The Art of Feedback

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Part of learning creative writing is learning how to give meaningful, specific, and helpful feedback to other writers. At times, giving feedback can seem as daunting of a task as writing a stellar short story or a clever poem.

Today cadet teacher Justice McCaston examined nine statements written by students in Creative Writing as part of a peer feedback exercise on short stories. These statements, as well as Justice’s comments, serve as a guide on what helps, and what doesn’t, when providing input on our peers’ writing:

  1. The story as a whole is overused and cliche, the crises and resolution are dull and expected.
  • Not Helpful.
  • This isn’t helpful because it is way too broad to be used by the writer. It states the problems but it doesn’t provide any solutions or examples.

2. Resolution is too fairy-tale needs to be a little more realistic.

  • Helpful.
  • It gives an idea of what the resolution may seem like to the reader and allows the writer to make a clear decision on if he/she wants a more fairy-tale solution or a more realistic solution.

3. I like the characters.

  • Not helpful.
  • It doesn’t give the writer enough information to elaborate on. They didn’t provide an example of the characters they liked or the reasons why they liked those characters.

4. There isn’t much sensory detail. You have several opportunities where you can use imagery – i.e., when Teddy’s parents are killed in Afghanistan & he is bullied.

  • Helpful.
  • Not only did they state the issue but this individual also provided the writer with examples of a place where they can add more detail as well.

5. There has been little to no setting description in your story. Try to answer the questions, What does her office look like? Her workplace? Her car? Her apartment? How many rooms are in her apartment? Things like that.

  • Helpful.
  • They explained to the writer what they thought he/she could’ve done better and gave tips on how the writer could make the story more detailed.

6. The opening line was perfect. I was immediately drawn in. I think the sentence is fine as is.

  • Helpful.
  • Helpful if the question was, “Is there anything this writer should add, take away, or change from the opening line?”
  • Not helpful if the writer was seeking advice regarding the entire story.

7. The character seems to have a lot of backstory but I don’t get to know any of it.

  • Not helpful.
  • In some situations this may have been purposely done. Sometimes writers like to leave a little wonder about a character, especially if they’re writing a series. Most writers provide background information on characters if it was needed.

8. Setting kinda confusing.

  • Not Helpful.
  • This individual didn’t give enough information on what part of the setting was confusing or how to fix it.

9. No detail on how main characters look.

  • Helpful.
  • It tells the writer that their story lacks detail on the main characters. The readers can not imagine what the character may look like.

As a class, these are some of the words we came up with to describe helpful feedback:

  • Specific
  • Constructive
  • Critical
  • Honest
  • Compassionate
  • Clear
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