Philippa R. Francis who writes as K. M. Lockwood  

You may well have been to the Night-before Conference Critique Meet. It’s a brilliant, supportive way of getting feedback on your work. You might have done something similarly helpful by e-critique, or on a course.

Well forget that.

Instead, give your main character the critique from Hell. Show how they react when their precious work-of-art/ skill at parkour/Lego model is figuratively pulled apart. Are they apologetic, angry, defensive or disbelieving? Do they become bitter, withdrawn, vengeful or assertive? Are there deeper emotions – maybe the critique giver has hit a raw nerve, maybe they have a point?

I know it’s cruel – but it will show the true mettle of your characters – both giver and receiver.

Try this: show your protagonist suffering a sequence of uncomfortable critiques. Her incantations are too long-winded; their team’s ball-handling is useless; he kisses like a goldfish. Do it again - another failure, another harsh response.

Then and only then, when they have been knocked back at least twice, show success. The orphanage mistress, stern teacher or previously unimpressed uncle grudgingly acknowledges they did well.

How will they feel then? How will you show it? Blushes, cartwheels or a shrug?

In our critiques of each other’s work as illustrators or writers we are rightly exhorted ‘first do no harm’.

But when it comes to your characters, spare no feelings.

The motive of the critique giver is down to you. Is it unjust criticism by a snobby antagonist he will outwit, or is it a brutally honest commentary by the champion archer our heroine is desperate to emulate? Remember that the critique giver is the lead in the film of their life. Perhaps the seemingly pitiless shaman is just testing her acolyte. Then you get a great revelation later in the story.

We all love an underdog who triumphs – but we must see, and feel for them, being the underdog first. Be cruel to be kind.

K. M. Lockwood is a writing name of Philippa R. Francis. Once a primary school teacher, she became a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at West Dean College in 2011. Her story The Selkies of Scoresby Nab was short-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition and long-listed for the Times Chicken House in 2012/13. She was born in Yorkshire but now lives by the coast in Sussex. Her writing shows her deep fascination with British folklore and the sea. Her interests include reading, scuba diving and belly dancing, though not at the same time. She also blogs at


  1. Rejection is a feeling we all ( nearly all of us anyway) know really well - this is an excellent way to put all those awful feelings to good use.
    Thanks Philippa

  2. Ooh, love this idea! I'm going to use it in the classroom too...


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