They are all fantastic so I hate to single anyone out, but there is one person in particular, Alison Reynolds (Co-author of the popular Ranger In Danger series and writer of many other great books) who doesn’t let me get away with anything. I don’t consider any manuscript to be ‘submission ready’ until Alison has cast her critical eye over it.
The critiquing is a mutual thing and we often laugh about the fact that we make the same mistakes and that we pick them up in each other’s work but find it very hard to identify them in our own writing. I wonder if it’s a subconscious thing – that we know the mistakes we make so we see them in others.
I guess that’s one of the reasons why critiquing other people’s work can help you become a better writer. It can help you identify the things you could improve about your own writing.
These are the things I look for when I’m critiquing someone else’s work. They’re also steps I use in my own self-editing process. They are the questions I ask myself.
- Does the setting information allow the reader to step into the world of the main character?
- Is the setting detail relevant, appropriate, adequate?
- Is the setting detail overdone?
- If setting is important to the story, is it like another character – does it have a life and presence in the story?
- Is the dialogue relevant and appropriate?
- Does dialogue reveal character?
- Does dialogue move the story along?
- Does dialogue flow?
- Is there enough variation between the characters? For example, for balance, you need mean characters and nice characters. You can’t have all nice or all nasty.
- Do the characters have their own strong, unique voice?
- Do I care what happens to the main character?
- Is it clear who the main character is in the story?
- Are the characters developed enough?
- Do all the characters need to be in the story?
- Do character behave in a consistent way throughout the story? Is their behaviour credible?
- Is there enough differentiation between characters in the story?
- Does the plot hook the reader in straight away?
- Does the plot have a series of events leading up to a climax or high point in the story?
- If the plot doesn’t follow the straight narrative ark, does the format work?
- Does the plot keep the reader hooked right to the end?
- Are there any plot inconsistencies?
- Is the plot credible within the setting and context of the story?
- Are there page turners leading to the next chapter?
- Is the sequence of events logical? Could they be restructured to strengthen the story?
- If the book is going to have a sequel, has this been adequately set up?
- Is the language appropriate for the readership?
- Does the piece have any repetitive words or phrases?
- Look for inconsistencies in names of people and places (this is where a style sheet is handy)
- Could the language be stronger?
- Is the sentence length and structure varied enough?
- Could the author have used language like similes and metaphors to make the piece more visual for the reader?
- Could the language be tightened? Has the author used too many words – eliminating words ending in ‘ing’ and ‘there was’ type phrases can tighten a story. Also check for qualifiers like ‘really’ and ‘so’. These slow pacing down too.
If you can recognise all these elements in someone else’s story, you’ll have a better chance of recognising them in your own.
By the same token, critiquing is a subjective thing. You don’t have to take everything someone else says and they are not obliged to take your comments on board either.
That’s one of the great things about being a writer – you’re the one who controls the words on the page. Be open-minded, but don’t feel you have to change something that matters to you – perhaps you just need to clarify its place in the story.
I’d love to hear how your crit buddies or beta readers have helped you to write better. Also, feel free to share any critiquing tips or methods you have.
Happy writing and critiquing:)
P.S. I’m on school camp this week with no internet access so if your comments and my responses don’t appear straight away, don’t worry. I’ll be back on Friday and all will be sorted then:)
* Couldn’t resist using more pics from our ‘Around Australia Trip’. The crocodile is one we ‘met’ in Queensland. The road pic is from the Oodnadatta Track.