories where elves aren’t like “Tolkien elves”, but you have to put that aside when you critique and try and figure out what the author is trying to accomplish with the story.

Just as importantly, Martinez says, you don’t have to agree with the intent of the author to see the merit in the story.  There may be, for instance, a political statement in a story that you vehemently disagree with.  If the author successfully accomplished the goal of the story with that statement, though, you as a critic need to acknowledge that.  Conversely, if the author fails, that doesn’t mean the statement you disagree with is the culprit.

The Critique

So let’s break it down into a few short rules.  When you give a critique, it will be in the forums or as a comment on the story itself.  If you keep these rules in mind when you give that critique, you’ll do fine.

  1. A critique is not about your likes or dislikes.  Read the story with a critical eye, not a biased one.
  2. Figure out what the author is trying to accomplish with the flash fiction story you just read.
  3. Determine if it succeeds or not.
  4. Describe why it does or does not succeed in your critique.
  5. Do not offer suggested edits to make it better – let the author figure that out.  It’s not your story.  It’s theirs.
  6. If you’re really hung up on grammar or punctuation, leave a comment and ask if the author welcomes that feedback.
  7. Don’t be upset if the author doesn’t implement any changes based on your critique.  There is no contract obligating them to make the story satisfactory to you.
  8. Be polite and concise in your critique.
  9. Critique the writing and not the author.

That’s it, and it’s enough. Just follow the golden rule in addition to the rules above and you’ll be taking your critiques to the next level.