I critiqued someone’s work on a forum last night, sending out a detailed explanation as to why, when you take something as vital as conflict out of the story, what you have to fill in to take its place has to be amazingly powerful to work around the fact that the story doesn’t have its own skeleton to keep upright. I think I used the example of cake you get at a buffet that looks really pretty but when you take a bite out of it with your eyes closed you only taste sweet, not flavour. It had a fabulous last line, but up to that point it was just a remembered memory.
The person thanked me in great detail. I was absolutely stunned. I can forget that there are people out there who actually want to get better at writing and post their work for critique in the hopes that others may read and respond, not just to be told they’re brilliant. I get it when you get four responses all telling you the story is perfect but for comma issues and one saying that a story is about the main character changing from the person they are at the start of the story to the person they are at the end.
I put a lot of work into my critiques. I’ve learned so much by reading unpublished work than I ever would have reading just polished work. It took seeing 30-40 examples of why doing X didn’t work for anyone before I started to think that maybe it would be easier if I stopped doing X as well. Until that point, I always thought I could break X on purpose and people would clearly see how much I was playing with the trope. That never once happened.
My shortlisted years best fantasy and horror story got a “terrible” critique from an IFWA member. I was so angry he didn’t get it I through the critique under my couch. Six months later I pulled it out, read it over and realized just how right the IFWIT was. So I copy and pasted the order of things in the way he suggested and not only sold the story to the first market it went to, it got an honourable mention in years best.
That being said, I read a review from the article that waxed poetically about every story but mine, which the reviewer loathed. My story was the only story to make the years best from Apex that year. So not every terrible critique is right, and not every right critique has to be terrible. Or something else really emotionally deep. Critiquing is important!