Maintaining source code originally created by a different programmer can be an interesting experience. Usually the previous programmer left comments to warn about bugs or document the intent. These comments help the new programmer update or add to the code.
Critiquing another writer’s work in progress (WIP) works much the same way. The best comments are a mix of constructive criticism and compliments. If you are new to critiquing and still learning the ropes, below are ways to help your critique partner troubleshoot and improve their WIP.
Typos. Pesky typos.
Reduce unneeded words. Examples: all, just, that, very
Remove filter words. Examples: felt, looked, noticed, realized, seemed, thought, wondered
Extra dialogue tags. If there’s already an action (Mike shrugged. “I don’t know.”), a tag isn’t needed (Mike shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said.). It’s already clear who is speaking. Also, try to use “said” as a default, as it’s nearly invisible to the reader. Use different tags sparingly for more impact when they are used.
Overuse of certain words. Different writers have different words they tend to favor. If you notice a trend, point this out.
Repetitive actions. If you notice the characters smiling or shrugging so much you’re starting to worry about them, start flagging each instance.
Inconsistency. These can vary wildly. The most common case is when a character’s eye or hair color changes. Or perhaps a character will mention being an only child, but suddenly have a sibling later on. In extreme cases, maybe a character will do something like wreck a car, then drive it again a few chapters later, even though the car had been totaled.
Starting too early. Take a good look at the opening chapters. If you could start at the second chapter and understand everything perfectly, it’s possible the first chapter isn’t needed and could be cut. Especially if the first chapter has the main character waking up from a dream or traveling someplace.
Starting too late. If you’re dropped into the story and confused about what is going on, the book might be starting too late and require more grounding.
Weak characters. Characters should have a strong voice and be active. A fleshed out character draws the reader in, even when they’re evil, like Dolores Umbridge. Flat, passive characters are boring, and that’s never good.
Lack of goals. Having a goal will help the reader connect with the main character. They should have a goal at the beginning and then re-evaluate that goal after the inciting incident which starts the story.
Lack of stakes. The main character should have something to lose, something important and personal to them.
Plot holes. Anytime the plot doesn’t make sense. Or if you’re left wondering, “Why didn’t they just call for help?” or something else that could’ve easily solved their problem.
Ending falls flat. When there are plot threads left hanging, everything is wrapped up too easily, or anything else that leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied.
And most importantly, point out what works:
Humor. When something makes you laugh, say so, even if you only add a smiley face.
Reactions. If something shocks you or makes you cry, leave tortured comments about it.
Imagery. Anytime the lines are painting a picture in your head so that you feel like you’re there.
Beautiful prose. Words that make you nearly gasp out loud. Lines you would quote.
Strong dialogue. Believable, natural-sounding dialogue can be a tricky thing. If they’ve mastered this, praise them.
Likeable characters. A character doesn’t have to be likeable to want to read about them, but it helps. Highlight things that make you like the character.
Plot twists. If you didn’t see it coming, admit it.
Perfect ending. The story ended on all the right notes and you’re still not over it. Ask if there’s a sequel.
The more you critique, you made find you have strengths in certain areas:
#ATD – Attention To Detail#BH – Brutally Honest#CS – Compliment Sandwich#GCE – Good Copy Editor#PHH – Plot Hole Hunter#STTP – Straight To The Point
Now that you know the ropes, get onboard! Happy critiquing!