We all know truffles are just bottom-dwelling, fungus balls leaching off the decay of other plants, and that it takes a pig to sniff them out. Yet most of us will jump at the chance to eat the truffles for dinner and then turn on the pig for breakfast the next morning.
So it shouldn’t surprise us that as critics we always want to add salt to the gravy before we’ve tasted it to find out it’s caramel sauce. (Am I inside your head yet?) On that note, it’s time for our second rule of giving courteous critique:
Get into a writer’s head before you get into their jock.
For those of you who never played high school sports in the 80’s or 90’s, “getting into someone’s jock” isn’t as provocative as it sounds. It simply means staying in their face and playing tight defense–moving with their every movement as if you were sharing the same jock strap (one of the more delightful images I remember from my adolescent year of athletics).
When applied to critique, this jock-strap-buddy concept means that the critiquer should make sufficient effort to match the mind and intent of the writer before attempting to ride them into the front row of the bleachers and convince the referee it was charging.
If a writer is attempting satire or allegory this could be important for you to grasp before tearing them a new one for their unrealistic representation of the social behaviors of barnyard animals. Nothing is less helpful than gathering critique from someone who clearly doesn’t understand what you as a writer were trying to do.
If things are simply too blurry for you as a critiquer to be confident about what the writer’s intentions are, then start there and simply ask for clarification.
The second take home here is to challenge yourself to help the writer improve their writing, not adapt to yours. It’s fine to share jocks with a fellow bard, but only if your tough defense is all about helping them improve their own style of offense. You aren’t allowed to cry foul every time they shake rather than bake (or versa vice).