C R I T I Q U E R ' S C H E C K L I S T
by Grace Ackerman
What is the story saying? Is it clear? Can the reader understand what's
happening? If not, what isn't clear? Is there information or action that
feels essential, but was left out? Where does the plot get fuzzy?
Is the story line believable? Is it interally consistent? If not, where
does it contradict itself, and how?
Is the opening intriguing? Does it make the reader want to go further?
Why, or why not?
Does the story drag anywhere? Is there text which could be eliminated
without detracting from the story?
Are all major issues resolved? Not that the story can't end with a
question in the reader's mind, but it shouldn't raise and issue forcefully at
the beginning of the story, and then never mention it again.
Are there issues raised in the first place? Is there conflict? Does the
story build to a climax, and then come to a satisfying ending shortly
thereafter? (By satisfying, I mean appropriate.)
Does the reader see and feel the characters, or is s/he just told about
them? Is there a main (viewpoint) character? Does this character grow and
change during the course of the story? If not, is the fact that the character
remains static important to the story? If the answer to both the last two
questions is "No," something's wrong with the story.
Are the characters real people, or shadows? Does the reader get a sense
of what it would be like to meet them? Are the characters clearly distinct
from each other?
Are the names of the main characters similar, or awkward?
Is there anyone a reader can care about? If not, whatever happens to the
characters is pointless. By care about, I mean have feelings about, not just
affection or empathy. It's possible to hate the main character and stay with
a story just to see if s/he gets what's deserved.
What is the background for the action? Is it clear? When the setting
changes, is the reader aware of it, or are the characters suddenly in a
different place with no explanations?
Is there at least a hint of the society on which the story is based?
Even if the action takes place on a ship, or a remote asteroid, the
will have been exposed to, or developed all the patterns that go with people
Does the setting create a mood for the story and help sustain it? Do the
characters respond to the environment?
Is the dialogue true to the way people talk, or, if not, is the
discrepancy justified in the story?
Is the speech of the characters harmonious with their actions? Space
jockies shouldn't talk like archivists unless there's a good reason.
Is the dialogue true to the socioeconomic level of the person talking?
Can the reaader tell which character is speaking?
Do people talk with, and not at, each other? Does each respond to what
the other is saying?
DETAILS & MECHANICS
Is any passage awkwardly worded? Are there unnecessary or redundant
words or phrases? ("Most unique" is one of my pet peeves.)
Are there any cliches?
Are the verbs vivid, and the adjectives evocative?
Are the sentences too long? Too short? Too much alike? Ideally, there
should be a rhythm that goes along with the action.
Is there too much exposition?
Are there sufficient unintentional grammatical errors to draw the
reader's attention away from the story?
All this really boils down to:
1. Was the story worth telling?
2. Was it told well?
3. If not, why not?
Note: Deanna Durbin did a fine checklist in the August 1982 SF&FW. I'm
using that for a base, and adding information from other articles and letters.