The Clarion Writer's Workshop lasts for six weeks and has a different teacher each week. The teachers are successful science fiction and fantasy authors, often with teaching experience.
Maureen McHugh was my first Clarion teacher, and the first thing she did was establish a four-step critique format that I still use:
1. Say what the story or work is or does, in one or two sentences.
2. Discuss the successes.
3. Identify the weakest parts.
4. Give one or two suggestions for the fastest and biggest improvements.
Occasionally Step 1 can yield pleasant surprises, such as a valid interpretation of your story that you hadn't thought of. It can also identify critiquers whose reading of the story is off-base, either because you didn't actually write what you tried to write, which is useful to know, or because they wanted to read the story they would have written instead of what you tried to write.
Step 2 helps you know what you probably shouldn't change in a re-write.
Step 3 helps you know what you probably should.
Step 4 permits the critiquer to be helpful, but not too helpful. We've all encountered critiquers whose suggestions amount to turning your work into what they wanted to read, not what you wanted to write. I think that critiquers can identify the problems of a story, but their fixes are often wrong — simply because no one knows your story as well as you do. Anything they do to rewrite it, no matter how well-meaning and skillful, will of necessity be a bit ignorant.
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— Sue Burke
Free speech for Russia!