Critiquing objectively is not the contradiction in terms that it seems to be. True, critiquing or evaluation of any kind is an expression of one’s sense of quality and excellence and taste—criteria that are self-evidently subjective. On the other hand, by following widely adopted standards of story and character development, use of dialogue, back-story, suspense-building and so on, it is possible to avoid overly subjective feedback.
By being an objective critic, you are in effect telling the writer under scrutiny, “Let me remind you of these tried-and-true-criteria; see if they work. If you don’t think they do, then ignore them.”
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Objectivity and subjectivity are relative terms; that is, they exist in degrees of one or the other (Think of a spectrum—total objectivity at one end, total subjectivity at the other, with each end of the spectrum registering zero.) There is always the risk, when critiquing a fellow writer’s work, of working too closely at the subjective end of the spectrum. The ideal is operate somewhere near the middle, to draw as little as possible from personal taste and more from mainstream standards of good storytelling or idea development, as the case may be.
Prepare a list of “objective” criteria for evaluating a short story or essay. (This becomes tougher with poetry. Use this list as a springboard for evaluating a fellow writer’s work; it will prevent you from becoming too subjective.