Steph and Stacey’s Critiquing Cheat Sheet

Hi all, Stephanie here, with my critique partner and fellow pub-crawler, Stacey Lee! Today we are talking about manuscript critiquing.

Stephanie: When I first started writing, I thought revising was proofreading. In fact, I knew so little about revisions I believed that if there were mistakes in my manuscript it was no big deal because that’s what editors are for. Thankfully I outgrew this delusion rather quickly. Unfortunately it took me a much longer time to find solid critique partners and figure out what it means to revise.

So, for any of you who might be in need of a little revision or critiquing guidance, Stacey Lee and I have put together a critique checklist.

We’ve geared this information toward critique partners, but it can also be used as a checklist, if you are revising your own work.

Steph & Stacey’s Critiquing Cheat Sheet

First, if you are working with a critique partner, before you dive into their work always make sure you know what they want help with.

  • Do they want you to point out every nit-picky detail?
  • Do they only want big picture help?
  • Do they actually just want a cheerleader? 

Are they looking for big picture help?

  • Plot (Do you get a sense of what is at stake, of what the MC wants, and what lies in their way?)
  • Pacing (Is the pacing too slow? Are there scenes that fail to move the story forward, or that feel episodic? Do scenes drag? Do you want to stop reading? Or does it move to fast? Do you feel as if a lot is happening but you don’t feel connected?)
  • Character (Are the characters flat or cliché? Are they relatable? Memorable? Is the MC a character you want to read about?)
  • Showing vs. Telling (Most early drafts tell when they should be showing)
  • Clarity (Mystery is good, confusing is bad)

If the big picture items are good to go, pay attention to:

  • Descriptions (Is too there much, too little)
  • Setting (Is there a sense of place? Could this be set in a better place?)
  • World building (Is the world too vague or confusing? Or are there too many details)
  • Dialogue (Is the dialogue stilted? Is it easy to read or does it read like an info dump? Does it read like actual conversation? Does it speak for itself or do they rely on adverbs?)
  • Inner Monologue (Did the writer rely too much on inner dialogue, which tends to be ‘telly,’ rather than showing the scene through dialogue or action?)
  • Tension/Conflict (Is there tension in every scene? Are there internal and external conflicts?)

If the pages you’re reading are fairly polished, pay attention to the details:

  • Details (Are there enough details? Too many details? Do their details show things about their main character, supporting characters or the world they’ve created?)
  • Sentence structure/variance (Are sentences clunky? Are they always the same length, same tone, same rhythm?)
  • Character voice (Do their characters have distinct voices? Is the voice of their work appropriate for the genre and category?)
  • Dialogue tags (Can they cut any dialogue tags? Do they need extra dialogue tags? Is it always clear who’s speaking?)
  • Word choices (Are there any unnecessary words? Are the words they’ve chosen appropriate? Do they have any pet words, or word echoes? Could they use stronger words? )
  • Passive voice (Can sentences be written in a more ‘active’ voice? Can they get rid of ‘fog bound’ phrases such as “There are,” or “It was,” and/or place weak verbs like ‘is’ or ‘get’ with stronger verbs?)

Stacey: Finally, a good critique partner helps you identify the weak spots. A great one identifies the weak spots, and suggests fixes for them. One of things I appreciate about Stephanie is that she always tries to give me solutions, and even if I don’t ultimately use those solutions, they inevitable unlock other possibilities in my head. Or, we’ll go to our favorite pearl tea place and brainstorm. My brain is her brain and vice versa.

In the comments, let us know if we’ve missed anything in our critique partner checklist. And for those of you in need of a new critique partner, we’re planning on doing a critique partner connection soon, so stay tuned.


11 Responses to Steph and Stacey’s Critiquing Cheat Sheet

  1. Kelly Dec 14 2015 at 10:51 am #

    Great post, ladies! I am definitely bookmarking for future use!

    • Stephanie Garber Dec 14 2015 at 1:37 pm #

      Thanks, Kelly! I’m so glad you liked it–and that you plan to use it. 🙂

  2. lisa ciarfella Dec 14 2015 at 4:39 pm #

    great stuff here. thanks for this.

    • Stephanie Garber Dec 14 2015 at 8:03 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Lisa!

  3. Jean Brunson Dec 14 2015 at 7:36 pm #

    Thank you so much for all the infomation in this blog. Until I find that special person who will tell me the truth, I will use the list for myself.

    • Stephanie Garber Dec 14 2015 at 8:07 pm #

      I’m so glad it was helpful, Jean! Good luck in finding that special person–we’ll be hosting a critique partner connection soon, so maybe you’ll find one then. 🙂

  4. Ali Lawati Dec 15 2015 at 12:56 pm #

    Hi Guys,
    This insightful piece has been most helpful. Please continue with the great work!

  5. J. Dec 16 2015 at 10:51 am #

    This is wonderful! And posted just as I’m starting my revisions for a WIP I’m excited about. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Kelsey Feb 16 2016 at 3:00 pm #

    Incredibly helpful — I shared with my writing group and we’ll be referring to this often.

  7. Victoria Hunter Feb 6 2020 at 3:14 pm #

    I always laugh when someone say “although I didn’t take it” all critique should be tried out. You can’t say a critique part don’t work just from reading it. Lol. All parts of a critique needs to be tried and put through the test of having readers give it feedback or creating distance from it and then returning to see how it affects you. When you get locked into sticking to only one style of writing, that will keep you from writing great work, and you will miss out.


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