Friday, August 2, 2013


     Critique partners or groups can be a writer's valuable asset, but what happens when your time is short or you lose your partner? Laying aside your story in progress for a period of time gives you a new perspective and a fresh approach.

          How long is a period of time?

          That depends on time available..

               Optimal would be months or at least weeks. Put aside the story and 1) Write several articles, short stories, or blog posts  2) Plot out a new manuscript 3) Rewrite another  rough draft 4) Brainstorm new ideas for stories 5) Write a brand new rough draft 6) Do final edits on a story for deadline

               If you don’t have weeks or months, aim for days. 1) Attend a conference or workshop 2) Take a vacation 3) Write one or two short pieces 4) Do a major housecleaning or closet redo 5) Take a temporary job or  get involved in a volunteer opportunity.

               What if a deadline is looming and you have mere hours? 1) Take a walk outdoors 2) Go for a couple hours of shopping and try on clothes 3)Watch a movie 4) Meet a friend for lunch or a coke 5) Have a heart to heart talk with a loved one.

Do you get the idea? Take a break from that story. Move your thinking away from it. Allow a short period of time when your mind dwells on something besides that story.

Now, you’re ready to go back over it for a critique.

Use the same techniques that you use to critique someone else’s work. Here’s a possible ten things to remember.

  1.  Don’t dwell on the negative. Point out what you like about the writing or story and bask in the warm glow of confidence.
     2. Does the first sentence or two make you want to read more?  Does the beginning set the tone of
         the book and keep that tone until the end?

  1. Does the ending satisfy you and tie up all loose ends?

  1. Do you lose interest about chapter 4-7, or does your interest continue to peak? Check for plot points and the black moment. Could you eliminate or add characters? Does it flow? Is the pace appropriate for each scene?

  1. Check for passive words. Do you have lots of action verbs? Can you turn sentences around to make them active? Circle the words was, were, have, had, to be, being. Is there some of them you can eliminate?

Examples: Before: Lacey’s body was tense.

                  After:   Tension gripped Lacey’s body.

                 Before: Shelley’s head was hot from the sun beaming on it.

                  After:    Sunbeams heated Shelley’s head.

Look through your manuscript for such examples you might improve.


  1. Is there a portion of your story that you summarized which should be a real-time scene? What about the reverse? Is there a real-time scene that you might summarize to avoid lagging interest? Is there any scene that doesn’t further the story or the characterization. If so, eliminate it.

  1. Do a find for words that you use too often and get rid of them? I seem to love just so often have to delete it. What about at least, more often, really, a lot?” What about a really good word that adds to your story like captivate? Use only once, or it ceases to carry power

Examples: Before: She just loved the mall.

                  After:   She loved the mall. – This means the same without the extra word,.
       You might use the extra word as part of your characterization, however.

         Adverbs, got to love them, or hate them, but most experts say delete them.

Examples: Before: I’m very excited to be here.

                              After:     I’m excited to be here.

              Leave off the adverb and it means the same thing.

              Maybe, it would be better to turn it around and make it active.

                                  Excitement doubled me over with stomach butterflies.


  1. Is every portion of dialogue needed? Does it further the story? Does it tell about the character? Does each character's dialogue sound different? Does body language replace words? 

Examples:   “Hey, Lace, stop it. You’re a gorgeous woman.”

                     “Ditto, Boss."

                     “I’m old, overweight, and overwhelmed. That’s what I am and that's what I'll stay because I'm weak-willed and a pushover..”

        Did I succeed at sounding like three different characters without dialogue tags or beats? That’s our challenge.

.    9.     Check for point of view problems. Look through one person's eyes only. We can know their
            thoughts, what they see, what they smell, but we can't know anyone else's view.
             Check for show, don't tell problems. This gets many of us.
                       I can't just tell you Victoria hates living in the country.
                       I must show chickens pecking her legs, and the sun burning her face. Her thoughts
                              must  reveal the loneliness she feels without a friend..

    10. Did you introduce too many characters in the beginning and confuse the reader? Start with no
           more than three named characters if possible. A good way then to introduce other characters is
           to let us learn about them from the original characters before introducing them.

Read your story out loud and look for anything that makes you stop, pause, or try to understand. Instead, keep the reader plowing through your words not being able to stop even at the chapter breaks.

Use a critique partner if you can. If not, be your own. 

Janet K. Brown lives in Wichita Falls, Texas and loves to write, visit with grandkids, and travel with her husband in their RV.  4RV Publishing released her debut novel, Victoria and the Ghost, an inspirational YA in 2012. The example in number nine above comes from that book. Visit with Janet at her website/blog:
Purchase site for Victoria and the Ghost.


  1. Janet, great suggestions for self-editing or critiquing yourself. It's tough when you're under the gun, but you've given useable strategies to get the job done. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Janet, great suggestions. We bring our own assumptions to our own work -- what we know, what we assume -- in a way that we don't when reading the work of others.

  3. You're so right, Margaret. That makes being our own critique partner especially hard, but like Karen said, sometimes, we're under the gun & must edit our own. My preference is for others to read my stories.

  4. Janet, these are all wonderful ideas for self-critique. I know they make a great list for me to have handy. Thank you for sharing them!

  5. Thanks for the helpful tips, Janet! I am preparing to 'self-edit' a full length novel I wrote a couple of years ago and these should be useful. Great job!