A Children’s Writer’s Guide to Critiquing Manuscripts
If you’ve just joined or started a critique group for writers but no one seems to know what to do next, maybe this guide and checklist will help. If you aren’t in a critique group, you can still use it to critique your own writing.
CRITIQUING MANUSCRIPTS (For Critique Groups)
Begin with some basic procedural guidelines for critiquing:
1) Start with something positive – Point out at least one thing that worked really well in the manuscript.
2) Be specific in your comments and suggestions – For example, saying “I liked your story” is flattering to the writer, but doesn’t really mean much. Saying something like, “I felt the dialogue sounded exactly like something two teenagers would say and advanced the plot well” is more specific.
3) Use the checklist (below) – This will help you be more specific in your comments and suggestions. And, if you use the checklist to critique your own writing it will help you recognize weak points in your story before you share your work with anyone.
CHECKLIST FOR CRITIQUING MANUSCRIPTS
__ Are my characters well-rounded? Do the major characters have both positive and negative traits?
__ Is my main character someone readers can care about? Does he/she want something important?
__ Have I revealed character through action?
__ Does my main character take action? Or is she too passive?
__ Is each character’s voice distinctly his/her own?
__ Have I avoided stereotypes and stock characters?
__ Does my main character solve his/her own problem? Is he or she different in some way from how he or she was at the beginning of the story? (this doesn’t always have to happen, but usually it means your story has some depth to it)
II. Point of View
__ Have I stayed with my POV character throughout the story?
__ Would the story be stronger if I switched from third person to first person or vice versa? Would the story be better told from a different character’s point of view?
__ What is the basic conflict of my story?
__ Do I introduce my characters and the conflict right away? Or do I take too much time revving up? Could I chop off the first paragraph and start with the second?
__ Have I put complications in the middle that get worse and worse and build to a climax?
__ Does my character have to work to reach his/her goal?
__ Does my main character solve his/her own problem?
__ Does the ending grow logically out of the rest of the story?
__ Is my ending satisfying without being predictable?
__ Are my details specific, not generalized?
__ Have I bogged down the action with tedious passages of description? (One way to check this is to see how many “ing” words are used; very many usually means there is too much description)
__ Would that description work better if I wove it gradually into the story rather than presenting it as a block?
__ Have I described with more than one sense (i.e. sight, sound, touch, taste, smell)?
__ Have I used strong and specific verbs and nouns?
__ Have I successfully avoided passive voice?
__ Can I cut out redundancies? Small talk? Clutter? Meaningless qualifiers such as “just” and “very”? Passages that bog down the action? Have I used too many different dialogue tags that attract attention?
__ Are there awkward or confusing sentences or scenes that need to be cleaned up?
__ When I read my story out loud, does the rhythm sound right? Is it choppy? Too wordy? Monotonous?
__ Are my transitions smooth?
__ Have I avoided clichés?
__ Does each sentence sparkle with my own voice? Is that voice strong and credible?
__ 1. Does each character and action in the story have a definite purpose?
With these specific points to look for when critiquing a children’s story, it should be much easier for you and your fellow writers to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each and every manuscript.