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HOW TO CRITIQUE



Our members have many writing styles, and their W2P critiques represent this. Some emphasize the overall plot or plausibility, others the line-by-line details, and still others make specific rewrite suggestions.

This page offers details for composing your 'maximum best' critique.



When reading a submission in preparation for writing a critique, it is important to read the entire submission, including any introductory comments made by the writer. Often, the introduction will answer questions about the submission's form, length, content and intent. Failure to read these comments may result in the critic asking questions that have already been answered. This results in a waste of both the critic's and the writer's time and efforts.

It is crucial to pay close attention when reading a submission. A critic who fails to read thoroughly enough to discern the meaning intended by the writer is not doing their job.

What to include in your critique

Personal style and creativity are a large part of the critique process, allowing great flexibility in the individual critiques.

Your critique should include something positive to say about the work.
Your critique should include criticisms.
Support your comments with explanations, examples and recommendations for improvement or reasons for your comments.

A comprehensive critique focuses on specific problems in the work and informs the writer of ways they might consider improving or correcting those problems. Such a critique is seldom less than a few hundred words. Short, nonspecific critiques are the most likely to fail to qualify for this group.

Critiques do not have to focus on negative opinions. There are many positive comments that can be made. Members are encouraged to look for well written areas and point those out to the writer. It can be very discouraging to receive a barrage of negative comments. A writer can easily lose sight of the good qualities present in their piece. By failing to remark on what is well done, the writer may change their work, inadvertently doing damage to their writing.

Your critique should not include making major changes to a submission in a direction not specifically requested by the writer. Help the writer by suggesting improvements, but do not rewrite the story for them. It is the writers choice to decide what happens in their story.

Critiques should be well written: check your critique for spelling errors and grammar problems. Care should be taken to make your comments as clear as possible. Good suggestions may be lost or ignored due to poor presentation, incomprehensibility or a failure to communicate them properly.

A critique should address these types of questions:

Presentation (Spelling, grammar, punctuation, mechanical, technical)

Is proper formatting used (ie. Paragraphs indented, title centered, font clear and easy to read)?
Are there spelling errors?
Is the case correct (ie. Capitalization used appropriately)?
Are the verb tenses correct and consistent?
Is the punctuation correct? Commas, periods, semicolons and quotation marks properly used?
Are the sentences structured properly, with grammatical clarity?
Are there inappropriate sentence fragments?
Is there subject/verb agreement?
Are the sentences logical, with the subject and predicate making sense together?
Are all modifying words and phrases pointing to the correct modified word?
Are there any dangling modifiers (modifiers that fail to refer to any word in the sentence)?
Are there split infinitives (a word between to and the verb)?
Is there excessive word echoes (duplicate words used too close together)?
Is there unintended alliteration present in the work?
Are any words used incorrectly?
Are all pronoun references clear?
Has the writer inadvertantly used the wrong homonym?

Style (Sentence structure, pacing, tone, theme)

Are the sentences varied in length and structure? Are there too many short, choppy sentences or too many long, compound sentences?
Is there a good mix of sentence structures?
Do the sentences begin with a variety of openings?
Are there redundant words or phrases? Is information repeated unnecessarily at various points in the story?
Are there too many long paragraphs?
Is the writer showing versus telling?
Are cliches used?
Does the writing flow? If not, why not?
Does the work have a strong hook?
Is the work audience appropriate? If not, why not?
Is the voice active or passive?
Does the work have a good cadence?
Is there excessive use of adjectives and adverbs?
Is the language clear and appropriate for the subject? Is there too much specialized jargon that would be unclear to the average reader?
Is the language too pretentious or euphemistic?
Is dialect too heavy-handed?
Do words have appropriate connotations for their use?
Is there a balance of dialogue, narration and exposition?
Is there a good balance of details?
Are the details too generic?
Are there too many details? Not enough?
Are the verbs strong, active and appropriate?

Plot

Is the plot logical? Does it flow consistently throughout the story?
Is the plot believable?
Does the work feel like the writer is steering it or is the work steering the writer?
Does each scene move the story forward?
Is there dramatic tension in each scene?
Is there convincing conflict in every scene?
Does the tension rise consistently?
Do the chapters end with good hooks?
Does the story fulfill it's promise or are you left with more questions than answers?
Can you suspend your disbelief for this story?
Is the story premise echoed in each scene?
Are there plot twists/reversals?
Is there an effective climax at the end of each scene or story?
Is there a satisfying, believable ending to the story as a whole?

Characterization

Does the characterization work? If not, why not?
Are the characters named well? Too stock? Too exotic?
Is a strong character established in the first scene?
Are too many characters introduced, creating confusion?
Does each character have a distinctive voice and style?
Are any of the characters cliche?
Do you care about the lead character?
Are the characters larger than life? Are they being pushed to their physical and/or emotional limits of endurance? Are the characters forced to stretch their limits in order to overcome their adversary, resolve their conflict or reach their goal?
Do the main characters develop more fully with each scene?
Are the main characters three dimensional?
Are character names overused? Could pronouns be substituted without losing clarity?
Are the characters properly motivated for their actions?
Are the character conflicts believable?
Are inner conflicts clear and well-presented?
Is the character's behavior consistent with the character's portrayal?

Point of View

Is the viewpoint adequate to tell the story properly?
Does the point of view shift properly? If not, why not?
Is the point of view consistent?
Is the point of view clear?
Are there things revealed that the viewpoint character couldn't know?
Is there head-hopping?

Dialogue

Is there excessive dialogue tagging?
Is the dialogue too commonplace?
Is the dialogue too melodramatic?
Is the dialogue hard to follow?
Are all the dialogue tags used appropriately?
Is it clear which character is speaking?
Is the dialogue for each character appropriate for their background and history?
Does the dialogue reflect each individual character?
Does the dialogue deepen character and/or move the story forward?
Does the dialogue adequately express the emotion of the scene?
Are character speeches kept brief and effective?

Exposition (backstory, relationships, setting, time)

Does the first paragraph set the tone?
Is backstory delivered naturally and smoothly or are there information dumps?
Is the backstory necessary to further the story?
Does the story open at the appropriate time?
Are the relationships clear (ie. character to character, character to setting, character to plot)?
Are the descriptions vivid? Do they paint a picture for the reader?
Has a strong setting been established for every scene?
Is the setting accurate for the period and place?
Is all the information given pertinent to the story at hand?
Is the time period established early in the story?
Are there smooth transitions between scenes?
Is the passage of time clear within the story?

Other Issues

Does the story title work? If not, why not?
What additional problems do you note in this work?
How can the writer improve this work?
If you saw this work in a bookstore, would you buy it? Why or why not?
Did you enjoy reading this submission?

Remember, critique the work, not the writer. It is not about personal likes or dislikes in genre, style, content or personalities. A writer should be able to critique all genres and styles fairly and objectively.

Occasionally, you may see a submission so good that you can't find anything to criticize. If this is the case, you should try to show the writer specifics on why the piece worked so well and why you don't feel it needs revision. These comments are equally as important as those explaining why something didn't work.

Upon completion, the critic should review their critique and ask themselves would they find it helpful, motivating and encouraging?

Members are encouraged to print out these guidelines and refer to them often in your journey toward writing excellence. The value of your critique cannot be understated. It is by challenging ourselves and our writing partners toward steady improvement that we elevate our work and the skills of everyone around us, creating a dynamic and valuable writing/critique group.


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