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How to Critique a manuscript (even your own)
By Regina Pounds
Last edited: Saturday, August 20, 2011
Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2001

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The *Do*s and *Don't*s of critiquing...

You created the outline for a fantastic novel. Your first chapter practically wrote itself. All of a sudden, you draw a blank. How to go on? What's wrong? Or, you just finished your novel. You were able to write it without any problem. The words flowed. You even proof-read it and caught your punctuation errors. Your family loved the story, or perhaps it was your best friend who heaped praise upon your brilliant head. You send the manuscript off to an agent and wait. If you included a self-addressed, stamped envelope, you may get it back...with a form letter: a rejection. There are numerous similar scenarios, and in each one of those you wonder what went wrong. If only you had someone -- other than your admiring friends and family members -- to point out your mistakes to you. No one but an acquisitions editor can guarantee you a sale, but in this competitive business you must present your work in a highly polished form -- whether you submit it to a publisher or decide to publish it yourself. Perhaps you can turn to a professional reader who is able to spot your story's flaws. Perhaps you find a critiquing partner who will read your story and offer suggestions if you reciprocate. Now, do you know enough about the craft of writing and about critiquing to be able to help your partner? The *Do*s of Critiquing: Study the rules of grammar -- word usage and punctuation! -- as well as of style. Strunk & White's slim book ought to be at your fingertips. Read the Chicago Manual of Style -- it is the editor's bible and should be yours. Familiarize yourself with the genre requirements and restrictions that might apply to the story you'll examine. Read the synopsis first. Does it show when, where, what, how, and why? Are the protagonists' motivations clearly stated and are their actions plausible? Can the story be described in just one 'theme' sentence? Now read the manuscript. Do ask yourself as you read: Does anything jar you out of the story? If so, take note. Is it a word too often repeated? Is it faulty punctuation? Poor usage of words? If nothing jars you, go on reading to determine if the story unfolds smoothly. Can you follow the action? Do the characters talk in a believable way? Does the story grip you? Does the opening page lure you in? Look for slow passages, repetitions, over-explaining, too much internalizing...are the scenes set up well? Does each one carry the story forward? Is the setting attractive to your mind's eye? Do clichés jump out at you? Is the pace even? Varied? Fast enough? Is your interest sustained? Do you see passive writing? Does too much background information slow down the beginning of the story? Does the middle drag? Does the ending satisfy you? Are all loose ends tied up? How about the style? Verbose? Cluttered? Too sparse? Boring? Did you read any passage twice because you didn't understand it? What about characterization? Do you care about the protagonists? Why or why not? Do you spot inaccuracies? Is the research sloppy? Find answers to all these questions and make a list of criteria to look for... Do balance your critique by marking excellent spots with stars or smiley faces and a compliment...this goes a long way towards making sure your critique partner doesn't lose heart. (I found praise works wonders inspiring a writer to do even better.) *Don't*s: Don't nitpick. Don't impose your own likes and dislikes on your critique partner... if you hate Cowboy stories, don't critique one. Don't make moral judgements on the story's characters... (please don't say: "A fifty-year-old man would *never* act in such a way..." or make any similar judgement call based on your own convictions). If you feel strongly that something you read doesn't ring true , you may query the author about it, but please do so tactfully. Don't mark words you're not familiar with as mistakes...look them up in a dictionary first. Don't fall into the trap of flattering your partner for fear of hurting feelings. Find a way to suggest improvements by posing questions rather than dictating *must do this or that*... Don't feel hurt yourself if your partner decides to disagree with you or to ignore your comments. It's not your story nor your work. Respect the author's right to make the final call. Don't ever crush an author's spirits with your critique! You gave food for thought. You questioned. You pointed out the good, the mediocre, and the bad. You did your job. You'll appreciate all the above when it's your turn to receive a critique. Happy reading! Happy writing! Regina Pounds copyright 2001  


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Reviewed by Larry Daley 7/22/2008
Regina excellent article, most useful to me and my readers.

Thank you

Larry Daley
Reviewed by Regis Auffray 3/2/2008
Thank you for sharing this most worthwhile advice, Gina. Love and best wishes to you,

Reviewed by L Hippler 4/10/2007
Regina, Very nice article on critiquing. I think you've got it all there; and in a very readable style.
Larry H
Reviewed by A Serviceable Villain 2/13/2005

Know exactly what you're talking about - very informative write; well-done!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!

Best to you,

Reviewed by Safi Abdi 9/13/2004
Regina, This is better than any book written on the topic. Professional and concise. Thank you!
Best regards,
Reviewed by Reginald Birch (Reader) 8/20/2004
Great advice Gina, wish I had read sometime ago, how about a book "Writing and Criticising Manuscripts"


Why is it under Historical Fiction?
Inspirational to me.
Reviewed by Debra Conklin 4/2/2004
Many good points here and extremely helpful. Thank you.
Reviewed by Erin Kelly-Moen 9/1/2003
Very useful information, Regina, which can be applied to other types of writing. Thanks! :)
Reviewed by Mary Deal 4/11/2003
Gina, this is a wonderful instructional article. In addition to all the suggestions, I especially like the fact that you say, "Don't ever crush an author's spirits by your critique!" Writers receive so much rejection, a little positive, constructive criticism would seem heaven-sent. Great article!
Reviewed by m j hollingshead 3/30/2003
well done
Reviewed by George MacLean Akurunwa 3/18/2003
Great treasure for one like me. Many thanks.
Reviewed by Michael McGowan (Reader) 4/20/2002
This article makes a fine check list to help tighten loose corners in anyone's work- I know it made me think of my biggest problem- putting too much background info in the second or third chapter. Great!
Reviewed by Hanley Harding 11/23/2001
Dear Regina;

...many good and helpful points! You may wish to wade through my METHOD TO MY MADNESS, which conveys some of my personal thoughts concerning the writing "process."

Reviewed by Victoria Murray 10/29/2001
A rare find--thank you for the insight--very thought provoking and educational and easy to follow...
Reviewed by Janet Caldwell 9/29/2001
Excellent!! Thank you so much. I actually read this last night and tried to rate, but it wouldn't let me. So hopefully this will go through. Janet
Reviewed by Anne 8/30/2001
Thank you for your points, I have taken them on board as I am now in the middle of editing my own ms.

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