Tips To Help People Improve Their Creative Work

Table of Contents

First, try to ask the right questions.

When you try to give people advice to help them improve their creations, it's highly important that you try to understand and respect they're trying to do. You can't give them good advice if you don't know what it is they're aiming for, and you don't want to end up trying to impose your own personal tastes and preferences on them. To this end, you need to ask the right questions - and pay attention to the answers. While the exact specifics of what the right questions are depend on what they're is doing, most of these will usually be relevant:

Thus you will be able to work out what exactly those you're trying to help are trying to do, and you will be more able to tailor your advice to their specific needs and wants. Plus, questions like these tend to help people ultimately solve a lot of their problems themselves - as soon as they figure out exactly what it is they're trying to do with something, or who they're trying to make it for, they can often come up with a few fitting ideas of their own.

Try to determine whether something is actually bad, or whether it's just not to your taste.

Whenever you see something that you don't like, it's vitally important to ask yourself, "is this really and truly bad, or is it just not to my taste?" Not sure how to tell the difference? Here are some reasons why something might be genuinely, objectively bad:

It's incoherent or incomprehensible. It's told or presented in such a way that the audience can't figure out what's going on or what it's supposed to be about in the first place. Nobody can appreciate a story if they can't figure out what it's supposed to be about or what's supposed to be going on.

It's internally inconsistent. For example, a character does something that makes no sense given prior characterization. Or something that worked one way earlier in the story works another way later on with no explanation why. Or story elements and/or characters appear or disappear with no explanation. This is just poor and lazy writing.

It doesn't live up to the creator's intent. For example, a story is supposed to be a biting commentary on the religio-political state of the world today, but it was written with such a poor understanding of how and why things are they way they are in the world today that the story just tilts at windmills. Or the main character is supposed to be perceived as kind and caring, but comes off as smug and selfish instead. Or the main villain is supposed to be a genius mastermind, but makes plans that wouldn't pass even a basic feasibility study. If the creation fails to live up to how the creator wanted it to be perceived, then the creator did a bad job on it.

It doesn't have a clear or consistent target audience. For example, a story is full of humor that probably wouldn't appeal to many people past high school age, yet the plot's subject material is something that won't draw in many people below college age. Or the subject material is something that would appeal to fantasy-loving middle-to-high schoolers, but the story often goes off in long tangents describing technical details that most people in this demographic would find dry and dull - while the people who would find these details interesting would probably be unlikely to pick up a book with this subject material in the first place. It's fine to create something with seemingly-incongruous content for the purpose of reaching a niche audience interested in that kind of thing, but if the reason it's all in there is because the writer hasn't put any thought into the target audience and what the target audience would want, then it's bad.

If it doesn't fit into one of these four categories, then it might just be a matter of personal taste - so don't be too hasty to label it as definitely, absolutely bad. (Though you can, of course, still note that you don't care for it and explain why!)

Make sure you're speaking the same language.

If what you're saying just doesn't seem to be getting through, the reason might be that you're speaking in a way that's unclear or confusing to the person you're trying to help. Here are a few ways you can potentially fix this:

Eliminate jargon. Do you find yourself using a lot of terminology from a job or hobby of yours? Purge those from your vocabulary for the time being, because odds are good that whoever you're talking to won't understand it.

Don't rely on obscure words, or on obscure/esoteric definitions of words. Use the most familiar and well-understood terms you can to express yourself.

Define your terms. If you absolutely have to use a term that people might be unfamiliar with or might be confused about, include a quick definition to clarify what you mean.

If what this person is saying to you seems strange or unclear, ask for clarification - EG, "can you tell me what _____ means in this context?" or "can you tell me how you define _____?"

Give clear directions toward relevant study/research materials.

Maybe you don't have the time or inclination to explain something in detail to someone, so you decide to tell this person to go and research. That's fine and dandy - but it's important to be aware that people don't always know exactly what they should look for. So if you're going to tell people to go and research, try and drop some useful specifics to help them find their way. Here's a list of things you might mention, depending on what's relevant or what you know about:

Pointing people in the right direction like this takes almost no effort on your part, but it can save them a lot of time and energy and makes it less likely they'll need to come to you for help later.

Know that sometimes, you just have say no to people who ask for help.

There are some people you just have to call it quits on, because if you don't they'll waste your time and energy while hindering their own growth as creators. Here's how to know it's time to say no - and how you might do it:

They ask you the same types of questions over and over. Creators need to learn to become self-sufficient and to apply solutions to previous problems to new ones. You might tell them, "We already covered a topic like this not long ago. The answer I gave you back then applies now."

They never make use of any of the resources you give them or tell them to find. Creators need to make the effort to do some things for themselves, not demand that everyone else do it for them. You might tell them, "I've already given you resources to check out for yourself. I can't help you any further."

They ask for your opinions on each and every little thing. Creators need to learn to make their own judgments and take their own risks. You might tell them, "You need to remember - it's not about pleasing me, but about pleasing your target audience. Ask yourself how you think they might like it."

They get upset with you over the advice you offer. If creators get upset with you even though you've done nothing wrong, then your best bet is to withdraw - you're under no obligation to subject yourself to anybody's tantrums. You might tell them, "You asked for my advice and I gave it; if you don't like it, you're free to leave it and use your own best judgment."

They ask you to do the heavy lifting for them. Creators need to build up their own creative muscles, so feel free to turn them down if they basically start asking you to come up with everything for them. You might tell them, "I can help you try to refine the ideas that you come up with, but actually coming up with new ideas takes a lot of time and effort that I need to spend working on my own stuff."

And a few final tips

Be kind. Don't get snide or snarky about people's creations, or belittle or shame them for making mistakes - they're here for help, and insults do not help anyone. Plus, if you're rude to them you'll likely just drive them away - and then how will you help them improve?

Stay on topic. When you're trying to help other people with their creations is absolutely not the time to start rambling on about your own work, or to go into the gory details of some interest of yours, or to start ranting about some personal peeve. When you're giving help, it's always all about the one you're giving help to - not you, not your interests, not your peeves. Plus, every moment you spend talking about irrelevant stuff is a moment you spend wasting everybody's time.

Don't overwhelm them. Answers that go into way more detail than people actually need can be frustrating and even daunting to read, so keep your answers simple and to the point. If you think they might want or need to know more, you can simply ask.

If they're bound and determined to do what they want, let them be. Even if it seems like a horrible idea to you. Some people have to learn the hard way that something won't fly, and some people just won't learn - but either way, there's no sense in wasting your energy on people who won't listen. And sometimes, they might actually be onto something good, even if you feel differently.

Don't expect overnight mastery. It takes years of practice to polish a skill up to professional level, no matter how good the help one gets is. The goal of helping people shouldn't be to make them instant experts, but to help move them forward in their long journey of improvement.

Consider writing a FAQ page. Do you get a lot of people asking you very similar questions? If so, you might write a FAQ ("Frequently Asked Questions") page to address them - it'll save you a lot of time and energy!

In summary!

Also take a look at:

Basic Advice For Giving Useful Feedback To Creators
Before You Go Declaring Other People's Characters Mary Sues...
Dealing With Criticism & Negative Reviews
How To Recognize Bad Creative Mentors

Back to General Storytelling & Other Things
Go to a random page!