A good manuscript critique offers an author valuable advice on what is and isn’t coming across in their story. A writer who self-publishes or submits to literary agents without seeking reader response to their manuscript beforehand will undoubtedly overlook details that will be obvious to others. Seeking such criticism doesn’t always need to equate to paying for the services of a professional as one can readily find critique partners online and locally. However, the keen eye of a seasoned editor will undoubtedly be more thorough.
Critiques may indeed be subjective, but not all subjectivity is created equal. My background ensures I can deliver a professional manuscript critique. This post provides a representative sample of my critiquing skills. Feel free to also see a copy edit sample of my work. In addition, I’ve posted on the necessity of critique groups as well as how to give effective draft feedback. I tend to liken a great critique to an amplification of how numerous readers will react to a text, but not necessarily be able to articulate. The more a writer can do to alleviate the questions in a reader’s mind, the more likely the story is to be received well. Granted, writing often relies on withholding detail. All details, whether withheld or on the page, should always work to move the story forward.
My author and blogger friend Jon Jefferson has graciously allowed me to critique his flash fiction story “Seventh Petal.” It originally appeared on his blog and will be part of his upcoming Wonderland Casino collection. At just two pages, the length fits perfectly to allow a complete critique here. A longer manuscript critique would require a longer overview letter from me, but for Jon’s short story I prefaced the file with this email message:
Thanks for letting me provide feedback on “Seventh Petal.” You’ve certainly picked a great setting in which to focus your murder and mayhem casino stories. While I can’t comment on how this story will relate to and shed light on other stories in the collection, this story did raise quite a few questions as a stand alone piece. Right now it reads more like a vignette (brief scene) than it does a fully-developed piece of flash fiction. It could easily be doubled or tripled in length. The scene presented shows the reader the falling action and resolution with a brief reference to the climax. I applaud your experimentation with playing on reader expectations for the typical order of events. Yet overall, so many questions remain unanswered as my comments will show. The most pressing concern is the need to make it more apparent that Anne is all in Beth’s head. It’s an interesting perspective to continue to develop. Aside from describing a murder scene, what overall impression about human beings do you want the reader to walk away with?
Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.
In many ways, a manuscript critique will play devil’s advocate and ask a ton of questions. The basics of asking who, what, when, where, why, and how should never be undervalued. Even though only two characters speak, confusion arises due to lack of speech tags. Beth also speaks in three consecutive paragraphs, when standard conventions call for starting a new paragraph when a different character speaks.
The hotel room comes across as too general. I posed questions on where additional detail could be included to help better paint the scene for the reader. There’s a big difference between a high roller suite and a seedy motel on the north end of the strip. Other revealing details could be given on types of clothing as well. A murderous lady in a bargain dress will look and act differently than one in designer duds.
The details given are a good start, but I questioned why the aftermath is the most focused on portion of the story. A reader will find it hard to make a connection when no motivation or back story are provided. A murder scene does provide a degree of entertainment, but beyond that, the context of why the murder took place is what will make a lasting impression and linger in a reader’s mind. Otherwise, it’s just another dead body.
Ultimately, it’s up to the writer to decide which advice to heed in making revisions.
What are your thoughts on the critiquing process?
Permission must be granted by JeriWB to use critique sample images in this post.
Article by Jeri Walker-Bickett aka JeriWB