Every writer I’ve ever spoken with all claims they want the same thing–brutal, honest feedback. They must have a thicker skin than me, because I don’t want that at all. Don’t get me wrong, I still want honest feedback, but I don’t see any reason it has to be brutal. In fact, if the only way you know how to give feedback is to be brutal, then you probably don’t have any business giving feedback.
Personal Rule: It can’t all be negative, you also have to point out the positive as well.
Feedback is many things, but it is not a bash the writer segment, nor does it need to be cruel (fragile ego, remember?). The ultimate goal is to help the writer and the story grow.
That brings me to constructive criticism, emphasis on constructive. Simply saying that something doesn’t work literally helps no one. Tell me why it’s wrong and while you’re at it, feel free to toss in suggestions on how to fix it. Because in all honesty, just saying something is bad sounds like nothing more than personal bias, a bias that can demoralize the very writer you claimed to want to help. In the same breath, saying everything is great also doesn’t encourage improvement; tell me why it’s good, why it works, that way I can do more of that.
In summary (and yes I recognize I didn’t go into all of the facets), take a minute and really think about your critique. Is it shallow or superficial? Are you applying a personal bias or viewpoint you didn’t realize you held so strongly? Did the work or style just rub you the wrong way and now you are lashing out at the writer? Take the time to be honest with yourself–before you make the comment. That honesty can be more valuable than you could ever imagine.
True story, I had a similar moment critiquing a colleague’s work. My own visceral reaction after reading a scene shocked and startled me. Luckily, I retained enough sense not to take it out on my critique partner. So what did I do? I took a step back, analyzed my reaction, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the writing, it was the subject matter. Then, I very maturely made sure to include this discovery in my feedback. I admitted that it likely colored my perspective and explained where I was coming from. Lo and behold, this confession proved helpful, arguably I’m not the only prospective reader that could possess such a bias.
At the end of the day, as long as your feedback is thoughtful, honest, and not curated to hurt, then you should be alright. And remember, knowing what does work can be just as helpful as knowing what doesn’t.