Archive for September, 2009

As I mentioned on my previous post, Guidelines for Writing Fiction Critiques, the most important guideline for a critique is to give an honest, constructive, and polite assessment of the writing. All comments should be about the words written, not about the person writing them.

Here are the steps I follow when doing a thorough critique of nonfiction:

1. Overall Impressions:  Evaluate the work as a reader.

a. Content: Does it open with something that captures your attention and makes you want to keep reading? Does the pace seem appropriate for the type of information being covered? Can you clearly identify the subject or main idea? Is the main idea supported by evidence, anecdotes, interviews, viewpoints, or some other method?

b. Audience: Is it clear who the target audience is for the book, article, or essay? Is the tone, language, and reading level appropriate for that audience?

c. Format: Is it following standard submission guidelines for that type of work, or is it tailored towards guidelines of a specific market? Is it organized logically, so the reader can follow the development of the topic or progression of the events?


2. The Mechanics:  Evaluate the work for structural strengths and weaknesses.

a. Structure: Were paragraphs and sentences appropriate in length for the type of information presented? Would varying their length add interest or adjust the pace more effectively? Does the choice of words feel appropriate? Is the information presented in a way that the target audience will find easy to understand? Does the conclusion summarize the main points effectively, or bring the work to a satisfying end?

b. Grammar: Are there obvious mistakes in grammar and spelling? Are there too many clichés in the narrative or dialog?

c. Extras: If there are sidebars, charts, graphs, pictures, or other supporting documents, do they support the premise, theme, arguments, or hypothesis? Are they formatted properly and annotated in the body of the work?


For related information on creative nonfiction, see my post from 3-12-09


Have I overlooked any important topics to be covered in a nonfiction critique? What are you most interested in when someone critiques your nonfiction writing?



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There are many opinions as to the proper way to do a critique of someone’s written work. For me, the most important guideline is to give an honest, constructive, and polite assessment of the writing. My goal is to be encouraging, not hurtful, and to help the person improve what they’ve written. This applies whether I’m evaluating fiction or nonfiction.

Here are the steps I believe should be followed when doing a thorough critique of fiction:

1. Overall Impressions:  Evaluate the work as a reader.

a. Plot: Does it open with something that captures your attention and makes you want to keep reading? Can you identify the protagonist’s main conflict within the first couple of chapters, or the first pages of a short story? Does the pace seem appropriate for the genre? Do flashbacks, backstory, and descriptions of the setting or characters clarify or obscure what the story is about? Is the ending satisfying, or does it leave lose ends that need to be resolved? Are all subplots also resolved?

b. Setting: Can you visualize where and when the story takes place? Are descriptions of events, the people, culture, and dialog consistent with the setting and time period? Is there too much or too little description, or is it “just right?”

c. Characters: Does each one fulfill a purpose in the story? Can you identify the main characters within the first few pages or chapters?  Do they each have their own personality and voice, or do they all feel very similar? Are their names easy to recall and distinctive enough not to be confused with other characters? Do their actions seem consistent with their personality, or do they behave in ways that feel unnatural based on what you’ve read about them? Does the protagonist evolve in some way by the end of the story?


2. The Mechanics:  Evaluate the work for structural strengths and weaknesses.

a. Point of View: When the POV changes, is it clear who the new viewpoint character is? Would it strengthen the story to present it from more than one viewpoint, or does using too many viewpoints make the story confusing?

b. Show and Tell: Is there too much description, or too little? Do the characters’ actions and dialog reveal what is going on, or is the author simply telling the reader what he/she needs to know in order to move the plot along?

c. Structure: Were paragraphs and sentences appropriate in length for the scene? Would varying their length add interest or adjust the pace more effectively? Does the choice of words feel appropriate?

d. Grammar: Are there obvious mistakes in grammar and spelling? Are there too many clichés in the narrative or dialog?


I follow a similar process when critiquing nonfiction. Next week I’ll post the specific steps I use.

If you’re interested in having me critique something you wrote, leave a comment on the Critique Contest post.


Have I overlooked any important topics to be covered in a critique? Do you think getting someone else’s opinion on a story before submitting it is helpful or harmful? What are you most interested in when someone critiques your writing?


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Giveaways seem to be popular on blogs but, since I don’t have any books to pass on, I’ve been struggling to come up with an alternative. This morning I came up with an idea that works for me, and I hope it will interest some of you.

I love doing critiques for people, and am offering a free critique of up to 3,000 words—short story, novel excerpt, grocery list, whatever. The only things I can think of that I won’t consider are works containing explicit erotica, graphic gore, or profuse profanity.

The critique will be confidential, via email, and I promise not to steal your idea, words, or personal information. You can decide what type of critique you want; detailed or general, grammar, or just content. I don’t guarantee you’ll agree with what I say, but it will be my honest opinion. The offer doesn’t have an expiration date, so if you don’t have something ready to be critiqued at this time, you may still enter.

So, if you want to participate in Carol’s Critique Contest, leave a comment on this post between Friday, September 25, 2009 and noon central time on Friday, October 2, 2009. The entries will be assigned a number, starting with 1 for the first entry, 2 for the second, etc. The winning entry will be picked by the generator at random.org and announced sometime the evening of October 2.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve had articles published in Cappers, Simple Joy (now called Girlfriend 2 Girlfriend), and a story in the Flash Fiction 40 Anthology. I also participate in the forums at Writer’s Digest and Editor Unleashed. Not a huge list of references, I know—but I’m working on it.

Good luck!


EDIT 9-26-09: The guidelines I use for a critique are explained in today’s post.


10-2-09: This contest has closed. Everyone’s a winner!

Thank you for participating, Jon and Alexander. Since only 2 of you signed up, I’m awarding you both a detailed critique. I’ll be contacting you directly through the emails you gave me.


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In honor of today being the 6th National Punctuation Day, I’m dedicating today’s post to commas. This little symbol has a big job, and it is frequently abused. Here are some of the rules:

1. Use them to set off introductory elements.

2. Use them to connect 2 independent clauses.

3. Use them to break a sentence down into manageable sections.

4. Use them when necessary to prevent confusion or misreading.

5. Use them to separate 3 or more words, phrases, or clauses in a series.

6. Use them to set off quoted material within a sentence.

7. Use them to set off geographical names.

8. Use them to show a distinct pause.


There are more rules regarding commas, but some of them are too complex to list without going into explanations and examples. To be honest, I’m not sure I even understand what some of them are talking about. (I’ve been out of school a very long time.)

If you want to know more, take a look at these helpful sites:





Do you know the rules, look them up when necessary, or just place commas where they sound good to you? What’s your favorite punctuation mark? Which punctuation symbol gives you the most trouble?

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Jen, over on the Divinest Sense blog, is giving away the first 2 books in the Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson. From her review they sound like children’s fantasy books. The winner will be chosen on Saturday, September 26, 2009, so hurry over to her blog and leave a comment to enter the giveaway.

Do you know of any other contests or book giveaways going on? If so, leave a comment and I’ll add the information to my post.  🙂

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I’ve been playing around with ywriter5, which is a type of word processing software designed specifically for people writing a novel. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but this version has a training guide with a sample that’s set up to help you figure out how everything works. In addition to the main screen where you type the story, there are places to put notes to yourself, character bios, scene descriptions, and much more. It keeps a list of the chapters, complete with their word count, a brief description of their content, and the characters involved. That makes it very easy to find what I need.

I didn’t use this program for my first draft because I was busy thinking about what to write and didn’t want to struggle with learning new technology at the same time. Since I’m revising my novel, I decided to put what I have into the ywriter5 program to help me get organized. It’s wonderful. I’m wishing I’d used it right from the beginning. I copy and paste my chapters into it, write a short summary of what each chapter is about, and the program keeps it in order. There are some features I haven’t mastered yet, but just the parts I’ve learned how to use are making a difference in my ability to find things and fix problems.

One of the reports it can generate gives a synopsis of the book, using a short summary that I wrote about each chapter. I printed it off, and the report lists the chapter, POV character, scene title and description. I’ll be able to use it almost verbatim for a complete synopsis to include in my submission package.

I still write most of my text in Word, but this is extremely helpful. It doesn’t write the plot or anything, but it sure does a lot of the work of getting a novel in shape to submit.

I highly recommend this program based on my experience with it so far.

Oh, almost forgot—one of the best things about this program is that it is completely free. The programmer who designed it, Simon Haynes, is an author himself, so he’s made this into a valuable resource for writers, with no ads or spyware in it.

Here’s the link so you can download this free software for yourself:



Have you tried any writing software besides a word processor like Word or WordPerfect? What do you think about the ones that do more than organizing your work, like generating plots, etc? How do you keep your writing organized so you can find what you’re looking for easier?

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Now that the rough draft of my novel is complete, I decided to get it ready, technically, so that when I finish my revisions it will be polished and professional looking. I’ve read the general guidelines for the proper format of a novel several times before, but somehow I didn’t let it sink in. As a result, my first draft is a mess.

My entire manuscript is currently in block paragraphs, single spaced, with no headers. (Do not do that!) I had no idea how to keep the chapters starting on a new page, so I just let them go where they wanted. This came about because when I put each chapter in a separate file, and then made revisions which changed the chapter numbers, and then put the revised chapters into separate files, I ended up confused.

While I may sound lazy, it’s actually a matter of preference—I preferred to do it my way and figure out the right way later. Silly me. Good thing I’m revising the whole thing anyway. But today I’m attempting to fix things. (It’s much easier to do it the right way in the first draft than to change it later.)

The following sites explain the nitty-gritty details of formatting a novel. They do it so well that I’m not even going to attempt to summarize. If you’re interested in this, check these out.

Edit 2/29/12: If I had realized when I wrote this post that it would consistently be the most visited post on my blog, I would have spent more time explaining what to do instead of talking about how I messed up my first draft! If you don’t see what you need to know about formatting in the links I’ve listed, let me know and I’ll try to answer your question.

Basic Manuscript Formatting, by Kaye Dacus:


Formatting a Novel in Word 2007, by Catherine Chant:


Format Tips for Queries, the Synopsis, and Manuscript, by Agent Query staff


Preparing Your Manuscript, by Charlotte Dillon


Sample Manuscript (includes title page and prologue), by William Shunn


EDIT 9-23-09: Today I found another excellent site that explains formatting for novels and short works very clearly. Holly Lisle’s advice includes how to handle a title page, and when it is needed. Take a look:


EDIT 10-6-09:  I found another good site. Besides covering the format for paper submissions for novels, short stories, articles, and contest submissions, Moira Allen also goes over how to format a manuscript for submission via email.


How do you keep track of your story? Do you have everything in one large file, or do you have a different, easier method? If it’s all in one file, how do you find what you are looking for? Do you keep all your revisions until the book is done, or delete the earlier ones once you’ve made several major revisions? Would you like to fix my novel?

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