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Critiquing Guidelines & Etiquette | From Rubbish to Publish


ABOVE ALL THINGS REMEMBER that critiquers are to help one another in this very frustrating world of writing.  We are here to point out errors that have been overlooked, note inconsistencies, pick out potential problems, and offer suggestions that will help one another.  We are here to share the triumphs and bear the tears of other writers.  We are a support group–not an unfeeling group only coldly looking at each other’s work.  AND REMEMBER that, no matter what anyone else has suggested or pointed out, the story belongs to the writer.  The writer alone should review all that was shown her and weigh each comment against her own inner voice.  Then, the writer chooses to either accept or reject as appropriate.


  • Sandwich criticisms:  positive, negative, positive–Remember that it is easier to swallow criticisms when you also receive an occasional pat on the back.  Surely everything a writer does isn’t bad.  Let that writer know when she has done a good job with a line, a paragraph, a scene, a chapter, etc.
  • If you are remarking on something that is a personal prejudice, tell the writer that.
  • When you find something that doesn’t make sense, point it out and explain why it doesn’t–in your opinion.  Then offer a suggestion.
  • Don’t try to make the other person write just like you, be conscious of her right to her own style and beliefs about what is right for her story.
  • Show tact and diplomacy, but do point out errors, inconsistencies, etc.  But don’t tromp on someone’s work so hard that she won’t be able to survive the critiquing.



  • Hook–Is there a grabber in the first line, sentence, paragraph, or page?
  • Beginning Point–Does the story start in the right place?
  • Backstory–Is there too much background given too soon?
  • Character(s)–Is at least one main person identified and described?
  • Character(s)–Is sufficient motivation shown?
  • Character(s)–Is the main person interesting or sympathetic, likable?
  • Plot–Is it unique, or have a different twist?
  • Plot–Is the critical situation laid out?
  • Conflicts–Are the internal and external conflicts identified?
  • Dialogue–Does it read naturally and move the story forward?
  • Setting–Is the setting and time frame identified?
  • Tone–Is the tone set early and clear to the reader?


  • Clear images–Do they come alive via clothing, physical and personality traits?
  • Individualized–Is there a contrast between the various characters?
  • Likability–Are they likable enough to make the reader want to read about them?
  • Motivation–Are their goals and motivation established?
  • Well-developed–Are they described by action, dialogue and narrative?
  • Consistent–Are their habits, dialect, and actions consistent and appropriate?
  • History–Is their background information woven by bits and pieces into the story?
  • Growth–Do the main characters continually grow as they struggle with the conflicts?
  • Number of–Are there too many characters for the genre?
  • Secondary Characters–Do the secondary characters take over the story?


  • POV–Is each scene or chapter viewed from one specific POV?
  • POV–Is there author intrusion, the author telling something rather than a character?
  • Viewpoint Changes–Are they smooth and appropriate?
  • Tags–Are excessive tags used?
  • Movement–Does the dialogue move the story forward?
  • Balance–Is there a good balance of dialogue and narrative?
  • Natural–Does it sound natural, conversational–not stilted?
  • Dialect/Colloquialisms–Is it not overused and distracting?  Is it consistent?
  • Slang–If used, is it correct for the time period?


  • Descriptions–Are they fully described by: visuals, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches?


  • Believable–Will the reader accept the plot as believable?
  • Justifications–Are there at least three reasons for each scene being included?
  • Details–Are the descriptive details and history accurate for the time period?
  • Triteness–Are there trite, clichéd situations?
  • Movement–Do all scenes move the plot forward?  Is it well paced?
  • Action–Does the action escalate?  Are the action scenes confusing?
  • Breathers–Are fast-paced scenes followed by slower-moving ones?
  • Hook–Do the scenes/ chapters end with something to make the reader turn the page?


  • Goals–Are they crystallized and polarized with the couple on opposing sides?
  • Obstacles–Do they continually get more serious, leading to the black moment?
  • Need–Does the need to overcome the obstacles continually grow?
  • Pressure–Does it continually get more intense as story progresses to black moment?
  • Relationship–Does the emotional relationship develop believably?
  • Sexual Tension–Does the attraction continually grow despite the denials/obstacles?
  • Black Moment–Is there a big, central conflict that peaks and seems unsolvable?


  • Loose Ends–Are all the loose ends tied up?
  • External Conflicts–Are the external conflicts resolved or compromised first?
  • Internal Conflicts–Is the internal or conflict of relationship resolved last?
  • Ending–Is the ending satisfactory?


  • Clichés–Are there worn-out expressions or words?
  • Emotion–Is there emotion shown on every page
  • Flashbacks–Do they reveal essential information to understanding the characters?
  • Foreshadowing–Are there subtle hints of something to come?
  • Grammar–Are there grammatical or punctuation errors?
  • Junk Words–Are so, just, very, rather, quite, really minimally used?
  • Metaphors–Are the comparisons mixed appropriately?
  • Passive Voice–Do the subjects perform the action rather than being acted upon?
  • Planting Information–Are important points stressed at least three times?
  • Redundancies–Are ideas or thoughts repeated needlessly?
  • Repetitions–Are there repetitions of words or phrases too close together?
  • Sentence Structure–Is there a variety of sentence structure?
  • Spelling–Are there spelling errors?
  • Transitions–Are the transitions clear?
  • Verbs–Are they strong, active?


The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.
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