Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Wonder-Full Stories 3 - An approach to creating awe for readers

Go to the right place. Wait. Listen. Welcome. Develop. Tune. Set. This is one process for including wonder in your stories. It isn’t the only process. And it isn’t guaranteed. But, with enough attempts, it will succeed (on occasion) and create the potential for rich experiences in your stories. When it doesn’t succeed, even when every word of your wonder-full scene gets cut, the process will still make you a better writer.

So let’s go through these steps, one by one.

Go to the right place. In real life, this can mean experiencing great art. (Put me in front of a Vermeer.) Or Nature (Grand Canyon or backyard garden.) Or being present during a positive life event (birth, first steps, first love). Caution: If you are operating a video camera during any of these, wonder won’t show up for you.
All of the life experiences make wonder in stories possible and more probable. But, for me, wonder often happens as I’m writing. I smile for no reason. A chill goes down my back. And then?
Wait. Often, wonder is preceded by quiet, even boredom. I feel like I need to let myself synchronize with something bigger. Is there a door opening?
Listen. The Old Testament refers to “a still small voice.” (And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. ) That makes sense to me. Wonder does not seem to declare itself with cannons, though it can seem to fill the senses as it progresses. It is easy to miss. Which is why distractions are such a pain.
Welcome. Look up “amazement” in the thesaurus, and you’ll see shock, horror, and fear. Wonder is uncontained and uncontrolled. It is humbling. It is uncomfortable in a profound sense. The way to experience it is to let go.
Develop. Wonder is expressed poetically. In fiction, it chooses its own first draft. But once it is recorded, it needs to be imagined in a way that can reach an audience. The dream needs to be reshaped for others, without losing its dreamlike quality. This is delicate stuff. I see the first draft as being a poem written in a different language that I’m obliged to translate faithfully.
Tune. The expression of wonder now needs to be looked over objectively. I remove (or repair) in this order distractions, confusion, and ego. Then I test each word. Is it the right word? Does it need to be there?
Set. This consists of three things: 1) Make sure this wonder belongs in the longer story. If it is not thematic, find it another home. 2) Create a gentle segue. What comes before wonder needs to be grounded in the familiar world and quiet. In the film of The Wizard of Oz, the black and white farm house lands with a jolt. The background music stops. Dorothy says, “Oh.” Then, except the sounds a basket being picked up and a door opening, there’s quiet. Until she opens the door to Oz. What follows is music, color, and wonder. 3) End the scene (or better yet, the chapter). Let it resonate.

The goal of wonder is to open the door to uncountable, unexpected possibilities for your readers. Ideally, the theme explored in the rest of the story supports this experience without putting barriers around it.

Why not go directly to great themes of life and literature and build scenes around them? In my experience, that’s unlikely to work. Maybe wonder is contrary. Maybe it is too evanescent. My suspicion is that, like happiness, it’s best not to pursue it directly because it is the product of many good choices. But, if you must, give it a try.

Also, it’s worth learning to recognize wonder even when it comes to you without any process. Surprise is one of its features (both in writing and in life). When you experience wonder, appreciate the moment and respond. Capture and learn. Then it might be valuable to go back and explore it’s origins. You may come up with a better approach than the one I’ve laid out here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wonder-Full Stories 2 - Threats to feelings of awe

When wonder is part of your story, it becomes memorable. It adds impact and builds connections with readers. If you look at the stories people take as there own, often to the point of obsession, you’ll often find scenes that create a sense of awe.

I think writers need to clear a space in their writing for wonder because there are story elements that may work against it:

Expectations - A lot of writing guidance is about setting up expectations and fulfilling these (sometimes with a twist). This is basic to much of storytelling, but it can tie things down to the mundane and reduce the range of possibilities. It also can provide a level of preparation that may be necessary at times (to avoid cheating the reader), but suggests too much. Wonder sneaks up on people. It usually shows up as a surprise. And I’ve frequently found that it is preceded not by hooks and questions being raised, but by quiet scenes that have authenticity. These scenes build trust and put readers into calmer states without boring them. I call such scenes gentle segues.

Distractions - This one goes for writing as well as reading. I don’t think wonder can be appreciated and conveyed by writers who don’t clear out the noise and commotion of life from time to time. And writing that reminds people of these or gives protagonists tasks that are too familiar works against stepping away from the commonplace.

Negativity - There is important and inspiring work that deals with negative issues. And protagonists who aren’t seriously flawed can’t have dramatic character arcs. However… wonder seems to require appreciation of the positive aspects of life. It seems to reward optimism and a focus on what is good and nurturing. When pain, betrayal, temptation, and cruelty are around, wonder seems to move out of reach. In particular, moments of loss — which have real virtue in storytelling — are the opposites of wonder. (Complementing loss and wonder in a story is powerful, but very difficult.)

Ego - Voice and perspectives enhance writing, but, when the ego is around — and especially when it is too controlling — everything gets framed and contained. Wonder and boundaries, especially those driven by ego, don’t go together.

Spoilers - Remember the point about surprise and the unexpected? It amazes me how often writers create scenes that, taken by themselves, could create wonder (and sometimes actually do in early drafts), but kill them with tips and setups that undercut the surprise. I think this is motivated in part by the intent not to cheat. But mostly, I think this dross is added because the writer or a critic/reader/editor is disturbed by the wonder experience. And needs to diminish it.

Small scope - Cramped stories don’t leave much room for wonder. On the other hand, there’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film has an enormous canvas for storytelling and it makes heavenly bodies part of the story. Having a larger scope doesn’t make wonder inevitable, but stories that focus on infinity, vastness, and nature are ahead of stories that are too close to daily experiences. Spectacle isn’t required. One of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, could find wonder in a garden. But, while being in the moment enhances most stories, stepping out of the moment allows for wonder. Any story that supports awareness of eternity is likely to find wonder.

Humor - This may seem strange, especially since I focused on The Fisher King, a film Terry Gilliam (a Python, no less), when I kicked off this series. But I think humor tends to bring things down to size, and wonder is the opposite. In addition, humor is often driven by anger, which is a negative emotion. Gilliam creates a space for his scene. It includes gentle humor (dancing nuns), but nothing broad. And it is loving and accepting, without a hint of anger.

Humor is good to end this post with because it illustrates that this list is not set in stone. As I thought about genres that discourage wonder, my mind went immediately to heist films, which are about thrills and twists and turns and, ultimately, greed. Then I remembered the ending of Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Ocean’s Eleven. When the gang gathers around the fountain, it’s ethereal. I remember how I felt wonder at that moment. So anything is possible.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wonder-Full Stories 1 - Reader delight

Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King has a moment that opens the Universe to me. It’s the waltz in Grand Central Station. If you haven’t seen it, take a look. Or, better yet, watch the full movie.

What works for me and makes this scene magical is the sense of wonder it creates.
When I first saw it, it took me by surprise and, on an unconscious level, caused me to imagine a world bigger than myself. I sensed an uncontrollable cascade of possibilities. In Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia, a Parkinson’s patient speaks of “dancing out of frame.” That’s wonder.

Wonder is often accompanied by surprise, thrills, joy and a sense of hope, but I don’t think any of these contain it. I thought about this in terms of a quote from Stephen King about three kinds of horror.

“The Gross-out: …it's when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: … it's when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute.”

By analogy to gross-out/horror/terror, maybe it’s recognition/insight/wonder. Recognition is making a connection that matters to us, and it is visceral. An insight crystallizes ideas to present a new conclusion (and is often intellectual). Wonder takes us out of ourselves. Its impact can’t be boxed in, exhausted, or completely intellectualized. I would say it is mostly spiritual.

Why does this matter to a writer? For me, because I want to do something as wonderful as Terry Gilliam has. I want to create this experience for readers. Wonder is part of my life, and I want to share it through my work.

More practically, I think many of the most interesting cult films and those works that attract intense fans do so because people prize the experience of wonder. Science fiction explicitly claims the sense of wonder as one of its values, and I think that explains the dedication of its fans in large part. The themes — a future that reframes the present through new powers, reimagined social rules, and the possibilities of technologies that transform our destiny — are big and have a natural claim on wonder. First contact with aliens is a persistent SF theme, as are other firsts.

And firsts may be the most common causes of wonder in real life. (Like, for instance, the first time you hold your newborn child.)

The romance genre can claim wonder, too. In fact, when done correctly, the first of love (meet cute, first kiss, etc.) open up worlds for characters and readers. (It’s less true when these first become too common tropes, but that can be true in any form of literature. There are plenty of horror stories that lean heavily on the gross-out.

I believe stories should entertain. They can do that without wonder, but the work stands out and becomes more memorable if it has a moment of wonder. Entertainment and wonder together can become art, as is the case with James Joyce’s short stories, where he consciously worked to include “epiphanies.” To my mind, those were moments of wonder that raised those stories to a higher level.

Creating wonder is more an art than a science, but there are ways potential moments of wonder get ruined. Often, these are driven by practices intended to make stories more entertaining, but I suspect, looking more closely, a writer can cut out the parts written to engage the reader without losing them. And gaining wonder will be the result. I’ll get into wonder killers in my next post.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Slaying the Doubt Monster - Another view of confidence

Is the story good enough? Are you really a good writer? Do you have the chops to tell the story that you care about? Are you working on the right story? Can this be fixed?

Every writer has doubts along the way. They may be tied to something as abstract as imposter syndrome or an inferiority complex. They may be as real as the negative voices of teachers, parents, and editors taking residence in your head. Or as specific as a line that maybe hilarious — or hackneyed.

Doubt is just fine when it spurs us to rise to our better selves, when it pushes us to better prose and storytelling. It’s less than worthless when it turns to quicksand and bring work to a halt. Or a career to a halt. It also can, insidiously, infect our work. Confidence is something that readers (including editors and agents) can sense. And long for. They want to be swept away by a writer who is confident. Who brings, not just talent and craft, but judgment and taste.

I’ve written in the past about instilling confidence. This time, I have a few notes on dispelling doubt.

Lack of experience. Stephen King famously tossed Carrie in the trash. He felt it was ridiculous for him to tell a story from the point of view of a teenaged girl, based not much more (in his view) than having cleaned restrooms in a high school. Luckily his wife was there to reassure him and provide encouragement. She had the experience of being a teenaged girl, after all.

You can look for people who have lived lives similar to your characters and bring your work to them. They might not read a novel, but they are likely to read and comment on a well-drawn scene. Or, even better, to answer specific questions about their experiences.

Even more fundamentally, by virtue of having lived your own life, you have relevant and authentic experiences to draw upon. You may not have been tortured in the Inquisition, but you probably have suffered pain and fear. The classic war novel, The Red Badge of Courage, was written by a man who had never been in a battle, but who knew what failure and panic felt like. To those, he added a vivid imagination. Most children’s books are not written by children, but, somehow, they hit the mark.

Lack of credentials. We all love hierarchies, wonderful human constructs that tell us what our roles are. And assure others that we can be trusted to draw up their wills or perform open heart surgery on them. While credentials for nonfiction might be important in some cases, there are no essential certifications for storytelling. Many people in the arts, in fact, only get to join professional organizations after they have had paying gigs.

But it’s very easy to get caught up in the letters after names or accomplishments no one is born having. You have the right to write. Period. No one can tell you you can’t tell your stories. Except you. And why would you stop yourself because you don’t have an MFA or a completed script? If you write, you’re a writer.

There are some people who fret about grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. They never got what they needed in grade school or high school. Or, worse, they got lots of discouragement (because it’s easier to point to one of these errors than to respond to a story). Here’s why, though this might matter, it is not fundamentally important:

There are armies of people with impeccable credentials eager to edit you spelling and grammar to perfection.

It’s mechanical stuff. More and more of the task is being taken over by software. Great storytelling, on the other hand, is rare. And Artificial Intelligence has not provided us with masterpieces or even best sellers.

The best news is that reading and writing regularly tend to lead to fewer mechanical flaws in prose, at least in the final draft. Coincidentally, this is likely to lead to continuous improvement of the storytelling, too.

Challenges of scale. Mostly, this has to do with big projects (though I know some novelists who would shudder if asked to write a short story). It is possible to dedicate months — many months — to writing a novel or a screenplay that doesn’t turn out.

Sometimes, this has to do with concepts that are underdeveloped or inappropriate for the chosen medium. Which is one reason I believe, once, say, thirty pages of a novel are completed, it’s time to write arguments to yourself about why the work must be finished. This serves the purpose of getting you past the inevitable “this stinks” moment about 3/4 of the way through. It also provides a well-informed vetting of the project. With words on paper, you may see that the choice is not good. And you can quit without having made a substantial investment.

Sometimes, the project is full of promise, but the writer does not have the skills yet. This is not tragic, even though it won’t feel great. Almost all writers stretch and develop their craft by pushing at the limits of capabilities. That how those capabilities increase. Most first novels and first scripts (and sometimes tenth novels and tenth scripts) end up shoved in a drawer or under the bed. These are not failures. They are part of the education experience.

Criticism. This is probably the biggest source of doubt. You show your work to someone and they bury you in negativity. (Few people have the good sense to tell you what you’re doing right.) Sometimes, within the pile (or behind the one cutting remark), there is something worth learning. For these, I write down the criticism and return to it when I am calm and confident. That’s when analysis can be useful.

Sometimes, they are well-meaning, but completely wrong. There’s no food for the doubt monster in those comments. I get them most often when I look for expert opinion on facts and the person volunteers story fixes. Recognize some comments are worthless. This comes across most obviously when just one person makes that point. (Although, oral comments in a writers’ group can, unfortunately , take on a life of their own as groupthink asserts itself.)

Sometimes, the criticisms are packed with emotion. Because people can be dark. Because people have their own issues. Here’s a truth worth learning. Anyone who berates you as a person when they critique is not worth listening to. Anyone who makes a comment on a manuscript in a way that is intended to make you feel bad can be ignored. In fact, these people should, if possible, never see your work again. The trolls are out there. Avoid them.

The doubt monster (mostly) is not your friend. Are the doubts sometimes true? Of course. All of us are flawed writers just as we’re flawed human beings. You learn, over time, to be good enough in some areas so readers will appreciate it when you go with your strengths. It’s fine to work (but not obsess) on your limits in craft, emotional engagement, concepts, and storytelling. But don’t expect perfection. It is often the flaws that reveal the real treasure.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

First Draft Questions - Insights as a story takes its first breaths

If I can, I wait a month to six weeks before reviewing a completed first draft. As tempting as it is to get right back to work and fix things up, I benefit from the distance I get from the story. It makes me notice things I’d never notice without fresh eyes.

So, the calendar is marked, my schedule is arranged, and I move on to a short story are start a longer work while the completed manuscript ages. Once I hit the date on the calendar for review, I print the whole thing out and let the computer (via text-to-speech) read it to me. I may pause every fifteen to twenty pages or I may let it go through from beginning to end, but I never back up. My purpose it to make quick notes on the manuscript of where I get distracted or confused. I also may mark down an idea for a scene that seems to belong or add a question mark in bold red pen next to a scene that does not seem essential. I’m looking at the story, not the spelling or prose.

In the past, I’ve marched through a multi-step rewriting process that moves from big problems (missing beats) to the smallest (spelling and grammar). Because I was doing an exercise while my current manuscript was cooling, I needed to generate a series of questions. These helped me to respond to some feedback, and made a big difference in developing a new story.

Then because of an accident of timing, I went back immediately to the completed draft of my Work-in-Progress… with those questions still in my head. Once the text-to-speech read through was done, I took on those questions before my usual next steps. I like what happened, so I thought I’d share those questions here. They may be of use to you somewhere in your process, perhaps soon after you return to a first draft.

How can I simplify this story? Here I focused especially on parts where my attention strayed. Often, I’ve noticed, the plot can become a Rube Goldberg device with cheap fixes that complicate the concept unnecessarily. Wherever the list of “what readers need to know” becomes too long, there is apt to be a problem. After reading a piece on how Paddy Chayefsky would cut down characters to the fewest required to tell the story, I decided that was a good step to include in simplification.

Is the premise (often evident in the logline) clearly featured? Can I point to a scene where it takes precedence? There are so many tasks the protagonist must accomplish, the main task can get lost. Or it can be overwhelmed by tasks for subplots. There should be an irreversible decision by the protagonist that stands out and fully engages the reader in the main story. If not, that’s important to fix.

What are the protagonist’s tasks? Do they get more difficult and more consequential as the story proceeds? The protagonist must accomplish things to succeed, and, in a draft, these might not build properly. Any leveling off risks losing the reader’s attention. Explicitly listing and ranking the tasks can help avoid this problem. (Thanks to writing guru Max Adams for directing my attention to  Tony Rossio’s excellent article on The Task.)

What are the obstacles? This actually needs a close look in relation to the task, since the degree of difficulty is a factor. One thing this always forces me to take a closer look at is the goals, motivations, and resources of any adversaries. The more clever and powerful the opposition is, the better the story. And it’s all too easy to create one-note villains. Know the plans and options of the adversaries.

Does the protagonist prepare and take reasonable precautions? What are these? Are they taken at the right time in the story? Getting the balance right between a protagonist with flaws and one who is too stupid too live is harder than it looks.

What goes wrong? As I look back in my stories, there isn’t enough failure. My protagonists tend to succeed too often. Even when the achievements come after struggles and sacrifices, that can be boring… which leads to something I value more and more…

What are the secrets and revelations? What the protagonist doesn’t know can create powerful turns in a story. Surprises and unintended consequences can fiercely (and fairly) challenge the hero/heroine and make him/her change in more dramatic ways.

Is the protagonist betrayed? If not, why not? There are few things more heartbreaking than betrayal. A protagonist who can rise above faithless acts that make trust in other seem foolish is one readers are likely to remember and love.

How does the protagonist need to change? I always think I know the answer to this before I begin writing. I rarely have a clear understanding. Asking the question after a first draft can be revelatory.

Why am I writing this story? Why do I NEED to write this story? I routinely write a note to myself early on (about 30 pages in, usually) that includes reasons for writing the story. These are intended to argue my future self into finishing when the urge to quit at about 3/4 of the way comes (as it always does). But there is a real value to asking these questions before major revision begins — both in terms of focus and in terms of personal commitment.

None of these questions were new to me. In one way or another, I’ve used them to analyze every novel or screenplay I’ve written. But I’m not sure they always have come at that right time, and I found real value in repeating them at this stage, right after fully reviewing the first draft. And, though I may tweak the order, this is not a bad to run through as listed. To me, it feels like the answers build and create a perspective on the work that deepens my understanding and appreciation of what I have, and what I COULD have if I stick with it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Digging for Story Gold - Making research pay off

I like to be taken into other worlds. Hammett’s Continental Op stories present the attitudes, people, and criminal behaviors he experienced working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Dune brings together the interplay of culture and a carefully worked-out ecosystem in a vibrant way. Among Moby Dick’s many virtues is the detailed picture it provides of the whaling world.

Experience and research make these settings (along with the characters who live in them) compelling. Sometimes, the facts are shoved in your face by circumstances, like needing a job. Sometimes, it’s all serendipity — an article your run across, the chance meeting with a talkative stranger, witnessing a dramatic moment in someone else’s life.

Most often, writers create their own luck by researching topics related to the stories they’re working on. This can take many forms:

Fun facts. The right, largely unknown fact presented clearly at the right time in a story can propel a story forward and delight readers. Bits of the Koran appearing in  Renaissance paintings. Koalas thriving on normally poisonous eucalyptus leaves. Madame Curie’s notebooks, still too radioactive to handle.

Getting it right. One key reason to do research is to avoid embarrassing yourself. When I was in grade school, I wrote a story where, instead of the last out in an inning, the clock ran out in a baseball game. Oops. When I wrote a story taking place in Singapore (this, before the Web) I collected maps, pictures and travel guides so the sense of place would come through. (I have since visited Singapore, and the scenes still feel accurate to me.) So getting it right is essential for authenticity.

Immersion. I took that research a step further and had a friend send me the local newspapers. This helped me get a feel for the culture, especially the perspectives of inhabitants. That sort of virtual tourism is easier to do nowadays. I often will read highly specific articles, flash through pictures, and watch videos to get the right feel for something in a story. (I’ll even seek out newspaper content, including the ads. Reading personal columns in foreign newspapers is a treat.) The only caveat here is not to get sucked in. I usually set a timer when I do this kind of research.

Not so fun facts. Obviously, it’s a mistake to show off by including everything learned in research. Most people get past what I call “book reporting” early in their writing careers, but there is one common slip, even among professionals. It’s easy to get sucked in by stuff that’s geeky but irrelevant. I’ve read pages (often fascinating) that took me through details of jewelry making or harvesting in the Middle Ages or the important use of car horns in New Delhi traffic. It’s great to dig into obscure areas and it’s fine write about such things in early drafts. But, ultimately, it’s best if such deep dives are used  in service of the story. It may hurt to cut these, but, when the narrative thread is interrupted, you risk losing your readers.

Premise. Sometimes, whole books can be built upon research. I explored the life of a female scientists erased from history and used that as a basis for a novel. H.G. Wells used single concepts — what if you could build a time machine? What if a person became invisible? Exploring fresh ideas can be entertaining, especially if people are pushed to change. (Ray Bradbury said the best science fiction movie ever made was Singin’ in the Rain. The premise? Sound added to movies, and how that changes everyone working in the business. That had already happened, of course, but the treatment exploited the best SF methods.)

Much of what writers do is deliberate research, with an emphasis on fact-finding. I do this, of course, but I also will give it a turn when I already have story characters in mind. I consciously try to see my findings through the eyes of specific characters. I look for emotional responses and what the ideas and concepts uncovered mean to them. (This may be a holdover from research I’ve done on speeches, w where everything explored is in terms of the individual speakers and the audiences that will be addressed.) I think that looking a research through these different perspectives makes it fresher and raises out-of-the-box questions. If yours is the only perspective in research, that can become very limiting.

And I’ll put in a word for curiosity-driven research, too. It has two obvious advantages. First, it will take you to unexpected places (and surprises are pure gold for storytelling). Second, your curiosity always connects you with things that already interest you. With luck, those interests will grow into passions you can share with readers. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Critiquing Without Bloodshed

People look for feedback, but most want compliments. Loved the characters! So imaginative. The twists and the turns kept me reading!

Uh huh. I actually do believe that positive responses are essential. There have been too many times when I’ve seen people kill the best parts of their stories because no one had TOLD them what the best parts were. Positive feedback is valuable, as long as it’s not distracting.

Equally valuable is thoughtful analysis and, yes, pointers to what doesn’t work or might be better. I recommend asking critics to tell you if they got hooked by the beginning, tell you if attention drifted at any point, tell you if anything was unclear or had to be read twice, and tell you if the ending is satisfying (which doesn’t necessarily mean happy, but it could). And, for a given genre, are the expected elements (e.g., meet cute in romances) all there.

It is a great practice when you ask for criticism if you note any specific questions you have beyond the above. You can even ask for advice to help solve a story problem (rarely, you might get a good suggestion).

When you get a crit, always say thank you with as much sincerity you can muster. Someone just read your work thoughtfully (in most cases). They deserve that. And you may need to come to them again. So thank them even if everything they said was useless and/or mean. Even if it’s stupid.

As an exercise, I chose to write thank you notes to dozens of contest judges. I had to write not just “thanks,” but something substantive about the value I received. This forced me to let many of the critiques sit until I cooled off. And I then had to look for value in each one — even the stupid ones. What happened was I discovered more value than I had imagined. Not every crit deserved this, but more did than I guessed. By being appreciative, I gave myself an important gift.

Let’s turn this around because if you get feedback, you probably need to give it. Here are the steps I use.

    1.    Read thoughtfully. Take the time and respect the material. Take care if you are NOT the intended audience.
    2.    Don’t critique when you are angry or feeling ungenerous. No one wrote the work and presented it to you as a cruel joke. Most people are giving you the best they can, and they are trusting you. Even when they may be wading into deep water.
    3.    Critique with their best interests in mind. Your job is to provide the most valuable feedback you can.
    4.    Find something positive to say almost immediately, if possible. You will need to include something that appreciates the work, and the earlier you identify that element, the easier it will be to frame the review in a generous manner.
    5.    Answer their questions, carefully. If they have asked for specific feedback, provide it in a way it can be heard and acted upon. You can be honest AND tactful.
    6.    Limit what you say. I rarely make more than three important points. Few people can absorb every criticism that comes to mind. Be selective. Nits are okay, but, unless you are proofing the work, don’t cite every instance where dependent clauses lack commas or lie/lay is misused.
    7.    Be sure about your “facts.” When you correct, make sure you’re right. Even if you know you are.
    8.    Your experiences aren’t universal. If a character reacts in a way you wouldn’t (or didn’t in real life), it might still be valid.
    9.    Be careful about using examples. They can become overwhelming. Try to restrict them to what will clarify.
    10.    Note where you lose attention or get confused. These observations are golden for writers.
    11.    Let it be their story. It’s great news that what you read has you so excited you could take the ideas and run with them. But respect the writer’s right to tell the story he or she intends to tell.

The great thing about being critiqued is it’s mostly about you. You, and only you, have the power to decide a criticism is valid or should be rejected.

The great thing about critiquing is you don’t have to make the changes. You DO have to protect your relationship with the writer by acting respectfully and providing your feedback in a caring way. You never know how fragile their ego is. Don’t find out the hard way.