Critiquing? Let’s brainstorm (with Anne Gracie)

Hi, Anne Gracie here, thinking about how critique groups and critique partners have become such a huge part of a writing life.

I know I can’t get along without the help of my writing mates. I have a book just out (The Accidental Wedding — and it has a beeeyoutiful cover! Yay!)  On the dedication page is a list of some of the people who helped me get it there.

The longer I’ve been published the less I know about what editors want —  so leave the possibilities open and be your friend’s incredibly helpful reader, not their teacher, mentor or advisor.

The hardest part of the critique process comes after the beginner level is past. Often people are at a loss when they read someone’s work, especially if problems are few and far between. What if there are no typos, no grammar mistakes, no head hopping, no obvious problems? Where do you go then?

I think one of the most important things is to respond to a piece, not correct it.

I’m offering some suggestions here, but I’d love it if anyone reading the blog would add to the list. Maybe then we can put it all together and pop it in HeartsTalk for everyone to benefit from.


*What’s good about the piece?

What parts did you like? Tick the good bits.

Did you find any parts particularly interesting or striking in some way? eg dramatic, tense, funny, beautiful, clever, effective, etc.? Note the words in the manuscript that created this effect. This is really useful

If there’s any confusing bit, say you got confused, but leave it for them to fix.

*The Plot:

What’s the central conflict in the book? Brainstorm a log-line or premise and use it as a compass for your book.

Here’s an example from The Accidental Wedding (out now with a gorrrrgeous cover 😉

An injured man, a desperate woman…

She saves his life. He fakes amnesia…

Is there a core of conflict at the heart of each scene?

Is the plot moving along well?

How does this incident fit into the plot overall?

What are the emotional consequences of this incident for the hero / heroine?

What are the plot consequences of this incident?

Any weak or clichéd plot devices? Can they be improved? Twisted to make a surprise? Readers love good surprises.

Brainstorm some ‘what ifs’.

*The Characters:

Are the characters coming to life? What words, phrases, actions, etc. make them come to life?

What impressions do we get of the hero / heroine? Jot them down and link those impressions to the words actually on the page.

Over time, look at how the characters are developing through the story. Novels are about character change. How are these characters changing? What causes the change?

Are their actions convincing? Motivations clear? If not ask questions.

Attraction ratings of hero / heroine. What makes them attractive? Anything that puts you off them? Note the words in the manuscript that created this effect.

Minor characters – are they effective? There for a good reason? In danger of dominating?

*The Chapter:

Does it open well? Close well, with a hook to draw the reader on?

Questions raised in the reader’s mind make for a page-turner. What “story questions” or “scene questions” are operating in this piece?

How does it stand in relation to other chapters read?

Is the pacing working? Could the piece be tightened for pace?

Anything left out that could perhaps be included? Too much detail? Not enough detail?

* The Romance:

How well is it developing? Does it involve/intrigue/excite the reader?

Are their actions/responses well grounded and believable?

Is the reader barracking?

Are there any places it’s sagging? Suggestions for overcoming this.

Are the barriers to the protagonists’ happiness convincing? Original?

* Feel free to tell them it’s wonderful and that nothing needs redrafting. But only if it’s true.

So what about you? Do you have any suggestions for things people can comment on?

What’s a useful piece of advice you received about your writing?

I’ll give a copy of The Accidental Wedding (the book with the scrumptious cover!) to whoever offers a piece of advice I think is the most useful.

The Accidental Wedding

An injured man, a desperate woman…
She saves his life. He fakes amnesia…

When Nash Renfrew wakes in the bed of lovely Maddy Woodford, he has no memory.  In the days following his accident, he is charmed by her bright outlook on life, but he lives for the nights, when she joins him chastely—more or less—in her bed. When his memory returns, Nash asks for just one more night before he leaves. But it’s one night too many and it creates a scandal that leaves him no choice but to offer her marriage.

With five orphaned half-siblings in her charge, Maddy needs the security Nash offers and can’t resist the promise of passion she’s experienced in his embrace. Well born, but poverty-stricken, Maddy knows she’s not the wife he planned on, but he’s everything she’s ever dreamed of. But will passion be enough? He’s a diplomat who knows Czars and Princes and Grand-dukes and she’s just a country girl who’s never even been to a ball.  Can their new-found love survive , or will this accidental marriage destroy her dreams and his career?

  • Publisher: Berkley (October 5, 2010)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425233825

For more about Anne Gracie, visit her website.


And the winner of The Accidental Wedding is Bronwyn!

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