Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tipsy Tuesday- A Good Critique

A good critique is so much more than reading someone's work and saying, "I love it!" It's more than comma placement and sentence structure. Sure, those elements are involved, but a good critique goes so much further.

Here are a list of a few things I really focus on when giving a critique:

  1. Tone - Does the character "sound" the same through the MS.
  2. Pacing- Do I need more information to make the scene stronger? Do I need less?
  3. Plot Holes- Mention anything that doesn't make sense. A quick "Where did this come from?" or a "I didn't know spaceships existed in ancient Egypt" will help the author see the missing link.
  4. Sentence Structure- Sentences need to flow. If you stumble, note it.
  5. Grammar- Yeah, yeah, we all need grammar help now and then.
  6. Characterization- Do you connect with the character? Or need something more to make them "pop" for you?
  7. Consistency- Suzy can't start the story with mousy brown hair and brown eyes to end it as a blond, blue-eyed goddess...unless there's an explanation for it in the story.
  8. Interest- Hey, it needs to be interesting. If you're snoozing through a chapter the author needs to know! Everything is fixable in draft form.
  9. Positives- Everyone needs encouragement in this business. So when I see something I love, I note it. First, I don't want the author to change it. Second, it helps soften the blow of all the other comments.

Critiquing can be hard. You don't want to make the author feel bad about their work, but you don't want to not mention things you notice are wrong either. So, I follow the sandwich rule. Something nice, something to work on, something else nice.

And you have to remember when you get that critiqued file back not to panic. They don't hate your story, they want to help it be all it can be.

Do you guys approach a critique the same way? What works best for you? As authors, do you appreciate this kind of in-depth evaluation? I know I do!

And what's best in summer time? Lemonade -- with a little vodka!

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 cups ice
  • 4 ounces vanilla-infused vodka, recipe follows*
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, sliced into rings
  • 1 lime, sliced into rings


In a small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a simmer. Cook until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large pitcher, fill with ice. Stir in simple syrup, vodka, juice, lemon and lime slices.

*for kid-friendly version, omit alcohol.

Vanilla-infused Vodka:

  • 1 liter vodka
  • 2 vanilla beans

Split beans lengthwise and add to vodka bottle. Let infuse overnight in a cool dark place. Strain into another sterilized bottle.


The Alliterative Allomorph said...

I agree whole-heartedly. I can't stand critiques that are blunt and just list all the 'wrongs'. We need some positives too to motivate us to fix it and bring out the best in ourselves! If we can see that we are doing 'something' right, then we want to make it all right.

The Blue Lipstick Samurai said...

Totally love this, Holly! Great advice. (And dammit, these drinks look wonderful and you're going to make me a wino before I'm 18.)

I have a very detailed approach to critiquing, but I also ask a lot of questions. Nothing is more infuriating than someone tearing an element of the story up before they find a few chapters down the line that it makes sense and ties in. It also feels better, when someone asks about the MS. instead of just hacking it, because if something really does need to be reconsidered you realize it, too, without needing to be told. Helps prevent feeling like a powerless know-nothing twit; for me, anyway.

Erinn said...

Excellent tips. I like to focus on the BIG picture stuff when I do my crits. Pacing, flow, characters, plot holes.

You should try Firefly Iced tea vodka, mix that in with some lemonade--- Awesome!

Holly Dodson said...

Oooh, Erinn, that sounds wonderful! *adds firefly vodka to grocery list* lol

Glenna, I thought of you as I wrote this, actually. I was thinking: poor kid doesn't even get to enjoy the tipsy part of Tuesday! ;) You'll be sipping cocktails before you know it though. Time flies the older you get.

KO said...


I haven't had the chance to critique anyone's MS yet (though of course I do a LOT of this as a teacher, it's not the same). This will be a good guide to pass along to my beta readers, when I line them up.

I think the 'sandwich' is key. Not only because it's kind, but also because you have to respect that someone is sharing something very personal with you.

I feel it honors that trust to point out what's good, and also what needs improvement.