Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Critiquing isn’t easy

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog’s question for the month is: How do you approach critiquing someone's manuscript? For instance, do you focus on one thing at a time, or do you "let 'em have it" all at once? And once it's out there, do you ever regret sending off a critique because it moved the person in a direction you didn't intend or anticipate?

My goodness, Laura. You don’t ask easy questions. ;-)

I approach all crits with caution, and each novel differently. If the manuscript needs a LOT of work, I might do a line crit, pointing out spelling and grammar errors. The less help I feel I can be to the writer, the more detail-oriented my response is. There may be nothing overall “wrong” with the work, but if I can’t connect to it in some way, all I can offer is proofreading.

Ideally, though, I prefer to give overarching critiques. I like to point out when something worked brilliantly, or when limped along. I like to note good foreshadowing, or when an element popped out of the blue – and not in a good surprise way. I’m particularly fussy about endings that rush by too quickly, or that leave me scratching my head.

My goal is to help the novelist in a positive way. To make him or her say, “Ah-ha, that’s what was bothering me.” And best of all to say, “I can fix that!”

So far, I haven’t regretted a novel crit, though I cringe at my early attempts to crit short stories. I always worry that I’ve depressed the writer, which is the last thing I want to do. All stories have merit. They just might not be marketable in their current form.

Today I’d like to introduce Churchill, my new Muse, to all my bloggy friends. I think he looks like a cross between a stuffy Prime Minister and a thug in fancy dress, but he’s a sweet gentleman. He loves to sit in my lap when I’m writing. And rest his chin on the space bar. Yikes! When I’ve been writing too long he gets up on the desk and sits in front of the monitor. Talk about a hint. LOL!


  1. I agree with the rushed endings. (*makes note to check MS for such an ending*)
    And so glad Churchill has warmed up to his new family!

  2. Excellent post, Deb. I'm with you on the overarching crits. I'd rather not have to get down to the nitpicky. Give a general 'you're using too many adverbs/commas/dialogue tags' type suggestion and let me figure out how to fix it.

    OMG, your cat does look like Winston Churchill. How cool is that. =o)

  3. Churchill is SO cute!!!!

    You know, I like how you try to keep an eye on overarching themes...when I'm working so closely on a project, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture stuff, so what you do is SUPER helpful!!!

    Nice post!

  4. Hi Lydia! Yes, do check. ;-) It's my worst pet peeve.

    Hey B.J. - LOL, isn't he a doll?

    Heya, Laura! Yes, I lose track of the big picture in my work, too. Crit partners are critical for that kind of help. (Please excuse the pun. :)

  5. I enjoyed my visit to your lovely blog. Wishing you happiness Hugs, Katherine

  6. Aww, Churchill is so sweet!

    I like to give an overarching crit too. I go through an MS as a reader first, pointing out what I liked, what confused me, what pulled me from the scenes etc. Then I look through again to make sure the writer me hasn't missed anything. lol.

  7. Hi Katherine. Thanks for dropping in.

    Thanks, Lindsay! I'm smitten. Yes, going through the ms twice does help me pick up things I missed.

  8. I'm a big fan of the critique sandwich, which is positive-negative-positive. If there are big problems, then it's positive-a bunch of negatives-positive.

    Cute muse! My kitty muse is next to me.

  9. Hi Theresa! I agree; the critique sandwich is the best way to go.

    Thank goodness for kitty muses! :-) Mine is trying to "help" me type tonight, mostly by laying his chin on the spacebar. LOL!

  10. Hi Deb, just found you through reading Lydia's post. Love what you're doing here.

    My crit partners are excellent at the over-arching critique, for which I am eternally grateful. My favorite way to critique is to do the same for them. On the general approach, I agree—the less ready the ms is for publication, the more details are the focus. That way you can stay positive and contribute something worthwhile. Great post, thanks.


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