Getting constructive criticism of your writing is one of the best ways to improve and learn your craft.
However, giving critique to other writers isn’t just a way of paying people back for the critique they’ve given you – you can also learn a great deal from analysing other people’s writing to find out what works and what doesn’t.
If possible, it’s worth attending an ‘in person’ writers’ group, as the spoken feedback and discussion can tell you a lot more then what it’s possible to get from writtten feedback. However, if that’s not an option, online critique groups such as Scribophile are an excellent option.
Here is a checklist of questions to guide you through critiquing pieces of fiction in the writer’s circle.
It should work equally well for online or in person critiquing.
Bear in mind that some of these questions may be affected by whether the piece is a standalone short story or a section of a larger piece – for example, when it comes to character development and plot. A standalone piece must have a complete plot and fully rounded characters, whereas an excerpt will almost certainly not.
Naturally, you would not expect to give feedback on every single one of these questions every time. They are just a framework that you can use to prompt your analysis – focussing on the points you have the most to comment on.
An important thing to remember when giving feedback is to be constructive and also kind. It’s not going to help the writer improve much if you only talk about things you liked about the work, but it’s also not very helpful to be too aggressive in your criticism. Try to offer a good balance, pointing out both things that you felt were strong points of the work, as well as areas that you feel could be improved.
If you have any thoughts or improvements for this list, please do comment below! And if you think others mind find it useful, please do share it.
Does it have a strong opening?
Is the first sentence snappy and intriguing, or does it ramble on?
Do you get a sense of place and point of view within the first few paragraphs or do you feel lost and confused?
Does it make you want to keep reading?
Does the opening have a hook or story question?
Does the piece contain conflict?
Is it physical conflict or mental conflict – in your opinion does it work?
Does the piece progress the plot?
Is the plot interesting?
Could the plot development be improved by restructuring?
How well is the setting described?
What did you think of the characters?
Were they distinct or too similar?
Were there too many characters, so it became confusing?
Were the characters interesting?
Were they plausible?
What did you think of the dialogue?
Did the dialogue feel realistic?
Was the dialogue interesting?
Did the characters have unique ways of speaking to distinguish them?
Could you always tell who was speaking?
Point of View
Did the piece stick to a single point of view?
If there were multiple points of view, was it consistent and for a reason?
Show versus tell
Did the piece do much telling instead of showing?
Format of the text
Is the text formatted correctly for fiction?
Grammar and spelling
Is the spelling and grammar generally accurate?
If not, where are the errors?
If possible, rather than going through spelling and grammar errors orally, it’s better to have a printout (or digital version) where you can mark them on.
Did the writing have a distinctive style?
Did you like it?
Did it remind you of any other authors you’ve read?