The good story note is honest.
It may be full of praise or mangled with brutality, but an honest story note during a writing workshop is going to help the writer more than empty compliments from the sides of your mouth. If it’s great, tell them it’s great and tell them why. If it’s not-so-great, tell them that, too, and tell them why you think it isn’t the hot story they thought it was. Of course, one tries to be tactful when delivering “bad news,” but don’t let tact replace honesty. Ask any coach who’s had to bench their star player, counselor who’s worked with a feuding couple, any surgeon who has had to tell parents their child didn’t make it. They’ll tell you. There are ways to tell someone bad news in good ways, so long as they revolve around honesty.
The bad story note is a lie.
If you have the time to make up lies, you have the time to practice writing better stories. Don’t waste the writer’s time or yours. Some folks will say that’s all anyone is looking for – the little lies which help us live our lives a little easier. Someone can tell you a lie to make you feel better but at the end of the day, the story you’re writing is junk, the lyrics you’re singing are cliché at best, and those pants still make your butt look big. Honesty piles like a mountain of solid, reliable rock. Lies pile up like, well, insert your own metaphor here – hopefully, someone will be honest and tell you if it works or not.
The ugly story note is left unsaid.
You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Nobody does. I understand that. But this isn’t Kindergarten t-ball and this isn’t middle school dating and this isn’t your mother’s hot dish you’ve been secretly loathing for thirty years. This is writing, and writing is art, and art is all about creating something so someone else is free to feel or react or respond to it. Keeping it inside, or keeping it ambiguous doesn’t inform anyone. Saying, “Good try, you’re coming along, keep at it, don’t stop now!” are all wonderful, but “This needs work, you took a step back here, try again, what you’re doing sucks!” are all wonderful, too, from a certain point of view. No one wants to hear what they’re doing needs work, but toddlers don’t want adults telling them not to touch the stove, either. Eventually, someone gets burned, and hopefully it’s a lesson learned.