Why do you need a critique?
Another pair of eyes to spot problems
Grammar and spelling problems
Clarity problems-- Does something (a phrase or an event) not make sense to another person?
Someone else can see the diseased tree when you only see the forest.
If you want only praise, let your mother or your best friend read your book. If you want honesty, get a good critique partner.
Critiquing someone else's work is good for your writing
By learning to spot others' weaknesses, you can more easily spot your own
Explaining writing problems helps you understand them
How to find a critique partner or critique group
A local writer's group (only if there are others who write in your genre or subgenre) RWA chapters or other writers' groups
If you don't have a local chapter, RWA Outreach and the FF&P chapter offer excellent critique programs via snail or email. Internet critique groups.
Some writing sites offer critique groups as does some writing ezines and listservs. Ask around.
Rules for choosing a good group and what to avoid
Read the chapter starting on page 45 on critique groups in Holly Lisle's MUGGING THE MUSE. http://wordgoddess.50megs.com/ The whole book is free and well worth the download.
Ethics of critiquing
Never talk about what you critique to others
Never show someone else's work to others
Never "borrow" a critique partner's ideas or characters
Respect others' time. Critique in a timely manner, and don't send your life's work at once.
Agree upon an amount of work (a chapter or more) and stick to it unless the other person agrees to see more.
Agree on what each of you wants from a critique and give it.
A general overview?
A check on accuracy from an expert?
Be specific. Be fair. Be kind. Don't say, "I hate this." Say, "Your hero is unpleasant because...." or, "He may be rude to the heroine here, but show he is a nice person to others so the reader can like him and see him as a worthy hero."
ALSO mention what works. "The heroine is really charming. I loved the way she...." or "Your descriptions are excellent. I could see the waves around the pirate ship and smell the ocean."
Don't be too kind. If you see a problem, mention it so it can be fixed. It's kinder in the long term for her to know this problem now rather than in the rejection letter from an editor.
Ask questions if you don't understand a comment, but don't defend your work. It's a waste of time for both of you.
Anger is a waste of time, as well. It's no fun to be told that your writing isn't perfect, but you'll have to learn to deal with it. Even the best writers in the world have editors who change things so learn to deal with criticism or forget about a writing career.
Respect each other's voice and individuality. Don't suggest rewrites as you would do it, but rewrites to improve the author's vision.
Respect your own voice and vision. The critiquer can only give SUGGESTIONS. Only you can decide whether to change your work. Only you know what you are trying to achieve with the entire book.
Thank your critiquer because she gave up writing time to help you.
[The critique questions below are only some of the questions you'll ask yourself as you critique another person's work. ]
Critiquing a chapter over a period of time. (Several rewrites)
The first critique should be an overview of plot and character.
Does this chapter advance the story?
Tell more about the characters?
Give plot information?
Does it work with the chapter before it?
Later critiques should also examine the nuts and bolts of grammar, spelling, language, dialogue, point of view, correct historical and scientific information, etc.
Specific elements to examine in a general critique
Do the characters and plot work well together, or is the plot just pasted on?
Does it make sense?
Does one thing lead to another?
Has the story started at the right place?
Does the action escalate?
Are more plot questions asked before a plot question is resolved?
Does the plot fit genre boundaries?
Does each character sound different?
Do they have a voice of their own?
Are the characters doing what they as characters and personalities should be doing, or are they being moved around for the convenience of the author?
Do we understand why they are doing certain things?
Does each major character have a strength and a weakness which will be affected by the plot?
In the romantic relationship, is their emotional conflict strong enough for the length of the work?
Will it take more than one long talk to resolve their conflict?
Does their romantic relationship work with the action plot?
In the action plot, is the conflict between the hero and his opponent strong enough?
Is the opponent strong enough to really push the hero to his limits?
Point of view
Is the proper point of view maintained in each scene?
Would a scene work better from another character's viewpoint?
Is there only one viewpoint character in each scene?
Does this interior monologue slow the scene too much?
Could this information or emotion be expressed in dialogue or action?
Is the writer telling too much?
Do the sentences vary in length?
Does the language fit the actions? Long sentences for leisurely, more introspective moments? Short, terse sentences and words for action scenes?
Does the author intrude, or is she invisible so the story can tell itself?
Does cause and effect happen correctly?
Is she showing rather than telling?
Fantasy, futuristic and paranormal elements:
Is the worldbuilding well thought out?
Is it logical?
Does the writer break her own rules?
If a myth or fantasy element is changed from common knowledge, is it a logical or understandable change?Is it explained? (a vampire who can survive full sunlight, for example)
Copyright 2004© by Marilynn Byerly.
This may not reproduced without the express permission of Marilynn Byerly. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Another good source of critique information is available at the Vicki Hinze library website. http://www.vickihinze.com/
Marilynn Byerly is teaching three online writing courses. To learn more, click on the link of each course.