Thursday, December 3, 2009

Critique Group Series Part 3: What to Look for When Critiquing

Now that you’re a part of a critique group, what should you look for when critiquing? That depends on the type of critiquer you are and the expectations of your group. There are two basic ways of critiquing someone’s work (and many variants in between): overall and detailed.

If you’re doing an overall view of a chapter or manuscript, here are some questions you might consider:

-Did you like the story? Why or why not? Did it work as a whole?
-Were you able to determine who the main character was and what his/her goal, motivation, and conflicts were?
-Were the characters’ behaviors believable?
-Were there parts that bumped your out of the story? Why?
-Did the story have a beginning, middle, and end?
-Did the beginning draw you in, the middle keep you interested, and the end tie things together?
-Did the story work according to genre “rules”?
-Was the tone appropriate?
-Was the pacing what’s expected of the genre and did it work for this story?
-Was the plot dramatic or melodramatic?
-Was the ending satisfying?

Here’s what to look for in a detailed critique:
-Does the author show or tell the story?
-Was the dialogue realistic?
-Are there grammar/spelling errors or awkward phrases?
-Was every scene there to either move the plot forward or to develop a character?
-Did the first sentence/paragraph hook you?
-Was there a hook at the end of each chapter (or even each scene)?
-Was the sentence pattern varied?
-Was there a balance between narrative, action, and dialogue?
-Was the conflict strong enough for a book length story?
-Do you care about the characters? Are they three dimensional or talking heads?
-Does the plot make sense? Is it original in its own way? (No plot is completely original as there are no new plots, only new ways to show the story.)
-Is the setting described in chunks or snuck in, little bits a time?
-Is the backstory included as info dumps?
-Are there too many or not enough dialogue tags?
-Is there buried/hidden dialogue?
-Is the POV clear or is there a lot of head-hopping?

Obviously, there are other things one can search for when critiquing. These examples are only guidelines.

The two most important things to consider when critiquing someone’s work are honesty and politeness. Never trash someone’s writing. Find a polite way of saying something doesn’t work for you and then find something you like about their story as well. Don’t make the whole critique seem like a put-down. There should be at least some positive in the experience. Then, once you’ve received a critique, whether you agree with it or not, you should ALWAYS thank the critiquer. They invested their time into critiquing your work. Never take that for granted.

Do you have any other suggestions as to what writers could look for when critiquing someone else’s work?


  1. Thank you for these tips. Very helpful!

  2. i finally thanked you for the wonderful award on my blog! Thanks :)

  3. Oh, wow, fantastic tips. :) I can't think of anything to add. I'll definitely be sharing this with my crit group. Thanks!

  4. Those are awesome tips, Lynnette! I'm starring this to come back to as I work with a critique partner.

  5. I can't believe I missed this post. This is awesome. I'll have to refer back to it.

  6. When critiquing someones work, make sure and note the times you laughed, or was surprised, etc. An author likes to know those things and it helps the comments like "this sentence read awkward" seem not so bad.

  7. Great tips, Lynnette. As Amy said remembering to note the things that worked in the story helps as well.