For the final installment on critiques (see Writing Critique Groups for ideas of finding or starting a critique group and Guidelines for Writing Critiques for setting up a group code of conduct) following is The Ultimate Fiction Critique Checklist, plus suggestions for helping you shape your critique to be of maximum benefit for the writer being critiqued.
How to use this Fiction Critique Checklist
When using the list for a critique, don’t think you have to comment on everything in the checklist. Read through the pages to be critiqued and if anything jumps out, use the questions listed below as a way to help you formulate your own questions. (Remember from “Guidelines” that questions are a terrific way to help the writer to form his or her own ideas.)
Fiction Critique Checklist – Openings
- Are you drawn right into the story or scene?
- Is it the voice, the description, the action?
- Or does the story take too much time to take off for you?
- Why might that be?
- Is there a hook right away?
- Does it grab you?
- Are there unanswered questions brought up that makes you want to read more?
- Can you tell where you are?
- Or are you disoriented and disconnected?
- Do you connect to the characters?
- Do you care about them from the start?
- Does the story start in the right place?
Remember to be specific. If you aren’t drawn in, what suggestions (in the form of questions) might you have to pull a reader in?
Fiction Critique Checklist – Conflict
- Does something make you worry?
- About who or what?
- Is there an internal conflict in the scene?
- Is there an external conflict in the scene?
I know you might be sick of hearing about conflict. That’s because you must have it on every page, and often times it’s the one thing that gets lost in the shuffle of storytelling. Stamp conflict into your brain. It has to be on every page. EVERY page. Readers read to see people get in and out of trouble.
Fiction Critique Checklist – Characters
- Do you connect with the characters right away?
- What about them makes you care?
- What do you like about them?
- What are you wondering about them?
- Do their actions seem motivated (do you believe that they’d do what they are doing?)
Fiction Critique Checklist – Dialogue
- Does dialogue sound real?
- Does each character sound unique—in other words, could you strip out the tags and still follow who is speaking?
- Does the dialogue call attention to itself or is it overdone in some places?
- Is there any “as you know, Bob…” dialogue a (dialogue used by the author for the sake of giving information to the reader but would never happen in real life).
Fiction Critique Checklist – Voice
- Is the voice lively, different, does it immediately pull you in?
- What impression do you have about the voice; what about the voice intrigues you?
Is it light, dark, humorous, serious, lyrical, suspenseful? Giving your impressions will help the writer develop his or her unique voice.
Fiction Critique Checklist – Holding Together or Story Flow
- Does anything make you stumble or not be sure what is going on (in a disoriented—bad way)?
- Do you know where you are, what is real, what is narrative (in the head)?
- Does anything jump or jar you out of the story?
- Does the pace feel right?
- Do scenes transition smoothly from one to the other?
- Does anything intrigue you (isn’t answered) that makes you want to read on to find out about it?
Fiction raises questions and doesn’t answer them—in fact, unanswered questions are a great suspense-builder, but this is different from the reader getting confused.
Fiction Critique – The Reader’s Point of View
- How does this story make you feel as a reader? We are writers commenting on writing, but the bottom line: we write for readers. Be sure to tell the writer how these pages moved you. If you are not typically a reader of this particular genre and don’t feel comfortable doing this, that’s fine.
Fiction Critique – Don’t forget the Technical Stuff
- Grammar? Spelling? Punctuation?
- Too many adverbs or adjectives?
- Correct use of dialogue tags?
- Paragraphs flow and are broken in a way that makes sense?
Even if your critique isn’t about “edit” sorts of suggestions, these types of line-edit comments are usually appreciated!
Have more items to add to this Ultimate Fiction Critique Checklist? I want to hear them! Please post any great critque questions or insight you have in the comments
Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the Spirit of the River Series: First, There is a River, Jasper Mountain, and Theater of Illusion, available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, Between the Lines. She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com