You have just read (or listened) to someone’s story, poem, or idea and you think it is a load of crap!
Ok, hopefully you don’t think that (if you do, this article is not really for you, just smile at the individual and walk away).
No, in this scenario, you can appreciate the piece; but perhaps you see a flaw in the plot, the delivery, the writing…and you have no idea how to pass this message on constructively.
How do you tell them about this blemish without quashing their dreams forever? The writer in question might be your sibling, your friend or a fellow writer in your workshop; and you really don’t want to hurt their feelings but you know they need to hear what you have to say.
First let me show you how NOT to give feedback:
“So what do you think?” asks eager amateur writer after delivering his/her work
- “I don’t like it.”
- “Don't quit medicine.”
- “Call your boss and ask for your job back.”
- “Seriously? Did you go to school?!”
- “You’re no Shakespeare, that’s for sure!” he replied as he burst out laughing
- “Well, it’s all right but your sentence construction leaves a lot to be desired, your characters are one-dimensional, your plot has holes the sizes of craters, and you used the wrong colour pen!”
Now, that you are clear on how you shouldn’t reply (and please, I’m very serious – don’t), let’s talk about how you should reply.
This is where the sandwich effect comes in. We will be using a steak sandwich for this example (patent pending).
1) First identify what you liked about the piece:
“I really like your character in the story, she comes alive for me.”
“I love the way you use the half rhymes.”
(if you are really struggling to find something good to say) – “Great title!”
2) Then tell them what doesn’t work and suggest how they could improve it (that’s what makes the feedback constructive):
“I am not too sure that Mary killing herself because she lost her contact is convincing, perhaps she could merely, I don’t know…hmmm…burst into tears?”
“You repeated ‘I hate you’ ten times in your poem, however her hatred of her husband would be more haunting did she actually refrain from saying it at all.”
Avoid saying ‘but’ before you deliver your critic; it kills the spirit.
“You are really good at describing a room, I could see it as though I was there.”
(and if you are really struggling) – “Your vocabulary is amazing. Do you eat dictionaries for breakfast?”
Here is the sandwich again as a whole piece:
“Wow, great story - the action was realistic and fast paced. Perhaps, you should consider setting it in the present; the use of guns in a pre-historic setting seems a little false. However, I do love the setting, it is really unique.”
You 'sandwich' the criticism between your acknowledgement of their hard work, achievements and successes.