When You Are Responding

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When You Are Responding

Post by ninian » Mon Mar 20, 2006 1:46 pm

Remember that you're reading a work in progress. These are drafts.

A good way to begin is with these first three responses:

1. Provide a specific, positive observation about the work.

You must be specific in your positive response. Don't just say, "It's good," or "It moved me," or "It's funny." If the work is moving, explain why; e.g.: "You have managed to make the puppy-dog's death tragic by using original language, instead of the usual clichés." If it's funny, explain why; e.g.: "You have created a humourous contrast between the speaker's intentions and his actions. Way to make irony, dude!" Refer to the exact line(s) that illustrate the strength of the writing you're addressing.

If you cannot think of a positive response, read it again. And again.

2. Provide a specific, constructive suggestion for revision.

You must be specific in your suggestion for revision. Don't just say, "Your imagery should be stronger." Say, "You could make the image of the beach more vivid by adding more detail. How about some seashells, seaweed, or a dead fish?" Don't just say, "The order of events should be changed." Say, "I think the parrot should do his little jig after the sailor gets his tattoo, because it would reinforce your theme that the tattoo is a symbol of liberation."

3. Ask a specific question of clarification.

This is important. In almost every work, there will be confusing aspects. Again, you must be specific. Don't say, "What's with this Susan character? I totally don't get her." Say, "Susan puzzles me. In one part of the poem, she’s very sage-like and in another part she’s erratic and irresponsible. Is she wise or not? Is there something more we should know about her story, or is this just an under-developed persona?" Clearly explain why you are puzzled. If the problem is one of ambiguity (i.e. two or more possible meanings), clearly state both of those possible meanings in your own words. "I don't understand the line Susan hated her cat because she was miserable. Does that mean that Susan hates the cat because the cat is miserable? Or does it mean that Susan hates the cat because Susan is miserable?" This will help the writer understand where he or she could be more clear. Even intentional ambiguity can be a problem if its sole effect is to confuse the reader.

If everything about the work seems crystal clear to you, dig deeper. Ask questions about the intent of the work such as "Do you think Susan's poor eyesight reflects her lack of spiritual insight?" Explain why you think it might.

After you have made these first three responses, continue with other positive comments, suggestions for revision, or questions of clarification. You might also want to provide your own interpretation of the work (e.g., "To me, this poem suggests that the romance is doomed. When the dead fish washes up on the beach, it foreshadows the end of the love affair.")

No negative criticism! Criticism, if any, must always be phrased as constructive suggestion. If you just "don't like" the work, keep it to yourself. If you just "don't get" dark poetry, romantic poetry, sestinas, science fiction poetry, or whatever, keep it to yourself. Such comments are of no use to the writer.

Avoid wasting time discussing typographical or grammatical errors. If you spot them, simply point them out and move on.

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Re: When You Are Responding

Post by heinzs » Sun Jun 12, 2011 1:54 pm

An' it harm none, do what ye will. Blessed Be.
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