Not too long ago an author friend told me about her critique group dilemma. She was asked to critique a piece submitted from a fairly new author. After opening the document and only reading a couple pages, she closed it and told the coordinator she didn’t have the time to critique a piece whose author didn’t have a good understanding of the writing basics.
Harsh? Maybe. But, can you blame this author? She’s published and simply doesn’t have the time to “teach” a new author the basic craft of writing through an extensive critique.
Have any of your ever opened a manuscript and cringed? You want to be helpful, but you’re not sure where to begin. And where is the line drawn between critiquing and mentoring?
If you have decided to move forward with critiquing a new author, your main goal should be to provide helpful feedback without overwhelming them. Be prepared to pass the selection back and forth more than once. Every single paragraph is one you can comment on and find errors, but if the new author opens up a bleeding manuscript or one so full of side comments they can’t tell what sentence to which they are attached, they’ll close your critique and you’ll have wasted your time. You cannot take all of your many years of writing experience and expect a new author to soak it up from one critique.
So, let’s create a plan for critiquing the new author.
First things first, read the entire selection without commenting.
In a notebook or document, write down three main issues that stand out and keep it to the basics. Here are a few examples of bigger picture issues to look out for:
- Lack of basic grammar skills. I’ll be the first to tell you I have no rhyme or reason with my comma usage. I hire a copyeditor to assist me, and I understand this is one of my weaknesses and tell my CPs up front to ignore comma mistakes if they can. For a new author, we’re looking at a bigger understand of how to use quotation marks properly around dialogue, spelling mistakes, and even formatting of a manuscript.
- Lack of consistency in point of view. Forget the concept of head hopping – does the author switch from first to third or from past or present tense within the same character? You can’t explain head hopping or deep point of view to an author who doesn’t understand the basic s.
- Episodic writing a.k.a no plot or structure. Episodic writing can be described as ‘then this happened and then this happened next, and so on…’ Chances are you’re CP doesn’t understand scene goals or how to use sequels. If you simply say, what’s your scene goal here? They may scratch their head and say “obviously he’s going to the store”. Start with the tried and true goal, motivation and conflict concept.
- Likeable characters. Yes, again this is very subjective, but for the new author it’s more of getting into the character’s head and putting that to page.
- Overuse of clichés. Many new authors don’t realize the no-nos behind using tired sayings.
I’m sure there are plenty more you could come up with and some you won’t think of until you open a manuscript for the first time. The point is to pick only a few and focus on correcting the big issues so the author can focus on learning the more advanced writing techniques.
My suggestion would be to let the new author know exactly what your critique will focus on and why.
Dearest Darla: Thank you for allowing me to critique your historical romance. I’ve read through the selection you’ve provided, and for this critique pass, I’m going to focus on the point of view from Heroine’s character and making sure you keep it all third person past tense. I also noticed a good amount of grammatical errors and I’ve decided to skip over those for this read through so we can build on your writing skills.
Even if you only get one shot at a full critique with the new author, remember you can’t fix their entire manuscript. Keep it to your strengths and how best you can assist them with this critique pass. If you honestly feel that the author will need more than one critique pass, even if not from you, tell them.
Want to work on your critiquing skills in a group setting? Join me for the Four Point Critique Workshop here on Savvy Authors.
Melinda B. Pierce writes romance under the penname Kizzie Waller. She prefers to read and write novellas which leaves more time to spend with her two amazing kiddos. Her latest shifter romance Bearly My Valentine releases on January 31st and continues the story of the bears of Foxhollow Den.
For latest updates on her releases, join Kizzie and the other Denettes on their Facebook group for the Alaskan Den Men.