News | 2006 | The Ten Commandments of Workshop Criticism

Fiction Workshop Companion by Jon Volkmer

I just finished reading Jon Volkmer's Fiction Workshop Companion and he has listed out his ten commandments for criticizing fiction in workshop. Very interesting stuff, especially seeing as I'm involved in workshopping my fiction at the moment. Volkmer's commandments are:



  1. Thou are in the workshop neither to praise Casear nor to bury him, but to help him along to the next draft.
    Never consider a story being workshopped as a finished product.

  2. The good in a story shall take precendence over the bad.
    Criticism does not equal fault finding. Remember, there is no such thing as a totally hopeless story.

  3. The workshop shall be a conversation, not between writer and readers, but among readers, with the writer listening in.
    The writer gets to listen. That's it.

  4. Thou shalt only partially remember the golden rule.
    If you want harsh exacting criticism, that's cool, but don't expect everyone else to want it too. Give the level of criticism the writer wants, not what you want.

  5. Thou shalt not commit the Authorial Fallacy.
    Fiction is fiction, plain and simple. Do not assume that the author has done everything or believes everything in her story.

  6. Thou shalt grant the author her givens.
    Don't impose your own morality on a writer's world.

  7. Thou shalt speak thy mind with great humility and tact.
    You're only allowed to make suggestions, you can't tell a writer to do anything. It's her story. Not yours.

  8. Thou shalt not waste time belaboring editing or manuscript flaws.
    Workshop time is too valuable to worry about spelling. Mark it down on paper and give it to the writer. That's enough.

  9. Thou shalt be sensitive to the tenor of the discussion.
    If a story is getting too much praise, find something to offer a suggestion about. If a story is getting slammed, find something to admire. If something hasn't been brought up, mention it.

  10. Thou shalt not pull rank.
    If you have special experience the writer doesn't, offer advice, but don't claim subject authority over the writer when you do.

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