Saturday, 3 September 2011

How to Critique a Novel or Short Story

How to critique a Novel or Short Story

As the recipient of many critiques and assessments of my work I have sometimes been dismayed by a critiquer’s comments about my novels and short stories. On the other hand, on occasions, a critiquer has been too full of praise instead of suggesting improvements. The best critiques have been a balance between the positive and the negative.

I belong to three online critique groups and Watford Writers, which meets every Monday at Café Cha Cha in Cassiobury Park at 7.30 p.m. Watford Writers hosts manuscript evenings at which members may read their work, whether it is non fiction, short stories, extracts from novels or poetry.

Members of the online critique groups post chapters of their novels and receive critiques in return for critiquing other members’ critiques. In each group members choose four or more partners whose chapters they critique once a month or more. Over the years most members have offered constructive comments. Those who have been negative or who have ‘flamed’ have been a small minority who the moderators have dealt with – occasionally excluding the offender from the group.

Watford Writers are a friendly group whose feedback I find invaluable. No matter how often I read my work silently or out loud from the computer screen or from the printed page I always miss things which need to be improved. Reading my work aloud to an audience helps me to identify problems for myself and to receive good advice from other writers.

In return for other authors’ generous help I always try to offer the best possible advice and bear the following in mind.

To begin with, I concentrate on the positive and ask myself what I like about the author’s work.

I then consider various issues, which I hope will be helpful, and sometimes remind the recipient that the suggestions in any critique only reflects one person’s opinion, and that the recipient is free to accept or reject them.

I ask myself if I enjoyed the story and, in the case of novels, ask myself if I want to read on and find out what happens next. My next question is who would want to read it and does it stand a good chance of being published?

Important considerations are as follow.

Does the first line make the reader want to continue? Do the opening paragraphs grip the readers’ attention? Will the conclusion make the readers sigh with satisfaction and be sorry they have finished the novel?

I then consider and comment on the nuts and bolts of the writing, not forgetting to praise a few particularly well-turned phrases and ask myself the following questions.

Is there sufficient conflict to make the work interesting?

Do the major and minor characters spring to life? Are they believable and do they act in accordance with their personalities with sufficient emotional depth?

Is the plot believable and do the theme/s grip me and make me want to find out what happens next?

Are the settings believable? Has the author checked the world in which the characters move?

If the novel is historical has the author researched it carefully and are the characters of their time?

Is there enough dialogue to move the story forward and is it well written or either awkward or stilted? If the author uses dialect is it believable?

Has the author jumped from one character’s viewpoint to another’s? If so does this make it difficult for the reader to identify with the characters?

Overall is the manuscript well written and is it properly formatted.

In my critique I make everything I like clear and also answer the above questions to the best of my ability.

Most of my critique partners tell me they appreciate my critiques so, thank goodness, I must be doing something right.


Forthcoming releases from MuseItUp Publishing

Tangled Love set in England in Queen Anne’s reign 27.01.2012
Sunday’s Child set in the Regency era June.2012