Well-considered, constructive feedback is invaluable to any writer and online groups provide an anonymous and non-confrontational atmosphere that many writers welcome. In order to provide a helpful critique that a fellow writer can use to improve a story, keep the following in mind.
If you are going to take the time to critique a story, make it worthwhile for the author. Really take the time to read carefully and consider all aspects of the story – plot, characterization, dialog, setting and so on.
Be objective. A particular style or genre may not appeal to you but try to focus on the story itself and the quality of the writing. You will still be able to see where the story can be improved, even if you know this particular story will never be a favorite of yours.
Criticize constructively. There is no point in drawing attention to something you think is wrong unless you can suggest ways to put it right. Never highlight a problem without offering a solution, or better still a range of possible solutions.
Don’t be overly picky, and find out what type of feedback the writer wants. You’re assessing the story itself, which may be in early draft form. You don’t have to point out questionable grammar or correct every spelling mistake, unless the writer asks for feedback on spelling and grammar.
Criticize the writing, not the values, politics or ideas of the author. It is particularly easy in an online group to attack or provoke someone in a way you would never do if you were sitting face to face with them.
Be clear and direct in your comments. Online communication can be tricky, especially with people you don’t know in real life. Remember that humor and lighthearted teasing can be hard to convey without the help of tone of voice and facial expressions. Always check before you post a comment that you have said what you mean and that it can’t be misinterpreted.
Make suggestions or put questions to the author. Don’t make sweeping statements about how the work should be changed. It is, after all, the author’s story. Your critique should make him or her think about how it can be improved and make decisions based on your advice or suggestions.
Be specific, not general. The phrase ‘too many characters’ is general and not that helpful. It might be better, for example, to point out that the writer could merge two characters into one and still achieve all the same plot points.
Share resources. If you think a certain writer might enjoy/benefit from a particular book or website, recommend it. If you think you know of a good market for their work, mention it. Support other writers and you’ll soon develop a network of writing contacts willing to support you.