The Critiquer’s Role

by Valerie Comer

The role of a critiquer isn’t always the same. In many groups, novels are critted a chapter every week or so. That’s helpful for some issues, but not so much for over-arching story issues. My personal favorite way of giving–and getting–critiques is by the entire novel. Here are some things I look out for in a novel crit:

1. Character arcs. Do the major characters act in a way that is consistent, but allows for growth? Or do they do or say things so out of character that it’s not believable?

2. Plot/subplot arcs. Does the main plot of the story ebb and flow in a natural way, or does it seemed forced? Does it build to an inevitable conclusion but still allow for surprises in how it gets there? Do the subplots twine around the main plot appropriately? Does the story go flat in the middle or keep momentum?

3. Chronology. Does the movement of time seem smooth? Days, weeks, months, seasons.

4. Theme. In essence, what’s the point of the story?

Those are questions that can’t be answered by reading one chapter at a time over the course of, say, thirty weeks. They require reading in a block as quickly as possible, much like a regular reader, but with track changes and comments ON!

Of course, there are many other things I look for too, line by line:

5. Punctuation, including quotation marks, commas (admittedly not my strongest point, so I try not to be too dogmatic about them!)

6. Unclear writing–things like unclear pronouns, sentences, action or description sequences that don’t quite make sense

7. Telling. Sometimes this crops up as showing and then telling. Sometimes it is in the dialogue tags or action beats. Labeled feelings are pet peeves of mine.

8. Repetition
We all have pet words that tend to get used and reused. These I tend to just highlight without comment.

9. Conflicting information. This could be hair or eye color, or other specific info that crops up periodically. Even consistency in how a house or town is laid out.

10. Typos and word errors Even when we run spell and grammar check, it’s easy to miss these. I always keep an eye out for words that are used incorrectly, sometimes checking them in the dictionary if I’m not sure if the portrayed meaning is correct.

Usually I take a month or more to critique a novel, fitting it in around writing and other tasks. But on occasion a friend has been in a bigger hurry to get the feedback, and I’ve dropped everything to push through in a few days. Certainly I get the best feel for the over all rhythm doing it that way! And I appreciate the crit partners who have done the same for me when circumstances warranted.

I used to worry about how my critique would be accepted. Still do, when I’m critting someone I don’t know well. I think the key there is knowing the critiquer truly has one’s best interests at heart. It’s helpful to comment on the things you really like as well as the problems you see. Ultimately, it’s a matter of trust, and that comes with time.

What’s your critique style? What do you look for that I haven’t mentioned?

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Valerie Comer, lives on a small farm in western Canada, which provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Her first inspirational romance novella, Treasure’s Promise, is due out in March, 2012. It’s included in a collection called Rainbow’s End from Barbour Publishing. Val is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency.

Visit Val’s WEBSITE and her BLOG

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