The Nuts & Bolts of Critiquing a Writer

When you read a whole manuscript or a number of pages for critique, here’s a checklist of things to look for.


  • Is there a clear, believable main plot?
  • Did the story start too soon and give you too much background information or did it throw you into the middle of the conflict where you’re scrambling to catch up?
  • Did the main character resolve the problem in the end or merely resolve to live with it?
  • Do the subplots advance the story or are they simply window dressing to stall on ending the piece?                                                                                                              


  •  Did the plot move fast enough to maintain the reader’s attention?
  •  Did the plot move so fast you’re still trying to catch your breath?
  •  Does the pacing match the style and genre of the story? i.e. A melodrama should not be moving at the same pace as an action/adventure story.                                                                                                 


  • Did the description of the setting transport you to “that time and place” or are you still sitting in your chair bored to tears?
  • Do the descriptions run on for pages or are they interspersed throughout the story?
  • Do the characters, their actions and the time period agree/conflict? For example: current slang will not work for an 1800 western.
  • Does the order of events remain consistent throughout the story? For example: did the action hero cut his arm to the bone only to be using it the next day without any pain or loss of motion?                                                                  


  • Are the characters “real”?
  • Do they feel like stereotypes of all the books you’ve read?
  • Are they complex enough to hold your interest or are you yawning by page two?
  • Were the characters consistent?
  • A character that has a disability cannot “lose” that disability halfway through the story or perform feats of strength/intelligence that are beyond the character’s innate abilities. Small details matter as well. Having a character’s eye/hair color change halfway through the story can be very distracting.
  • Does the protagonist undergo some sort of change in the story? If not, what is the purpose of the story? The change does not have to be a good one. If the story is dark, it is acceptable for the character to undergo a negative change.
  • Is the character’s background given in one lump or a small manageable piece?
  • Was there too much information?


  • Did the dialogue match the time frame?
  • Did the dialogue include unnecessary profanity, too many sentence fragments, cliches’, or too heavy of a dialect?
  • Does each character have their own manner of speaking, like real people do?
  • The dialogue should match the conflict that is happening between the characters, where it is sexual, social, physical, or political?                                               


  • The story should stay in one POV (point of view). If it starts in first person (I), or third person (he/she) it should stay that way throughout.
  • POV shifts should identify the character leading the scene quickly and easily.
  • In the third person POV the story should stay either omniscient point of view (all knowing) or limited POV (no head jumping, all clues to other character’s motives are through their actions and dialogue).
  • If the writer does change, the switch should be seamless and natural. If it’s jarring, that is something that should be noted.  


2001 Tina Morgan Fiction Factor