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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Editorial

The Spirit and Practice of Critiques

by Danielle L. Parker and Don Webb

In view of Bewildering Stories’ educational mission and our principle that anything in Bewildering Stories is open to discussion, Danielle offers some practical advice and useful references to serious readers and writers alike. The Review Editors apply Danielle’s principles as second nature, and we like to see that done in our Forum, as well.

The ideas and references are Danielle’s; I’ve made this a collaborative editorial in order to add notes about Bewildering Stories’ standard practice.

All contributors and readers are encouraged to propose discussions for the Challenges, which invite critiques by asking explicit questions about how stories could be improved and what others think of them.

Of course, criticism and suggestions must be constructive, with the aim of improving a work. It’s vital that authors acquire the skill of reading critically both their own works and others’. Since we’re often blind to our own faults, learning to read critically is often best done by reading other authors’ works.

Here’s a URL, one of many, that offers advice on how to critique:

It goes without saying that venting personal agendas or emotional problems has no place in literary criticism. Dan McNeil’s “Collecting Stones from a Beach,” in issue 392, satirizes the kind of book review that tells the reader a lot more about the reviewer than about the book. Dan McNeil’s spoof is very funny and well worth reading. Unfortunately, the critiques in on-line forums sometimes become toxic. We do not need that.

And that’s where the spirit of fair literary criticism comes into play. You may not like romance, for example, but others do. You can still offer a fair critique of such works by setting aside your personal preferences and simply look for ways to help authors make their works come together effectively.

Here are a few critique groups that I have either used and know to be good or have heard good reports of from others:

Absolute Write has a section where writers can request volunteer beta readers or offer their own services for that purpose.

Bewildering Stories itself can serve as an excellent critique group. Authors’ suggesting questions for the Challenges or raising questions in the Forum is a good way to fulfill that opportunity.

Beginning writers can learn a lot from organized critique groups. Experienced writers will probably find that these groups eventually reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of their knowledge and understanding.

Meanwhile, Bewildering Stories’ index The Writer’s Craft is a gold mine of practical advice for serious writers. With a little exploration you’re likely to discover information that just may put your literary work over the top.

Copyright © 2010 by Danielle L. Parker
and Don Webb

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