Monday, January 19, 2009

Mentor Monday: How to Critique a Manuscript--Your Own & Others

Usually, writers are devoted readers. As a result, we develop a sense of what constitutes good or successful writing. Sometimes, however, it's difficult to verbalize what it is about a story that brought about these feelings. We know we like a piece. We know it worked. If asked what made these positive feelings occur, we might say the characters spoke to us, the language was lively...or touching...or frightening.

When trying to critique someone else's work, we often have the same issues. There are lots of "parts" to a successful manuscript. Over the years, the Write Sisters have learned that by working together we generally can find ways to strengthen our work because each of us tends to look for particular details. I, for example, am always looking for tension in a story. Kathy is very good at getting us to cut unnecessary words and write tight. After year together, we found that we heard each other's voices and critiques while new pieces were being written. We also found it helpful to collect a list of critiquing tips. It became a checklist for reviewing a work-in-progress:

1. Does the opening grab you?

2. Are you aware, early in the story, what the protagonist's problem is?

3. Is the voice correct? (First person, third person, omniscient?)

4. Is the plot clear? Does every sentence move the story?

5. Are the characters appealing and realistic? (Even villains should have a good side!)

6. Can you visualize the setting?

7. Does the writer show, not tell?

8. Is the point of view consistent?

9. Is the grammar appropriate to the story? Appropriate for the target audience?

10. Is the writing tight?

11. Is the story chronological?

12. Are there too many confusing flashbacks?

13. Are the characters well-developed and clearly individuals?

14. Are the characters well-named? (not, e.g. James, Jane, Janice, etc.)

15. Is the language appropriate (not too much slang, dialect, etc.)

16. Are the descriptions too long?

17. Is there white space? (Varied paragraph lengths, dialogue, etc.)

18. Are the page-turns appropriate?

19. Is there tension? A climax?

20. Does the ending work?

21. Is there a market for the story?

Take any story you've written and go through the checklist. I guarantee you'll make improvements.

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