Friday, March 18, 2011

How to Write a Good Critique

Attending an SCBWI Conference is special. 

First, you find out which ones sound interesting and valuable to you. 

Then, must register months in advance.

Sometimes that involves sending five pages of a manuscript you want seen by an editor or agent. You must polish it to perfection before it goes out.

Then there is the peer critique group, fifteen pages of a WIP for your colleagues to evaluate, comment and make revision suggestions for your manuscript.

It is this last component I would like to discuss today. Being a good critiquer is sometimes harder than being a good writer.

You must put yourself in the author’s position and dole out your criticisms and comments with a dose of honey to sweeten the sting of critique. Some writers welcome other’s opinions. After all, that’s what agents and editors do when you submit to them. They make suggestions to improve the manuscript. We, as peer critiquers, serve the same purpose. We are only trying to make your work better.

Currently, I am caught up in critiquing six other YA novels for the upcoming Eastern Pennsylvania SCBWI Pocono Retreat (a wonderful conference which I will discuss on this blog at a later date).

Two are historical.
Two are contemporary.
Two are paranormal.

So, I thought I’d give a few tips for critiquing today, at least the way I do it.

1st - I’d read the entire body of work.

2nd - I go back and highlight areas I think need work.

3rd - I comment on word choice or too many adverbs, etc… that changing could benefit the story.

4th – I write a little note to the author highlighting what parts of the manuscript I think are exceptional, or at least good, in some cases. ***ALWAYS START WITH A POSITIVE COMMENT***

5th – Then I list areas of possible concern, being careful not to say that it doesn’t work, but suggesting that it could be stronger.

6th – My last section of the critique is of general comments, such as Your MC was very interesting and believable. I love the voice of your MC etc…

7th – I choose a favorite scene and tell why it stuck with me. Sometimes it’s not the reason why the author intended it to be so memorable, but at least it gives them a different perspective.

8th – My conclusion discusses what I learned from the work. Inevitably a reader will learn something they didn’t know before, whether it be a fact or a writing strategy.

9th – And then I sign my name and include my email address. Sometimes the writers you are assigned to in a peer critique session become lifelong critiquer partners are at the very least beta readers for each other.

So, I hope I’ve helped you with writing critiques. Now I have to get back to a ballet dancer who would rather be step dancing, a girl who is hoping to be asked to the prom by the right guy, a young girl who was taken hostage by an Indian tribe, a siren who has one day to live, a ghost who won’t go away, and a social outcast who has fey blood.

I think I’ll be busy for a while! J


  1. Awesome post, Gayle. Crit partners are some of the best people on earth. Thanks for reminding everyone that, like Mary Poppins said, a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down. ;-) See ya in a few weeks! Hugs!

  2. Yes, Jodi. In the words of Mary Poppins, critique partners are "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!"

    See you soon. :)

  3. Something I always do when I'm critiquing is I jot down when I have an emotional reaction, such as if a section makes me laugh or brings tears to my eyes, I let the author know.

    Good post, Gayle. Thanks for entering my contest. :)

  4. Good point, Sharon. Emotions are very important and many writers find it difficult to incorporate them into the story, relying on dialogue alone to convey the character's feelings.

    Thanks for adding your technique. It was my pleasure to enter your contest.:)

  5. Great post, Gayle! Your approach sounds spot on! Those writers are lucky to have you read their work, too! Are you going to do a workshop on this for the conference?

  6. No. I ran a workshop last year on writing fantasy and science fiction for MG and YA novels.

    They haven't asked me to do anything this year, so I get to sit back and soak in all of the knowledge.

    Are you going? Will look for you if you are. It's a great conference.:)

  7. I love your list! I especially love how positive you keep your crits and tell the author when you see something working. Thanks for sharing your great list--I'm going to use these ideas often!

    Found your name as a commenter at Sharon Mayhew's blog contest and just wanted to say hi. :o) Great blog!

  8. Thanks Jackee. Glad you like it. Please stop back often for other writing tips. :)

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Fall Frenzy Writing Contest 2020

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