How Critiquing Can Help You Write Better – Tuesday Writing Tip

I’m lucky to have a wonderful writer’s network full of supportive crit buddies/beta readers.

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.

Setting

  • 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?

Dialogue

  • Is the dialogue relevant and appropriate?
  • Does dialogue reveal character?
  • Does dialogue move the story along?
  • Does dialogue flow?

Constructive criticism can't hurt you *

Characters

  • 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?

Plot

  • 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?

Language

  • 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.

Choose your own path when it comes to accepting other's critiques

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:)

Dee

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.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNER OF OUR RANGER IN DANGER BLOG COMPETITION

We are pleased to advise that Alex from Queensland was the winner of the Ranger In Danger competition on this blog in March.

Here’s Alex’s winning comment:

Really hard. Still stuck on level 5 of 8. The questions are fun to answer and the teleporting masks are cool.

Alex has now received his winning books.

Thanks to Alison, Sean and The Five Mile Press for being involved in this competition.

Congratulations to everyone who entered the competition for your great entries. I’m sure the judges had a very difficult decision.

Dee:-)

WIN an Autographed copy of a RANGER IN DANGER BOOK!

Alison Reynolds and Sean Willmore recently launched their two new, Ranger in Danger books.

Now you can WIN an autographed copy!

HOW TO WIN

One lucky visitor to my deescribewriting blog will win a FREE COPY by putting a comment on this post saying what they like about the new Ranger in Danger computer game created by Five Mile Press at http://www.fivemile.com.au/latest/new-ranger-in-danger-webgame.html

Alison and Sean will judge the best entry and the winner will receive a free copy of one of their latest releases Diablo’s Doom and Hernando’s Labyrinth.

THE COMPETITION CLOSES: 31st MARCH 2010, and is only open to people residing in Australia

These two fabulous books were recently launched at the Werribee Zoo. Here’s a pic of Alison and Sean at the launch:

Alison said the launch was heaps of fun and admitted that she has never had the opportunity to be so close to wild animals before. She said, “Every photo shows someone smiling or laughing. It may have been because somehow whenever a speech was made the speech maker had to wear a pith helmet that was made for toddler heads, but I choose to think it was because it was fun.”

DON’T FORGET TO GET YOUR COMPETITION ENTRIES IN!

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

P.S. Tomorrow Alison is visiting Tuesday Writing Tips and we are going to be talking about HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR NEW BOOK. Hope you can join us then.