HOW TO CRITIQUE YOUR MANUSCRIPT

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.

http://www.crayne.com/howcrit.html

Opening

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?

Conflict

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?

Plot

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?

Pacing:

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?

Setting

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.

Timing

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?

Characterization

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?

Dialogue

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.

Style

You may wish to comment on the style the story was written in, e.g., humorous, wordy, sparse, literary, homespun, technical, etc.

 

 

A Summary of K.M. Weiland’s  “Write Like a Master”

 

My summary of K.M. Weiland’s excellent article presented in Writer’s Digest, Work Book: Exercises and Tips for Honing Specific Aspects of Your Writing presents the key points of her exceptional article via Writer’s Digest 2014 Reblog. It is especially for writers penning their first novel, but also for seasoned writers to again remember a classic, Jane Eyre, a novel that was ahead of its time, by Charlotte Brontë.  Often, reading classics, as most of us do, gives us fresh insight to dramatic storytelling par excellence. K.M. Weiland gives us 10 distinct techniques for dramatic masterful writing.

  1. Hook: Start in the middle of some type of interaction within environment, statement, or internal angst to provoke reader curiosity.
  1. Characteristic Moment: Reveal/show a personality trait of the Protagonist.
  1. Setting Description of Scene: Start broadly, and then zoom in.
  1. Symbolism: Small details set story’s tone and foreshadows its course.
  1. The World Protagonist Inhabits: demonstrate character’s interior and exterior world.
  1. Back Story: Intersperse with dialogue, don’t dump back story in long paragraphs in chapter 1.
  1. The Premise of Story: Present the Dramatic Question early on, involving the moral foundation, the impetus that drives the story forward.
  1. Physical Actions: The physical movements of characters interspersed throughout dialogue increases depth of character traits.
  1. Protagonist’s Belief: Once Dramatic Question is identified, writer presents obstacles for protagonist until she/he can relinquish belief/misconception and meet deepest needs.

10.Extraordinary Factor: What makes the Protagonist important? How at odds is protagonist in his/her world with others that creates friction, tension, and thus the central conflict of story premise.

***see Writer’s Digest, October 2014 edition, for full article.

THE LIFE HE LEADS

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The life He Leads

Is far removed

From where he goes

Within his head,

He tends his garden

And stooping low

Thinks of those who use to be

But now are gone,

His thoughts travel far

Back to ‘42

Oh, that was a year

Wasn’t that what mama said?

Two babies in diapers

One in short pants

And they was always

A-hankerin to be fed

There was a wreck in ‘52

He lost one baby and mama too

On a city street

Their life’s blood bled

He squints his eyes, shuffles inside,

Stands before their pictures,

Side by side and thinks tomorrow

Maybe he won’t get out of bed.

 

Copyright @1995 Kathy Lauren Miller

 

What Stephen King Taught Me

Stephan King

 

Stephen King wrote a seminal work on fantasy fiction writing—a memoir of the craft on writing by the same name: Stephen King: A memoir of the Craft – On Writing.

When I decided to write fantasy fiction, instead of just dreaming about it, I decided the best place to start would be with Stephen King. Who better to learn from but a master fiction writer?  So, I purchased his book in the year 2005, read it several times, high-lighted tantalizing concepts, tabbed with sticky writable tabs until I had outlined the entire book.  I soon learned that reading about writing, tabbing every conceivable point of interest does not necessarily create a master fiction writer or even a mediocre fiction writer.

So, I stopped reading books on writing and just started reading books I loved: Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Edgar Allen Poe, Harry Potter, Hans Christian Anderson, and so many others.  I happily read a lot of books—good, I thought, know I can start writing. Nope.  Even though I looked at the world through fantasy colored glasses, I had a terrible fear of ineptitude.  I was the student who couldn’t spell, never learned phonics, didn’t know a consonant from a vowel, and a homonym is what? Regardless, I managed to get a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, and even a PhD.  I was a competent mimic.

So, what did Stephen King teach me? Stephen King taught me how to trust my instincts when he wrote, “stories are found things, like fossils in the ground.”  “Stories”, writes King, “are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.”  Stephen taught me to lean heavily on my intuition, my inner sense of things without the mimicking and sense of ineptitude.

Well, that’s great I thought, because I walk through this world wearing fantasy colored glasses where every nook and cranny is rich with fantastical possibilities—like magical stones, talking trees, whispering air, mumbling water, and things, like humans, who walk the earth.

 

Techniques for Masterful Writing

 A Summary of K.M. Weiland’s  “Write Like a Master”

I posted this in 2014 and realized it was definitely worth posting again!  My summary of K.M. Weiland’s excellent article presented in Writer’s Digest, Work Book: Exercises and Tips for Honing Specific Aspects of Your Writing presents the key points of her exceptional article. It is especially for writers penning their first novel, but also for seasoned writers to again remember a classic, Jane Eyre, a novel that was ahead of its time, by Charlotte Brontë.  Often, reading classics, as most of us do, gives us fresh insight to dramatic storytelling par excellence, and can improve our own writing skills. K.M. Weiland gives us 10 distinct techniques for dramatic masterful writing.

  1. Hook: Start in the middle of some type of interaction within environment, statement, or internal angst to provoke reader curiosity.
  1. Characteristic Moment: Reveal/show a personality trait of the Protagonist.
  1. Setting Description of Scene: Start broadly, and then zoom in.
  1. Symbolism: Small details set story’s tone and foreshadows its course.
  1. The World Protagonist Inhabits: demonstrate character’s interior and exterior world.
  1. Back Story: Intersperse with dialogue, don’t dump back story in long paragraphs in chapter 1.
  1. The Premise of Story: Present the Dramatic Question early on, involving the moral foundation, the impetus that drives the story forward.
  1. Physical Actions: The physical movements of characters interspersed throughout dialogue increases depth of character traits.
  1. Protagonist’s Belief: Once Dramatic Question is identified, writer presents obstacles for protagonist until she/he can relinquish belief/misconception and meet deepest needs.

10.Extraordinary Factor: What makes the Protagonist important? How at odds is protagonist in his/her world with others that creates friction, tension, and thus the central conflict of story premise.

***see Writer’s Digest, October 2014 edition, for full article.