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Critique Tips

The following critique guidelines, borrowed & adapted from Zoetrope: All-Story Short-fiction magazine are intended to serve as a guide to conducting this discussion in a useful way.

A note about Zoetrope. This online magazine was founded by Francis Coppola and features online submissions and reviews of short stories and novellas. It can be found at:


Critique 101:

1. Critique with humility: you could be wrong.
2. Strive to be constructive.
3. Be specific whenever possible.
4. Don’t neglect your emotional responses.
5. Support passion with reason.
6. Accept criticism graciously.

Critique 102: The Craft of the Critique

Critique 101 offered quick and dirty guidelines to reviewing short stories submitted to the Zoetrope: All-Story site.

The Craft of Critique offers more in-depth guidelines to follow when reviewing. We hope that by following these guideline when you review other’s work, you’ll not only help them to improve their writing, but improve your own along the way. In addition, many writers on this site adhere to the unwritten rule of returning reviews (known as a reciprocity). Many times, a well thought out reviews are key to receiving reviews.

One person, who prefers to remain anonymous, says, “Here’s the worst review I ever gave. It was one of my first five, a real review, and the perfect example of how not to review a story:

“Sorry, but I didn’t like this story at all.”

Some things to consider before/while writing a review:
Writing a review is not only what you say, but also how you say it.

Keep the following in mind:

1. Be specific and descriptive: Vague feedback is worse than no feedback at all. Don’t say, “I didn’t like your story.” The writer wants to know why you didn’t like the story. Offer specific examples of weak points within the story: “I was confused by the ending. It seemed that Anna wouldn’t have chosen to go back to Karenin considering her love for Vronsky and her aversion to Karenin that you showed throughout the story.”

2. Be constructive: Try to review in positive terms, “Maybe if Lenin married Kitty you could improve the subplot and provide a contrast to Anna and Vronsky,” instead of reviewing negatively, “Among other things I listed as wrong with your story, the Levin subplot is cliché and trite.”

3. Be humble: Everyone was a beginner once. In fact,we all take a risk each time we write that first sentence. Remember that reviews are merely opinions. What you think is crass trash another person thinks is beautiful literature.

4. Be honest: Sometimes you have to deliver bad news to a writer. Don’t praise a story falsely just to protect their feelings. Try to find a way to tactfully and helpfully say what you need to say.

5. Be open-minded: If science fiction bores you silly, don’t give it low marks. Offer what comments you can, or decline to review the story. A review that says, “I don’t like science fiction so I didn’t like your story” benefits nobody and makes you look foolish. Don’t forget that not everyone is writing from the same perspective as you.

6. Be thorough: Comment on what you liked in the story, what you didn’t like in the story, and what you think could be improved. Offer suggestions. Give the type of thorough review you’d like to get in return.

7. Be gracious: This is for the writer, not the reviewer. The only public response to a bad review should be, “Thank you.” If you have questions about the points the reviewer makes, don’t hesitate to contact them through e-mail or the boards to ask questions. Many people on the discussion boards welcome threads related to the craft of writing. If you want to call your reviewer a schmuck, tell it to your dog or mop the kitchen floor until the urge passes. Complaining publicly about a bad review makes you look bad also.

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