Wednesday, 4 October 2006


Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armour and attacked a hot fudge sunday.~ Kurt Vonnegut

So, what makes a good critique? Two words- 'constructive' and 'respectful'

Some people will tell you not to ask for a crit from friends or family because they'll be afraid of hurting your feelings if they don't like it. This is most likely true, but you'll come to know who you can trust to be truthful...I'm thinking of my on-line group here ;0) Here are a few pointers on what to expect from a crit...and also how to give one.

  • 'I don't like it' isn't helpful unless it's backed up with why.
  • It isn't enough to make a statement like 'I didn't get it' unless you can say exactly where you thinks a piece fails.
  • Take comments on board but don't act on them until more than one person has made the same point. When I had my novel critiqued by two professionals (at different times) they both made a similar comment about the humour in one particular paragraph...I happened to like it, but I cut it because I felt their comments had been so similar, they must be right.
  • A critique shouldn't only point out the negative. It's a time to praise what does work, too. The reader should highlight what they think is successful about the writing.
  • Criticism is subjective. One person's opinion. Plus the reader may be having a bad day/be an Irvine Welsh fan and you've sent him your tender romance to read.
  • Don't be afraid to challenge a crit. I don't mean go round to their house with a baseball bat...I mean discuss why they made a particular comment if you can't see the reason for it. Don't get defensive or the reader will back off. Open discussion is what you want, not a threat to kneecap him/her.

Here's what you should consider:

  1. CHARACTERISATION: Are the characters well-drawn? Do they seem real and believable or are they stereotypes? Is the hero/heroine likeable and the bad guy bad?
    In other words, are they believable? Not all grandfathers suck toffee and wear a flat cap. Think about your character's name too. Consider the year a novel is set. You wouldn't have a Beyonce in a historical would you? And the name Harold isn't a tiny tot's name either...unless it's come back in fashion.
  2. CONFLICT: without conflict there will be no story. It would be a boring read if the characters all went about their business with no obstacles in their way, no problems and no goals to strive for. There are 2 types of conflict - internal and external. External conflicts are the things which prevent your character from reaching their goal/making them unhappy. Such situations could be moving house, getting divirced/married, losing a job, bereavement. All of these cause internal conflict ie guilt, jealousy, longing and every other emotion.
  3. DIALOGUE: Does the dialogue fit the character? Is the interaction between the characters real? Will a reader know who's speaking? Does the posh bird speak how a posh bird should...but not stereotyped, remember.
  4. EMOTION: Wake up feelings in the reader they don't expect ie love, hate, faith, duty, jealousy. Don't 'tell' the reader your character is unhappy, let her actions and dialogue paint the picture. A reader should be able to pick up the mood without direct mention of the emotion.
  5. SETTING: Can a reader picture the setting? Is there enough description? Can the reader imagine the location around the characters clearly? They should almost be able to smell it.
  6. POINT OF VIEW: This is often a stumbling block for beginners. Make up your mind whether your POV is first (I did...etc) or third (She did..) and stick with it. Be consistent. You can jump around and break the rules when you're famous.
  7. DEVELOPMENT: Let your story develop logically so a reader can follow it. Flashbacks are fine but avoid flashbacks within flashbacks unless you can handle them well. It can lead to confusion.
  8. PACING: This is how you keep your reader enthralled. Too slow a pace and they'll lose interest. Too quickly can be as bad - it'll seem rushed. Take time to set the story up but not so long a reader gets bored. if it's a novel you're writing, leave a hook at the end of each chapter.
  9. MECHANICS: We're talking grammar, sentence structure and all the basics here. A beginner's mistake is most often verb agreement.

Okay, lecture over...time for a Hob Nob. Coffee anyone?

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