Yesterday I sat down to read my critique partner’s chapters. And it got me thinking. What makes for a meaningful critique? You know—one that really helps the writer. Here are ten things to provide when offering feedback on a writer’s chapters:
When you see a typo, point it out. Grammar is important, even in a draft. Though a writer may not have focused on this in very early drafts, it can’t hurt for you to point them out. It will make the revisions that much easier later on.
When a word or sentence sounds funny, mention it. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit the voice, the age of the character, or the tone of the narrative. It’s often helpful to give a suggestion. Even if the writer doesn’t pick the word or phrase you suggest as a replacement, your alternative may help them to see why another may be better. Here is where voice comes in. That tricky concept that makes your story sound like your own and no one else’s.
Does the chapter flow? Are the paragraphs easy to read? If not, the rhythm may be off. If the writer uses too many short, staccato sentences, make them aware of it. If their sentences are too long and descriptive to the point where they lose their punch, point that out too. A good mix of both will make the writing stronger.
If you feel the character spends too much time in one scene, let the writer know. Sometimes the scene is good, but it could be stronger if the action moved along a little bit faster. As writers, we tend to fall in love with our own words. Our scenes don’t always need all of our shiny gems. If a sentence has already been said in another way, get rid of it. Save that sentence or something like it, for another scene that needs some oomph! Likewise, if the writer flew through a really emotional scene, point out that you’d like to see the character spend more time there to really process what’s happening.
Do you think the dialogue sounds authentic? Do kids or adults in real life really talk the way it’s written on the page? If it sounds off to you, let the writer know. Sometimes writers have trouble consistently staying in character. Their own voice gets in the way. It may be just a simple modification they need to make. For ex. Not many middle school kids say “I was so anxious!” They’d be more likely to say, “I was so nervous!”
Sometimes a writer is too close to the story to pick up on areas that don’t make sense—plot holes. This happens so many times, especially in a story with elaborate world building. If something is unclear or doesn’t make sense, point that out in your feedback. It’s good for readers to have questions so they will keep reading, but you don’t want them to be confused to the point where they close the book.
Are you connecting with the characters in this chapter? Are you cheering for them? Worried about them? Do you even care what happens to them? If not, would more of their inner thoughts help? Has the writer fleshed them out well enough? Do they seem like real people with real emotions, or do they feel flat? Likewise, has the writer developed the relationships between their characters? This is just as important as developing the individual characters. Real people have real relationships. Be sure to comment on this if the writer needs to focus on this in their revisions.
Will the reader want to turn the page after reading this chapter? Does it move the story along? If the chapter isn’t useful to the overall story, it may not be necessary. Or…it may need to be scaled sown and added to another chapter. Each chapter needs to serve a purpose. If the one you’re reading doesn’t do much, point this out to the writer. The conflict may be to blame. The character always needs to be working toward reaching her goal and the best chapters stop her from reaching it—or show her reaching for it or handling the aftermath.
This one is often overlooked. As you’re reading, does the overall concept of the story resonate with you? Are you blown away (still) by what the book is about? This is helpful information for the writer to know. The longer they work on a story, the more average it may seem to them. Let them know you really think kids or adults would love to get their hands on it. By the same token, if this is not the case—if the story seems too common, the further you get into it, let the writer know this too. Let them know they may need a stronger hook…a little more oomph to keep the reader hooked.
I’m crediting my critique partner, Melyssa for this one. Though I named it, she started it… Do you see a phrase or word that is sooooo good? Does it hit a soft spot for you? Do you see something in particular you absolutely love in the chapter? Then point it out! Highlight it in purple! Let the reader know it was awesome. That way in future revisions, they will be sure to keep it in. If it resonated with you, it may surely resonate the same way with someone else. 🙂
These 10 items may seem like a lot to offer in a critique. However, eventually it all becomes second nature as you’re reading more and more chapters. I’ve noticed that when I’m offering feedback, I often get lazy or take for granted that my critique partners know what I’m thinking. Especially after we’ve worked together for a while. I’ll realize that pages have gone by and I haven’t made a single comment! Many times that’s because it’s so good! But it’s important even in those times to confirm that the chapter is working and why you think it is.
I hope these guidelines help. Offering (and receiving feedback) is how we improve our craft. Our stories are stronger for it and our writing in general is too. I hope you find one or more critique partners that you can work with. For a writer there is nothing better than finding other writers that get you—and get your writing. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll develop a friendship or too along the way!
If you have additional tips for offering feedback, that I’ve missed, please feel free to comment. We’d love to hear your thoughts…
Have a fantastic week, my friends! I’m off to work on my business manuscript and hopefully later tonight work on revisions to my own middle grade manuscript. I received some great notes (and ideas) from my critique partner (Thanks, Mel!) and I can’t wait to work them into my story. Futuristic bean bag chairs anyone?? That’s my mission this week. LOL. Writing can be so fun!