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.

 

 

The Top 10 Elements of a Book People Want to Read!

 

 

 

 

Many Indie writers are just now finishing their summer novel writing and will publish soon!  I thought it would be a great time to repost this article about the elements of good writing for readability!

By Writer Digest contributor, Helga Schier, PhD, Editor, Guest Column | March 16, 2015

This guest blog is written by Helga Schier, PhD, former Big Five editor and founder of With Pen and Paper, an independent editorial services firm. With over 20 years of experience in the (self-)publishing industry. For more information, visit http://www.withpenandpaper.com

Aim for High Readability

People enjoy books with a high level of readability—books with a captivating story and memorable characters, books we can’t put down, books that stick with us long after we’ve read the last word.

As an independent editor, I’ve come across my fair share of readable books, and all of them are well crafted on three distinct but intricately connected levels.

  • The surface structure of the words on the page, which includes grammar, punctuation, and spelling
  • The level of style and voice, which is defined by the choice of words, the sentence rhythm, the use of literary techniques and images, and the tone or approach
  • The content level, where the fictional world comes to life.
  • Highly readable books are polished, refined, sophisticated, and mature on all three levels. To fulfill the potential of your book, develop and sharpen the following top ten elements.
  1. Your Words Are Your tools; Make Sure They Are in Working Order.

Avoid typos, sort out commonly mistaken words such as die/dye or there/their/they’re. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] Watch your grammar—make sure your nouns agree with your verbs and the personal pronouns fit. If a paragraph begins in the past tense, it likely ought to end in the past tense, too. Figure out where those commas go to help your readers make sense of your sentences. Sounds basic? It is. So run that spell-check and get it right.

  1. Check for Inconsistencies.

Writers revise their work constantly. As a result, characters may appear or disappear at random, because chapters were rearranged; subplots remain unresolved, because chapters were cut; and timeline issues may tiptoe in. Looking for inconsistencies and holes in your story is an integral part of polishing your work.

  1. Avoid Overwriting.

Your style or voice should step into the background to serve your story. No need for a clever metaphor in every sentence, or for an adjective before every noun. Avoid complicated sentences if a simple sentence will get your point across. Avoid inflated sentences and unnecessary introductory or summarizing phrases. Don’t be verbose—every sentence has a point; get to it.

  1. Avoid Underwriting.

Allow your language to adapt to its context. Using the same words and/or sentence structures repeatedly makes a novel repetitive and monotonous. If the teenage girl and the CEO of a multibillion dollar company have the same voice, we’ll learn more about the writer than about the characters and their relationships. Avoid clichés and create your own personal images instead. Or use clichés and stereotypes to your advantage—say, to define a character.

  1. Make Sure Your Characters Are More Than a Name.

As a reader, I want to be able to relate to your characters. I don’t have to always like them or agree with their choices, but I want to understand why they say and do whatever it is they say and do. I want to care for them, fear and worry with them. Therefore, your characters need to be recognizable and unique at the same time. They need to be complex rather than cardboard cutouts, and dynamic rather than passive. Even a bad guy deserves a redeeming quality.

  1. Show, Don’t Tell.

“He was anxious.” Or: “She was happy.” Or: “They were angry.” That’s telling. Trouble is, this does not really tell me what I am to imagine. Is he chewing his nails? Is she smiling as she embraces her newborn baby? Are they raising their voices to a level that could be heard down the block? That’s showing, and it conjures up a clear image in your reader’s head. And that’s what you want.

  1. Sharpen that Dialogue…

Dialogue passes on information between characters and to the reader. Dialogue propels the plot forward. And, dialogue reveals the personality of the dialogue partners, as well as their relationship. Avoid repeating small talk, too much clever banter, and uninterrupted speeches. At least two people should exchange information, ask questions, answer them, comment, fight, tease… whatever. The way your characters interact with each other says a whole lot about them and about their relationship.

  1. …And Expose that Subtext.

People don’t necessarily say what they mean or mean what they say. Every conversation has a subtext. Dialogue is not only about what is being said, but also about how the dialogue partners feel about and relate to each other. Do they like each other? Who has the upper hand? Do they trust each other? Show us in their gestures, glances, body language, and behavior while they’re talking. Is anyone leaning in or moving away? Anyone nervously fidgeting with a pen? Anyone looking out the window because he is bored or to the floor because she is ashamed? The narrative must support the dialogue by exposing the underlying tension, conflict, and motivation of your characters.

  1. Drive the Plot Towards Your Reader’s Aha-Moment.

A readable novel provides meaning to the world we live in, which is to say that the succession of events must make sense. Your characters react to these events in ways that are motivated by their psychological disposition. The interplay of events and character behavior moves your plot forward. The writer’s hand should remain invisible. Therefore, prepare your plot twists within the novel before they happen, and give your characters a reason for their behavior. These clues should not be so obvious that we can predict the way your story goes, but in retrospect, once the plot has twisted a certain way, your preparation must become clear. It’s your readers’ aha-moment, if you will.

  1. Build Your World.

Stories don’t happen in a vacuum. Your story could happen in China in the distant past, in present day America, or in the future on a planet you imagined. Your readers need to know how your world compares to theirs. This is world building, which involves establishing a clear timeline, a recognizable locale of your overall story, and, just as importantly, the ambiance of any given scene.

As a writer, you must create a world populated with characters who live their lives before our eyes, and you must do so with words only. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] There is no camera to show us that the police car drives off with lights flashing, no sound to give us the sirens, and no actors to make a comment sound bored or sexy or irritated or funny or scared. Your words and their rhythm build your world and make it turn.

Your words are your tools; make sure they are in working order.