Critiquing is something many people find difficult to both give and receive, and yet it is one of the most valuable aspects of improving your writing. What if I were to promise it's not that bad? Still don't believe me? Well, I'm going to share a few tips that you can use whether editing your own work or critiquing a friend's. It all starts with professional presentation, moves into general enjoyment of and connection with the story, and ends in line editing. Of course, I can only skip over the topics here, because each one is worthy of a blog. Take a deep breath...
A professionally presented manuscript is not only easier on the eye, but shows publishers you take your craft seriously. Publisher preferred formatting varies, but as a rule it should be double-spaced with indented paragraphs and a serif style font (have small lines/feet which draw the reader's eye). The best way to figure out what you need to do is pay attention to the books you read, or look at guidelines from publishers you hope to submit your work to.
Despite all the writing rules, it never ceases to amaze me what faux pas slip past publishers and readers alike, because they are so engrosed in the story and eager to find out what happens next, that it doesn't matter how they get there. Wow! Now that's a well developed character and engaging plot. The value of the enjoyment factor can't be stated strongly enough. But how do you get it? That's a curly tale for another day, but the following tips will certainly help.
1. Characters. Are they memorable when introduced and is it easy to recognise them later? E.g. a unique appearance, speech pattern or quirk. Their actions must be believable, in line with what the author has set up with the character's personality, goals, motivation and core beliefs.
2. Show, don’t tell. Look for opportunities for your character to interact with the environment and other characters. Instead of explaining (telling) what they are doing/feeling, show it in the way they move, interact and react. You've heard the phrase 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. Give the reader credit for reading between the lines and being intelligent.
3. Is there a sense of urgency that forces you to turn the page? This involves strong character motivation and hooks (clues planted along the way so the reader knows something is going to happen).
4. White space. The layout of the page can add to the ease with which the story is read and white space is known to attract potential customers browsing for a book. Break up blocks of description and back story with dialogue (spoken and internal) and action.
5. Pace. A story that is constantly frantic is tiring, but if it drags its feet the reader might just put it down and do the laundry. Look for pace in a variety of places, including varied sentence lengths (shorten sentences as the tension increases and allow longer sentences for the reader to catch his/her breath), focus on important scenes and skipping over unimportant events.
6. Point of view. Is it clear who is telling the story? One of the most common problems new writers face is point of view consistency.
7. Dialogue. Read it aloud to ensure it sounds realistic. The spoken language is invariably more disjointed, abreviated and slang than the written word, but it shouldn't be to the point that it's difficult to read.
8. Logical sequence. Make sure actions are told in the order they would acutally happen. It's very disconcerting to walk into a room, look at what's in it, notice a person on the other side, and then turn back to close the door. E.g. Action before reaction or consequences.
9. Senses. Are all five (or in the case of paranormal six) senses used to bring help the reader feel, see, hear, smell and taste the story?
Kill adverbs (words ending with “ly”).
Look for opportunities to tighten sentence structure and minimise words.
Use an active voice, because it is stronger than a passive voice. E.g. Passive voice = you are loved by me. Active voice = I love you.
Avoid melodrama by over reacting or making sweeping states that can't be substantiated.
Look for repeted words or phrases.
Basic typos, grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes.
Keep adjectives (describing words) to a minimum, e.g. a stocky woman could be shown by her stature, the thickness of her ankles, width, etc.
Are the facts correct?
As you learn to see clearly what works and doesn't work in stories others weave, you can apply it to your own work. Good luck!
Thank you to FreeDigitalPhotos.net for providing Jeroen Van Oostrom's photo to brighten up this page.