How To Be A GREAT Critique Partner

There’s a memorable scene in the movie Silence of the Lambs, when Jodie Foster’s FBI supervisor points out that assumptions are treacherous “Because when you assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” and me…”

I was thinking about that today, as I prepare for another Critique Week, here at StoryADay.

When I interviewed Matthew Salesses, author of Craft in the Modern World, he talked about the difficulty of giving meaningful feedback to other writers if we don’t root out our unconscious biases.

Chances are, if you’re like me, most of the literary greats you were exposed to at school were white, male, and dead. 

“Good stories” were those that were modeled after Faulkner or Joyce, or Poe. 

But what if you’re being asked to read a story by your friend who is queer, 25, and an immigrant from Nigeria? How do you ‘judge’ that story?

How To Be A Sensitive Reader

In my experience, the best way to give helpful feedback is to get into conversation with the writer.

Some useful questions include:

  • Who are you writing this for? (Accepting, humbly, that I might not be the target audience.)
  • How do you want the reader to feel at various points in your story?
  • Are there any cultural storytelling norms you’re using that I might need to know (if I’m not your target audience)?

I hope this gives you confidence to say ‘yes’, next time someone asks you for feedback.

Keep writing,


P. S. If you’re interesting in getting great feedback from some talented and thoughtful writers, find out more about the StoryADay Critique Week.