The role of a critiquer isn’t always the same. In many groups, novels are critted a chapter every week or so. That’s helpful for some issues, but not so much for over-arching story problems. My personal favorite way of giving–and getting–critiques is by the entire novel. Here are some things I look out for in a novel crit:
1. Character arcs
Do the major characters act in a way that is consistent, but allows for growth? Or do they do or say things so out of character that it’s not believable?
2. Plot/subplot arcs
Does the main plot of the story ebb and flow in a natural way, or does it seemed forced? Does it build to an inevitable conclusion but still allow for surprises in how it gets there? Do the subplots twine around the main plot appropriately? Does the story go flat in the middle or keep momentum?
Does the movement of time seem smooth? Days, weeks, months, seasons.
In essence, what’s the point of the story?
Those are questions that can’t be answered by reading one chapter a week. They require reading in a block as quickly as possible, much like a regular reader, but with track changes and comments ON!
Of course, there are many other things I look for too, line by line:
This includes quotation marks, commas (admittedly not my strongest point, so I try not to be too dogmatic about them!)
6. Unclear writing
Things like unclear pronouns, sentences, action or description sequences that don’t quite make sense.
- Someone asked you to critique their baby. I mean their novel. What do you look for? click to tweet
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Sometimes this crops up as showing and then telling. Sometimes it is in the dialogue tags or action beats. Labeled feelings are pet peeves of mine.
We all have pet words that tend to get used and reused. These I tend to just highlight without comment.
9. Conflicting information
This could be hair or eye color, or other specific info that crops up periodically. Even consistency in how a house or town is laid out.
10. Typos and word errors
Even when we run spell and grammar check, it’s easy to miss these. I always keep an eye out for words that are used incorrectly, sometimes checking them in the dictionary if I’m not sure if the portrayed meaning is correct.
I used to take a month or more to critique a novel, fitting it in around writing and other tasks. This works when the writer has gone on to other projects and doesn’t have an editor waiting for the completed manuscript. Even without that pressure, though, I’ve begun to drop everything to push through in a few days. I get the best feel for the over-all rhythm doing it that way. And I appreciate the crit partners who have done the same for me when circumstances warranted.
I used to worry about how my critique would be accepted, but I’ve built relationships with a few key people I now exchange work with. They know I truly have their best interests at heart and, when the roles are reversed and they are critiquing me, the same is true. I can trust them because I know their primary goal is to help me strengthen the story as much as possible.
What do you look for when you’re critiquing? Can you whole-heartedly trust those who critique for you?
(Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)