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Constructive Criticism

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The carrot and the stick are the critic's two most potent tools.
Art by Tom Gauld.


"Okay, I've read your script, and I have a few things to say about it. It needs work, but you've got something going here. I wasn't impressed by the car chases, but those aren't my thing. But I do know that cheesy one-liners aren't really done anymore, unless you're spoofing those kinds of movies, and this isn't a parody. I did like the romance scenes. You should probably expand that relationship. These kind of movies don't do relationships well, and this would help your movie stand out."


"Okay, I've read your script, and it's terrible. You should just use it for toilet paper. Nobody likes car chases anymore, and your crappy jokes make Arnold look like Shakespeare. You thought that shit was funny? Oh, the love scenes were good. I always knew you were gay."

While flames are designed to put people down, constructive criticism is meant to help an artist improve their work. It's rarely shown in fiction, but it is vital to the growth of an artist or writer.

This kind of criticism is about being honest, clear, and considerate in your comments. In particular, a respectful tone is crucial in proper constructive criticism. There is no handholding, and this does not mean making only positive comments; it is not constructive to say a work is good if you honestly thought it was bad. Proper critique, however, also avoids unmitigated Brutal Honesty. The ideal Constructive Critic is a master of Verbal Judo: honestly and directly pointing out flaws while simultaneously highlighting strengths and unexplored avenues of a work, all while maintaining a neutral to positive tone. In short, you are trying to help the artist improve both positively and honestly, not shame them into improving.

This is very, very hard to do. For one thing, you have to be aware of your biases, and admit them. There are times when you are asked for criticism, but are probably not the best person to be asked about something. For another, you could make claims that turn out to be wrong, even if you thought otherwise at the time. Finally, some simply Can't Take Criticism anyway- beware those showing signs of being Sunny Sunflowers or Wide Eyed Idealists in particular.

Yet it's still the form of criticism most likely to actually get results. In fact, most good artists even give this to themselves, hence the phrase "I'm my own worst critic."

Things an aspiring Constructive Critic should avoid:

You'll notice that most people don't actually understand the concept of Constructive Criticism. As you'll probably learn if you take a college-level creative writing course, one of the most important things about Constructive Criticism is don't rewrite the work to suit your own desires. The point is to make it into something that the intended audience will like. This is actually one of the biggest things that people need to learn about being constructive, because it is not very constructive to try to suggest the author to write a work into something that you want to enjoy, or to review it based upon what you think it could have been. You will notice this as a trend in people who are members of the Periphery Hatedom, especially if they have a Bias Steamroller, and those with extreme Fan Myopia.

Unfortunately, finding criticism is rather hard in the internet age. It's easy to get criticism on the internet, but when it's mixed with the GIFT, people will often take that as an opportunity to act like a complete dick and call it criticism. If someone walked up to you and asked you for critique and you gave a very rude-sounding critique, then they won't ask you again and you won't get to critique anything. On the internet, there's loads loads more random people and works to critique, especially since you can find it anytime you want.

One method of giving Constructive Criticism is the "Feedback sandwich" method. You begin by saying what the person did right, then delve into what they need to improve on, and finish off with a comment on what else they are doing right, often including comments on why it works. The "Bread" are the compliments, while the filling is the criticism, and you often season it with explanations as to why you come to the conclusion you did. This method works because starting off with the criticism is often what leads to people instinctively taking it as a form of attack, and/or feeling like they did nothing right. Starting off with an observation on what they are doing right lets them know that you do respect them and are empathizing with them as a creator. This, in turn makes them far more open to listening to you when you point out the flaws or shortcomings. Finishing it off with another comment on what they did right also leaves a better taste in their mouth. It has been proven that when people are "proven wrong" so to speak, it often triggers the fight-or-flight response - the "Feedback sandwich" method helps to mitigate this by letting them know what they did right and that you are there to help.

Now you might be wondering if Constructive Criticism is appropriate for this site. Of course it's better than Complaining About Shows You Don't Like, but describing tropes and listing examples doesn't actually call for criticism. There are some places where it can fit, particularly in the Trope Launch Pad. You can help a new trope a lot more with this kind of criticism than insulting the new trope, the troper that posted it, or that troper's mother.

In-Universe Examples Only:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Dramacon:
    • Derek was told his art was promising, and Lida even referred to him as "a head above the rest," but wasn't near professional level due to several inconsistencies and weak spots he needed to work on. She suggested he go to art school to refine his talent. Derek took this very poorly and gave Christie an "abridged" version claiming Lida told them to go back to school.
    • Christie is told she has a knack for creating strong, believable characters and engaging dialog but her storytelling flow needs work. According to Lida, "Wary City" starts strong but has a weak ending, although the repeatedly mentioned "coffee scene" is frequently described as "brilliant." Christie makes an effort to write down Lida's suggestions, which moves Lida to tears.

    Comic Books 
  • Shang-Chi (2020): After defeating two murderous warriors from the House of the Deadly Hammer, Shang-Chi asks how long they’ve been training. When one says "since childhood", Shang-Chi tells him that although his colleague's not bad, he’s just not built for this (and suggests a career change).

    Fan Works 
  • The Grimm With A Soul: Shadow helps Blake, Yang, Weiss, and Violet improve upon their Semblances and combat skills with this, pointing out the flaws in their fighting styles and how to fix them without being needlessly cruel so they can be better fighters.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Chopped: The judges use the "feedback sandwich" method of critiquing (especially on Junior and episodes where the contestants are not actual judges). They start off by pointing out what they did well, then go into the more critique on whether or not what they did worked and why. Then they finish by pointing out something they did right.
  • The Great British Bake Off: The judges won't hesitate to tell a contestant what's wrong with their bake, but they will also point out the elements that worked, as well as give advice on how to improve.
  • The Sing-Off: The preferred method for the judges' criticisms is a constructive approach; they are very complimentary of the groups' strengths and, while they do point out mistakes, are never harsh or mean about it.
  • Taina: Constructive criticism became a subject of an episode, in which a performance is given a review that interpreted as being somewhat mean, but when they point this trope out, the characters debate just what passes off for constructive criticism.

    Web Video 
  • Anime Movies Reviewed: Raja and Dora will usually talk about the plot, climax, characters, soundtrack, and other aspects of each movie that they liked or didn't like.
  • The Cartoon Physicist: The Cartoon Physicist tries to find something good about a film or show even if the film/show in question is bad, and occasionally she talks about what could be done to improve it.
  • Jimquisition: Jim uses a constructive approach to criticism in their Squirty Plays/Jimpressions of early access games by pointing out the things they like, what they don't like, and what they think can be improved upon. They use Brutal Honesty a lot (although they have made an attempt to be less brutal), which has caused many indie developers (including the infamous Digital Homicide) to lash out against Jim with Disproportionate Retribution since the majority of them Can't Take Criticism. Jim will drift into Caustic Critic territory if the game is really bad.
  • Nutfancy: Nutfancy openly invites his viewers to compare and contrast their opinions and experiences with his own, and his "subject to change" disclaimer has actually played out a few times, as he's shifted some of his opinions due to input and suggestions from his viewers.
  • Pikasprey: Despite Pikasprey's penchant for sarcasm, his reviews are quite honest and fair. While any flaws will be explained in detail, any good points will be praised, and in general, he admits he never wants to insult people who try their best in making a game, even if it's a bad one.