Category Critique Technique

Critique Technique, Part 56 — Great Start!

Young woman reding a book on a lawn
Photo by lusi/RGBstock photos.

Experienced writers understand that the most important chapter of a book isn’t the last one, but the first one. And that the first paragraph is the most important paragraph. And that the first sentence is the most important sentence. And that the first word… well, let’s not get carried away here.

But that understanding about the first sentence, paragraph, and chapter makes sense. The purpose, after all, of each of these firsts is to get the reader to read the one that follows: the second sentence, the second paragraph, the second chapter. Why? Because the writer wants the reader to keep reading, to keep going, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter, all the way to the end...

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Critique Technique, Part 55 — Good Job!

Image courtesy of Chaiwat /

One of the real pleasures of being a critiquer, especially if you’re part of a writers’ group, is seeing new writers develop, watching their work get better and better with each revision or new chapter or story. When that happens, it’s important to not only acknowledge those improvements, but reinforce them by telling the writer what they did well and how it’s better than their previous work. This final series of articles is going to address that requirement, starting with specific details and growing to larger-scale successes.

What to Praise

There are many, many things a writer can succeed at that deserve attention and praise, especially when they’re things the writer struggled with before...

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Critique Technique, Part 54 — Manuscript Format

Almost since this series began, I’ve been discussing things writers, especially new ones, have trouble with. This article is the last of that string. Next time I’ll begin a short series on how critiquers should respond to things a writer did well. Positive critiques are at least as important as corrective ones, so that’s a set of subjects we shouldn’t avoid.

Formatting a manuscript is a simple and almost purely mechanical process, yet it’s one new writers may not have had any training on, or they may have been trained on formats that aren’t appropriate for fiction manuscripts.

This might seem like a minor point, yet if an author intends to follow the traditional publishing route and submit their work to literary agents or directly to publishing house editors, an impr...

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Critique Technique, Part 53 — Grammar Errors

Four professors in cap and gown
photo credit: peyri via photopin cc

Like the rules of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, the rules of grammar are meant to help make a writer’s meaning clear to the reader. Unfortunately, there are even more grammar rules than there are about spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, which means that many more opportunities for a writer to mess things up.

Whole books, college courses, and web sites are devoted to these rules, so there’s no way I’m going to replicate even a tiny fraction of that material here.

Novice writers often have trouble with the basic stuff, like putting a plural form of a verb with the singular form of a noun (“she say” rather than “she says,” for example), or not being clear on who (or whom) a pronoun is referring to...

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Critique Technique, Part 51 — Punctuation

Humanoid image surrounded by question marks
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Perhaps as much as spelling, punctuation can be a wonder and a mystery to a lot of novice writers. Schools try to teach their students all sorts of punctuation rules. If you really dig into it, there are hundreds of them—and of course they all have their exceptions and caveats. After a while, many students just give up, and it shows.

I thought I had a good, workable handle on what to use, when, and how until I went to one of my friend Harvey Stanbrough’s seminars, and then the light bulb really came on. One of the best things you as a reviewer can do is buy yourself a copy of Harvey’s ebook, Punctuation for Writers. It’s available on Amazon for the Kindle, Barnes & Noble for the Nook, and Smashwords for ev...

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Critique Technique, Part 50 — Spelling

Spelling, misspelled and corrected

This article begins a series on mechanical errors in writing, and with it, we’ll finish all the ones on the errors writer make. After that I’ll discuss the kinds of things a reviewer should address when the writer does well. Critique is not criticism, after all, and especially not negative, destructive criticism. It’s important to point out a writer’s successes, too.

Before I get to that, though, I need to discuss speeling, grammer, puncturation, CapitOlizaTtion—I mean, spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization—and other usage problems, and manuscript formatting.

Spelling words correctly is a basic requirement for every writer. There’s simply no excuse for getting words wrong, unless, like I did in the paragraph above, you’re doing it intentionally...

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Critique Technique, Part 49 — Point of View Shifts

Two angry people sitting on a bench

Let’s be clear from the beginning about what point of view (POV), or viewpoint, is. Simply stated, it means whose eyes and other senses the reader is experiencing the story through. Said another way, if you think of the reader as being the proverbial fly on the wall, where is that fly? That sounds simple enough, but there are four main POV options, and many variations of each.

Four Main Points of View and Some of Their Variations


The word means all-knowing, and in this case, the fly really is on the wall. In this POV, the narrator stands back from the characters and reports on their actions and statements. But it’s also a telepathic fly: the author can tell the reader, as well as show him, what a character is thinking or feeling...

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Critique Technique, Part 49 — Head-Hopping

Funny frog
Image by Zela, from

This article doesn’t have anything to do with drug-addled frogs (or any kind of frogs, for that matter), mid-twentieth century actress and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, or some strange horror movie. Or some even stranger Addams Family-meets-Mitch Miller sing-along show: “Follow the bouncing head and sing along to….” (Man, that’s really weird.)

No, fortunately, head-hopping in the context of writing is a form of point of view (POV) shifting. What happens is the writer jumps from the viewpoint of one character to another within a scene or even a paragraph. This is an easy trap for new writers to fall into, although more experienced ones can do it too...

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Critique Technique, Part 48 — Stating the Obvious

Two people talking
Photo by Ambro, courtesy

When I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in physics, one of the things I hated—HATED—was when a textbook’s author would write “…it is intuitively obvious to the casual observer that…” and then go on to describe something that was anything but obvious, at least to me. I guess I wasn’t a casual observer.

The topic of this article is not quite the opposite of what those physicists were doing. They assumed what they were about to present was obvious, because it was to them. Fiction writers, on the other hand, just come out and say what really is obvious to the reader, even the casual one.

Sometimes this takes the form of the “As you know, Bob…” statement, in which one character tells another something the secon...

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Critique Technique, Part 47 — Danglers

Shoes hanging from a wire
Photo by dhannte, via

When we think about dangling things—in writing, anyway—we usually think of dangling modifiers, the grammatical fumbles that lead to sentences like, “After spending weeks in the forest, the town was inviting.” So, the town spent weeks in the forest, eh?

For this article, though, I’m thinking about a different kind of dangler: a story line, event, action, or character the author lavishes some attention on, then forgets. It’s never developed, it’s never finished, it’s just left—you guessed it—dangling.

This is a continuity problem and it can be hard to catch, for both the author and the reviewer...

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