Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to Give a Good Manuscript Critique

"How to Give a Good Manuscript Critique" by Joan Y. Edwards 

How can you give a good manuscript critique? When you critique a manuscript, you want to do a good job. You want the writer to be able to tell easily what you think. You want to give them both ways to correct and ways to enhance the manuscript. Here are ways to insure you give a good critique.
When you critique a manuscript, make your notes stand out:

Highlight at least three Blue Ribbon passages.
Highlight areas to delete in yellow.
Use a different color font from the one the writer used.
Use all caps. 
Punctuation and grammar errors.
Note where writer needs to show, not tell.
Cross out words to delete like this.
Write questions in the manuscript when you think of them.
Or do your own thing. Be creative.

Write the following questions at the beginning of the manuscript you're about to critique. It will help you focus on the story's strengths, as well as give the author places that need enrichment. If you're the author, ask yourself the questions about one of your own manuscripts.

22 Questions for a Critique

After reading a manuscript, answer these questions.
  1.  Do you know what main character wants?
  2. What was he willing to do to get it?
  3. What kept the main character from getting what he wanted?
  4. Does he get what he wants? How?
  5. What are the mistakes that the main character makes?
  6. What are his flaws? (He’s got to have flaws.)
  7. What is the lowest point in the story?
  8. Did the main character change? How?
  9.  What does the main character learn about life from his experiences in this story?
  10. Do you know what each main character wants?
  11. Does each main character a distinct voice of his own?
  12. Can you tell when a different character is talking?
  13. What do you want to know that the writer is not telling you?
  14. Does it make sense? If not, note in the manuscript which parts that don’t make sense.
  15. Does the main character face his conflict or run away?
  16. Does the main character save himself by human means or is he saved with unbelievable circumstances that seems like magic?
  17. Did you mark where writer needs to show, don't tell.
  18. Can you write a short summary of the story? Do it.
  19. What are three main errors main punctuation and grammar errors for the author to correct?
  20. What are three Blue Ribbon passages?  
  21. What questions come to mind as you read the manuscript?
  22. After reading the story, can you write a short (25-100 word) summary. Do so.

I wish you great success in your writing career. Thanks for reading this blog post. I am honored by your presence here. Please leave a message in the comment area. I'd love to hear your ideas on how to give a good critique.

Never Give Up!
Joan Y. Edwards

Coming from 4RV Publishing in June 2015: Joan's Elder Care Guide


  1. Joan,

    Highlighting Blue Ribbon passages is such an upbeat, positive, and encouraging gift. Terrific idea!

    1. Dear Linda,
      Thanks for writing. You are a great encourager. I agree that highlighting Blue Ribbon passages is an upbeat, positive, and encouraging gift. In spite of things that might need correcting, the Blue Ribbon passages let the writer know that he has talent. It grounds him and helps him to believe in himself as a writer.
      Do something fun to celebrate you.
      Joan Y. Edwards

  2. Replies
    1. Dear Janet,
      Thanks for writing. I'm glad that you think these are good suggestions. Your opinion matters to me.
      Do something fun to celebrate your love of writing.
      Joan Y. Edwards

  3. I really value the edits. They have always made my work much better. Thanks for the suggestions on critique that include the BLUE RIBBON highlights *:)

    1. Dear Ginger,
      Thanks for writing. You are right, when someone edits your work, it is a valued gift to you. It is great that your edits helped you make your work much better. You're welcome for the suggestions that include BLUE RIBBON highlights. I think they add pizazz to the soul of the writer.
      Do something fun to celebrate your love of writing and illustrating.
      Joan Y. Edwards

  4. Maybe I'm just to green to understand, but "Blue Ribbon Passages". Please advise. LOL> I have never heard that saying. However, great advice and great questions to ask while you're critiquing. Customizing MS word track changes and spelling/grammar style also helps with self-editing and communicating with the critique.

    1. Dear Kandie,
      Thanks for writing. "Blue Ribbon Passages" is a phrase I made up that notes passages that are really good. A sentence, a paragraph, a scene that are well-written, meaningful, humorous, lyrical, showing, etc. I taught school for 35 years. When I corrected a student's work, I always tried to point out parts that were really good. Now that most of the work is done on the computer, it is easy to highlight a word, sentence, paragraph, or scene. First Prize is Blue Ribbon...therefore, Blue Ribbon parts are those the reader gives to you, the writer for excellence in your work.
      Thanks for the compliment saying this article gave great advice and questions for critiquing. Thanks for mentioning that writers can customize MS word to track changes and spelling/grammar style to help with self-editing.
      Do something fun to celebrate your love of writing.
      Joan Y. Edwards

  5. I too am impressed with the Blue Ribbon Passage practice. It's always nice when someone appreciates a passage you spent a lot of time crafting.

    And your questions are really helpful for looking beyond an overall, somewhat amorphous feeling one (me) might have after reading a manuscript. I like to write book reviews on my blog and these questions would help home in on what I want to convey. So thank you very much.

    I found your blog while searching for Indie publishers to query. I have a finished memoir manuscript. Should I wait until after September 1st?

  6. Dear Grace,
    Thank you very much for writing. I'm glad you are impressed with the Blue Ribbon Passages practice. It's definitely a good feeling when someone sees worth in your work. I'm glad the questions will help you when you are doing interviews.
    I believe Vivian Zabel the President of 4RV Publishing said you could send your manuscript before September 1st. However, they will not look at the submissions until after September 1st. Good luck with your submission.
    Do something fun to celebrate you!
    Joan Y. Edwards

  7. Joan, great tips on giving critiques. I hadn't heard of the 'blue ribbon' technique, but is a great strategy. Just like with employee reviews in the business world, you should always include the 'good.'

  8. Dear Karen,
    Thanks for writing. I'm glad you think these are great tips on giving critiques. Marking "Blue Ribbon" passages is an idea of mine. I agree that you should always include the 'good."
    Do something fun to celebrate your knowledge and wisdom.

    Never Give Up.
    Joan Y. Edwards