Critique Skills for Writers

Last post we talked about feedback and when to accept or reject suggestions for editing. As one commenter pointed out, feedback gets easier to discern when you have a solid critique group.

Writing Tip for Today: What should writers focus on when giving or receiving feedback in a critique group?

When you listen to a writer read, mark any passages you want to call attention to on your copy. Be sure to make your goal to help the writer improve his craft.

  • “Velcro words and phrases”—the prose works and is especially effective and/or well done.  Star (*) or underline.
  • Places where you want to know more or are confused—mark with a ? or check mark.
  • Suggestions for trimming—Mark unnecessary words phrases or sentences with brackets [ ].
  • BIG PICTURE– Does the story advance? Is it logical, believable? Is the conflict present and does the main character overcome it by himself? Do you want to find out what’s next?

Other areas for consideration:

Consistent POV? If we jump around from character to character it will be hard to tell whose story this is. Your main character can only see inside her own head, not the thoughts and/or emotions of others.

Balance of narrative vs. scenes.  Long passages of exposition slow down your story. Try to keep a balance of SCENE (where action and dialogue happen) to SEQUEL (short reflections of main character between scenes.)

Believable Dialogue. As my mentor always said, “Good dialogue sounds like real speech–but isn’t.” Use contractions to affect speech, keep chit-chat to minimum, don’t load information, make every line of dialogue count. Avoid talking heads (speeches). Vary the order of character actions and dialogue. (EX: He stared at Helen. “You don’t mean that, do you?”  Maybe next time, reverse this order. “I mean it more than you know.” Helen’s gaze had turned to ice.) Use only “said” as an attribution.

Active Verbs. Search and replace passive verbs where possible. Passive verbs—to be verbs. Also watch “ing” verbs and replace with straight past tense. EX: was walking, walked.

Concrete Sensory Details. Is the writer specific without overloading on modifiers?

Voice. Are all the character’s lines in that character’s voice? (EX: A child won’t use big words, and an illiterate peasant wouldn’t speak like royalty).

Eleven Elements of a Scene: How many does the writer use? Sight, Sound, Taste, Smell, Touch, POV, Character, Time Boundary, Setting, Light, and Purpose.

Good feedback is always courteous, sincere in wanting to help writers improve and presented in a positive way. And in the end, good writers will take what they can use and lose the rest.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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