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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Ways to Critique » critiquing guidelines (set 4)

Author Topic: critiquing guidelines (set 4)
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Member # 59

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I. Give your overall impressions of the author's work.

Copyright 1995 by Rich Hamper. All rights reserved.

A. In general, did the story or excerpt work for you?
What specifically didn't work?
B. Did you enjoy the story? Do you want to read
C. If you're reviewing a short story, did the author
meet your expectations?
D. If you're reviewing a novel excerpt, summarize for
the author what you expect the story to deliver in
the way of mysteries solved, conflicts resolved,
characters changed, etc.. This will let the
author know if he or she has set the reader's
expectations appropriately.

II. Comment on the story's opening (unless you're
critiquing an excerpt).

A. From reading the opening, were you clear on the
direction of the story?
B. Did it hook you into wanting to read more?

III. Comment on the plot/story line.

A. How does the author's plot strike you? Did you
like it? Were you drawn into the story? If not,
why not?
B. Did you feel there was some "point" to the story
(i.e., did you get the impression that some
protagonist tried to accomplish something?)? Or
was the writing aimless?
C. Was the plot believable? Were you able to suspend
disbelief, or did some exasperating detail make
you want to toss the story across the room? If
so, what was that detail?

IV. Comment on the story's ending (unless you're
critiquing an excerpt).

A. Was it too abrupt or too rushed?
B. Did it resolve all the conflicts it should have?
C. Was it satisfying?

V. Comment on characters and characterization.

A. Were you able to easily identify the protagonist?
B. Was the antagonist a worthy opponent?
C. Did any characters stand out as "cardboardy" or
D. Were the characters believable?
E. Did you find yourself caring about what happens to
the main or other characters?

VI. Comment on dialogue and dialects.
A. Were you comfortable with the dialogue? What
bothered you about it?
B. Was dialect used? Did the dialect work or was it
too much?
C. Did the dialogue drag?
D. Were there too many "he said"/ "she said" speech
E. Did each character have a distinctive voice?
Which characters didn't?
F. Does the author use "said-bookisms"? (Said-bookism
are potentially needless, literary, or ridiculous
substitutes for the nearly invisible "he said" or
"she said" speech tags--e.g., he spit out, she
shouted, he interjected, he cried, she
commiserated, etc.)

VII. Comment on the story setting.

A. Was the length of descriptive passages too much,
too little, or just right?
B. Did the author give enough detail, too much
detail, or too little detail about places and
C. Did the descriptive passages set and enhance the
appropriate mood?
D. Did the places seem real to you?

VIII. Comment on the flow and pacing of the story.

A. Did the story or novel excerpt have the right
tempo for you? Did the story move smoothly? Was
the pacing too intense? Too slow?
B. Was the paragraphing handled effectively? Long
paragraphs slow the tempo down. Short paragraphs
speed it up.

IX. Comment on Point of View (POV) lapses and Author

A. Identify for the author paragraphs where more than
one POV is present. If they aren't using a third-
person omniscient POV, these paragraphs will need
B. Identify for the author where he or she jumped
from one character's POV to describing only what
can be seen from the author's POV (e.g., a
description of a character's physical
characteristics that the character is not likely
to be able to make in the circumstances
C. Comment on "Information Dumps".

1. How well does the author handle disseminating
information to the reader that's critical to
understanding what's happening in the story?
Did the author handle this unobtrusively?
2. Are there too many flashbacks?
3. Is too much internalization used?
4. Are long boring passages of exposition used?
5. Does the imparting of this information disrupt
or inappropriately slow down the flow of the

X. Comment on accuracy--Are the "facts" of the story
correct or feasible? Does the science match what you
know? Are the duels and fights believable? Is the
geography accurate? Is the clothing described
consistent with the time period portrayed?

XI. Comment on consistency--Is the author consistent
throughout the story in the handling of story
details? For example, are the character's eyes
the same color in Chapter 1 as they are in Chapter
12? Does a character have a different number of
children in the first scene compared to a middle
scene, and there's no accounting for the
difference? Is the chronology handled correctly?

XII. Comment on wordiness.

A. Look for unneeded words, for instance, "and",
"by", fuzzy adverbs, "is", "of", "there", etc..
These often flag verboseness.
B. Look for "fluff" phrases like "as a matter of
fact", "at this point in time", etc.. These can
usually be replaced by one or two words.
C. Does the author use too much passive voice?
D. Look for redundancies (e.g., "final completion",
"respectful regard", etc.)
E. Look for redundant sentences or phrases (e.g., two
sentences or phrases that say the same thing in
different words).
F. Look for unnecessary qualifiers (e.g., "almost",
"seem", "sort of", "maybe", etc.).

XIII. Comment on anything else that specifically
detracts from the story being a success; for
instance, was there anything you found confusing
in the story?

XIV. Stay away from detailed critiquing of grammar and
punctuation unless the author specifically
requests such a review. Only comment on recurring
errors where you're sure of your ground and it's
apparent that the writer has a major problem.

XV. Resist the urge to make humorous comments about
any facets of what the writer has written. Such
comments may seem funny to you, but needlessly
sting the author.

How do you format your critique? Any format's okay
as long as you communicate the information clearly. Some
people handle a critique like they respond to messages in
CompuServe forums. To do this, you "quote" the part of
the story you want to talk about and type your comments
on it just below the quoted passage. Here's an example:

> This is the quoted passage.

The critiquer's comments go here.

Then, you move on to each of your next points treating
each of them in the same way.
One caveat: don't try to rewrite the author's plot.
The plot belongs to them and not to you. Your job is
solely to critique how well the author tells his or her

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Member # 59

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