“How to Critique a Manuscript” For Dummies

Books and a coffee cupHere’s the deal. If I ask you to read my manuscript and give me feedback, I’m asking you for help and not for insults. Too often I get neither. If you aren’t a writer, I can imagine how intimidating it might be. Unless you’ve taken creative writing classes or are super in tune with the elements of story-telling you might not know where to begin. And I am grateful that you don’t want to hurt my feelings. But I want my story to be the best it can be. If I have given you my manuscript I am asking for you to help me improve it. So whether you are critiquing my manuscript or someone else’s, let me help you out with a few tips.

  1. Whether or not you personally liked the story, you should be able to give some helpful, polite feedback. In fact, if you really didn’t like the story, be extra mindful of how you communicate your thoughts.
  2. Feel free to use “I liked” comments (ex: I liked how you used the dramatic setting for the conclusion). But beware “I didn’t like” (I didn’t like the scene with the storm). Whether you mean it or not, “I didn’t like” phrases communicate judgment and rejection. Think of the parts you didn’t like and then rephrase them. (The scene with the storm was confusing/The scene with the storm seemed to have a much darker tone; was that on purpose?)
  3. Characters are a huge part of any story. Feel free to write your impressions of all the characters (but if there are a lot this might take too much time!). At least pick out two to three main characteristics (both protagonists and antagonists). Again, avoid the flat statements like “I didn’t like…” Feel free to state some of the obvious. It’s important for the writer to know how their character is coming across. Questions are also very helpful.
  4. Pick out a favorite scene (or two or three!). Talk about the strengths of the scene. (The dialogue was witty. The action had you jumping out of your seat. The imagery struck you. etc)
  5. Pick out a least favorite scene. Try and think why that scene didn’t work. (Was it confusing? Was it superfluous? Did it change your perspective of a character in a bad way? Was the dialogue dead?)
  6. Plot holes. Plot is a big deal for a marketable novel. And you don’t have to be an expert to recognize plot holes. Just think back to any parts that didn’t make much sense or seem to lead to dead ends. Can’t think of any? Then say that!
  7. Introduction. Did it hook you right away? Was it confusing? Did it take a little long to get rolling?
  8. Conclusion. What impression were you left with at the end? Were there any lingering questions? Was it anti-climatic?

Hopefully that gives you some guidance! Feel free to add in encouragement. Writing is hard! If your friend is brilliant, don’t assume they already know that! Tell them how great their dialogue was, or how thrilling their plot was. Tell them to keep going!

P.S. If you are a fellow-writer out there and you would like me to critique your work shoot me an e-mail at ebdawson@ebdawsonwriting.com


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