On Victory Crayne’s website, a complete version of, How to Write a Critique is available. This site has many wonderful ways to improve a writer’s writing skills. I critique my own writing, using this form. I find it essential in developing better writing skills. Go to Victory Crayne’s website for more ways to improve writing skills or just brush up on the great writing skills you have acquired.
Do the first few sentences or paragraphs of the story grab your attention? Do they present the protagonist’s main problem? Remember how you judge a book or story when you first see it in a bookstore. Don’t we often base our decision to buy or not buy upon those first few sentences? Did this author grab your attention fast enough?
By conflict, I do not mean lots of slam-bam action. Conflict is “The mental or moral struggle caused by incompatible desires and aims. That is the kind of conflict that makes stories vitally alive.” – Ben Bova in “The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells”.
Is there emotional conflict WITHIN the main character? Between the main characters? Emotional conflict is part of what gets readers interested. For example: love vs. loyalty; greed vs. duty; fear vs. desire; revenge vs. self-doubt. Is there enough conflict between the characters? Is it expressed through action, dialogue, attitudes, or values? Were the characters sufficiently contrasted? Or did they seem to be totally satisfied with their roles? Did they have the potential to transform each other?
Was the main plot clear and believable? Did the main character have a clearly defined problem to solve? Did you feel by the end of the piece that this problem was solved or did the character become resolved to live with it? Were you able to determine the time and place of the story quickly enough? Did the story start at the right place? Did it end at the right place in the plot? Are there scenes which do not seem to further the plot? Were there too many flashbacks, which broke your attention? Was every subplot useful? Did it add to the overall story or did the author seem to stick it in just for complexity?
Did the plot/subplots move fast enough to keep the reader’s attention? Resolution of conflict: Did the conflict and tension in the plots and subplots come to some reasonable ending? Or did the author leave us hanging, wondering what happened? When you finished, were there things that you still felt needed to be explained? If the author did leave some conflict unresolved, did they indicate somewhere that future stories are pending?
Is there enough description of the background in the story to paint a picture that seems real enough for the reader? Did you feel that you were transported to ‘that time or place’? Was there too much description so modern readers might tend to become bored? Was the description written with clichés? Did the author use good enough names for people, places, and things? Names help set the tone for a story. Were some names of people hard to keep track of? Did some names seem inconsistent with the character? Were the names too stereotypical.
Is the timing and order of events in the story consistent? For example, did John drive his new car on his vacation in chapter six but it wasn’t until chapter ten that he bought it?
Did the people seem real? Or were the main characters stereotypes or one-dimensional cardboard characters? Were the facts about the characters accurate and consistent? People do not exist in a vacuum. They have family, friends, a job, worries, ambitions, etc. Did you get a sense of enough of these, but not too much, for the main characters? Did you get a good picture of the culture, historical period, location, and occupation of the main character? Did you get enough of a sense of paradoxes within the character? Enough of their emotions, attitudes, values?
Backstory: Were you distracted by too much background information of a character at one time? Did the author seem to dump a lot of information on the background of a character in one or two long speeches, or did we learn about that character here and there in smaller pieces? Did the protagonist undergo some change in the story? Does each chapter/page have enough sensory description? Can the reader easily sense what is happening physically to the main character? Were there enough words of sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste? If the story used a person as the antagonist (villain), did they seem real too? Or did they seem so evil or one-sided that they were more like ideal villains? Did they have some redeeming qualities too? Did the villain seem to be a hero in their own mind?
Did the words from the mouths of the people in the story seem consistent with their personalities? Was there too much or not enough dialogue, in your opinion? Usually writers err on the side of not enough dialogue. Did any character tend to talk in long monologues?
Were you able to sense the conflict, attitudes, and intentions of each character in their dialogue without the author telling you of these directly? Were you able to detect any exchange of power that is sexual, physical, political, or social? Did the dialogue seem easy to speak? Can you ‘hear’ it? If it sounds unusual, you might suggest that the writer try reading it aloud. Does each character have their own speech rhythm, accent (if necessary), vocabulary, and even length of sentences?
Point of View
Was a given chapter or section written from one person’s point of view? Are there too many points of view in the story? Did the story skip around between the first person or third person point of view (POV)? Were the changes in POV signaled clearly? If the story was written in the third person POV, as most stories are, did the story stick with the omniscient (all knowing) POV, use a limited POV (where we don’t know everyone’s motives except by clues from their words or actions), or did the author mix the two? Did the author’s choice seem right to you?
Show versus tell
When in the POV of a character, did the author describe what his/her senses showed, e.g., sight, sound, smell, touch, taste? Or did the author just tell you the dinner was very good? Did the author describe exactly how the people acted? Was there too much abstract language where specific details would have made a greater impact on the reader?
Format of the text
Was it easy to read or were the paragraphs too long or the lines too long (not enough margin)?
Would it help to put blank lines between paragraphs? If the piece is to be read on a computer monitor, adding a blank line between paragraphs will make it much easier for your critics to read. Note: when you submit the final version to print publishers, it is best to adhere to their manuscript format (no blank lines between paragraphs).
Grammar and spelling
Was the English readable? Were there too many grammatical errors, misuse of punctuation, run-on sentences, etc.?
Did you point out any typos or misspelling? How many times have you missed that in your writing because you passed over it without seeing it? Were there so many such errors that they made reading the piece difficult for you? Did the author use too many exclamation points (one of my weaknesses)? Were there any cliches in the narrative? For example, I once wrote “fruits of mother nature” and “thoughts burning in his mind”, both of which are cliches. In dialogue cliches are okay if the character would speak that way.
You may wish to comment on the style the story was written in, e.g., humorous, wordy, sparse, literary, homespun, technical, etc.