One Writer’s Journey

June 12, 2019

How to Critique A Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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In addition to critiquing manuscripts for my students, I am a member of a critique group and an accountability group.  Technically, the accountability group is supposed to hold members accountable for their goals.  But, let’s be honest, we also critique.  How can we not?  Once you’ve heard about the manuscript your writing friend is working on, you want to read it.

Something I’ve learned through the years is that experienced writers are generally, but not always, the best at critique.  Maybe it is because we know what we need in a critique.  Maybe it is because we know what other writers need.

Not sure your critiques are as good as they could be?  Here are some tips.

Know what you are critiquing.  Why?  Because picture books, graphic novels and chapter books all function differently.  You have to know what you are reading to know if it works.

If at all possible, read the manuscript through without marking on it at all.  Then read it again.  The second time through you know where the manuscript is going.  This will keep you from writing things like “I need to know” or “it would be helpful if,” only to find this desire fulfilled in the next line.  In addition, knowing where a story ends can also help you know if the build up works.

Start with what you like.  I know.  Writers need to be tough to make it in this industry.  That’s good that you know that.  But you should also know that people receive criticism better if they know there is something about their story that you like.  Compliment their character before pointing out that their setting feels flat.  Point out the humor before commenting that the villain in the mystery is far too obvious.

Always say something.  This doesn’t mean that you should go on and on about something trivial but it is really annoying for someone who has given you a careful critique to get back . . . nothing.  Not sure what to say?  Then point out what you like and give an impression or two.  Not everyone is going to connect with every single story.  That’s just how it is.  But even when someone workshops a toddler picture book (the bane of my existence when it comes time to critique), I will find something to say.  I really liked X, did you mean to give the impression that Y?

Giving a solid critique isn’t easy but it is a skill worth acquiring.  After all, you want to receive sound critiques and learning what to look for in the writing of others will help you understand what they see in your writing.

–SueBE

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