SF.'s answer to "How do you know when there's something missing in your story?" stated that for critiques "anyone will do, except close friends and family who'd praise you no matter what abomination you produced." While I understand the truth in the statement, I feel that even friends and family can be used to provide insight into what is lacking (or good) in a work.

I thought that a question something like "How can one maximize the usefulness of critiques from non-professionals?" might be useful, and I threw together the following text:

It is often convenient for writers to seek critiques from those not especially skilled in providing such critiques. How can one increase the likelihood that such critiques will be useful? In particular, are there methods to minimize the tendency for friends and relatives to be less honestly critical?

I wonder if this actually would be a suitable question for the Writers SE (it is rather broad) and, if so, how the question title, and especially the text, can be improved. (I think both the title and the text are okay, but the shortness of the text makes me wonder if the question is sufficiently clear. Shortness can also be a hint of question being "too broad".)

(This is a back-burner effort, and I hope to compose an extensive answer before posting the question, so there is no hurry on giving advice. Even if the question is too broad, I could post any answer that I developed on my (very underused) blog.)

  • My comment on SF.'s answer gives a vague feel for what kind of answer I am considering for this proposed question.
    – user5232
    Sep 25, 2014 at 2:05

1 Answer 1


First: Just ask questions. There is no shame in getting a question closed. We still can improve it when it was asked.

Second: Too broad. People are too different. Which works for one has catastrophic results on a second guy. This only could work if you explain a specific situation with the characteristics of the test readers.

Yes, family and friends can be excellent test readers. The common rule has always exceptions and only wants to state 'Be aware!'. Improving the 'quality' of your test readers may be an interesting topic. Giving them hints what to look for. The problem: you want test readers, not editors. Educating test readers could spoil their valuable input.

(yes, you also want editors, but that's a different topic)

  • Do you have any suggestions for narrowing the scope? (I am not yet convinced it is too broad but that is a concern I had and your evaluation strengthens that concern. I was going to tag it [fiction], but that does not avoid the issue you mentions.) Narrowing it just to "How do I avoid (false) praise from friends/family and get good feedback?" seems excessively narrow as some techniques for friends/family should work generally. I guess I will try to write an answer and post the question if I can write a good one.
    – user5232
    Sep 30, 2014 at 11:57
  • By the way, by "spoil their valuable input" did you mean "give so many hints about the intent that they no longer experience the work from a fresh perspective" or (somewhat related) "press them to read the work critically such that they have more difficulty determining if it is entertaining"?
    – user5232
    Sep 30, 2014 at 11:57
  • @PaulA.Clayton: Even "family" is much too broad. If you have a father who knows everything better even before you open your mouth and a mother who is proud of every single action you do, you need two totally different approaches to teach them. (Well, I wouldn't bother to even try in both cases.) Add spouses and siblings to the mix and, well, too broad :) Oct 1, 2014 at 10:35
  • About spoiling: I had more the first example in mind. So your second one has to be considered also. The input I was talking about was the untainted reader's perspective. 'perspective' is a good keyword. E.g. if you change your narrator's perspective mid scene, then a trained reader would tell you: "Don't do that. Your readers will hate it." But your unspoiled reader maybe does not even notice it. Or like it. Thinks it is a brilliant twist. Trained persons have their heads full of rules and in most cases they are just blocking them. Oct 1, 2014 at 10:43

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