Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Artful Critique Partner


I will assume that there are two people in this partnership, though more may apply. One is the Author (A) and one is the crit partner (C).

When A sends a chapter to C, the document should have already been run through a spell/grammar check. (F-7 in Word). Word is imperfect. It will not catch all spelling and grammar mistakes, and sometimes it's just dead wrong. However, it is the first line of defense against unprofessional work. Use it.

Do not turn on Track Changes until I tell you to. Many publishers dislike the use of Track Changes, and this layered system of critiquing will cause Track Changes to go wild. Turn it off when I tell you to, as well. You'll be doing this a lot.

A full list of words to look for is available in a separate document upon request.
(This is what a macro does for you)

I will recommend the use of Edit/Replace with highlighting a lot. Here's how to use it:

1. Choose a Highlight Color. On my toolbar, the Highlight command looks like a pen with a colored line beneath it. When I click on the arrow beside that button, I get a choice of colors. Choose one.

2. To begin checking your ms, hit Cntrl-H. This puts you in the Edit/Replace window. Type in the word you wish to find.

Let's use the word "that" for an example. In the Find What box, type: that

3. In the Replace with box, type the same. Now it gets tricky. Using your mouse, highlight the "that" in the second box. Click on the More button. Click on the Format button. Click on the Highlight button. Check to make sure the lower box (Replace with) now has the word "highlight" beneath it. This is important.

4. Now, click Replace All. If you've done this correctly, all instances of the word "that" will now be highlighted.

5. Repeat with all words you wish to check for.

6. To remove a highlight that is not needed, click on the Highlight key arrow for the dropdown menu and choose "None." Now go to the incident you don't need highlight and use your mouse to erase.

Step One: Check for Content

The first thing any C should do is read through the chapter to get an overall "feel" for the work. I encourage the use of smiley faces, smart comments, and "kill that SOB!" comments. Let A know your gut reactions. Change your font color to red and let her know how you feel.

For true effectiveness, read the chapter aloud. This forces you, the reader, to slow down and read every word. Look for places where you stutter because of awkward phrasing, have to take a breath because the sentence is too long, and spelling errors the spell check did not catch. Note them in red font.

Step Two: Mechanics- keep your font red, and comment in the text.

1. Hooks- Look at the first paragraph. Were you immediately caught up in the action/emotions of the POV character? Look at the last paragraph. Were you intrigued and left wanting to go to the next chapter?

2. Senses- did A use the five senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste) in a well-balanced manner to create a vivid picture?

3. Passive/Active- check for conjugation of "be" combined with a helping verb. (Examples: was willing, be herded.) You may use the Edit/Replace command to easily find the words: is, am, was, were, be. Then use the same Edit/Replace to find all words ending with -ing and -ed. I use yellow highlight for this. Anywhere you see yellow with yellow, you have a possible use of passive voice. Turn your font red, and type in (Passive?) when you are sure you've spotted an incident of passive voice. You are welcome to suggest an alternative phrasing, also in red font.

4. Adverbs- While adverbs can sometimes be the only answer, they are often over-used. Again, use Edit/Replace, changing the highlight to pale pink. Look for all instances of -ly. (Quietly, softly, exceptionally, entirely are some examples.) Look for the over-use of adverbs. Use the red font to suggest alternatives, especially in cases where A is "telling" instead of "showing."

5. "Wussy phrases"- Turn the highlight to light blue. Look for phrases like sometimes, sort of, kind of, almost, something. (Example: "She felt something when he kissed her. " Something? What? What did she feel? Shivers? Revulsion? Uncontrollable lust? Nausea?) Ask for clarification.

6. It and That- This is tricky. Use Edit/Replace and highlight in pink. (Example: "She felt that." What? A breeze? A cold hand?) Use red font when you see a need for more clarification or description and ask.

7. Lazy dialogue tags- Use the light green highlight and find all instances of commonly over-used and unemotional dialogue tags. (Examples: said, murmured, asked, answered.) Use red font to suggest a more emotive word like shouted, hissed, chortled, or demanded. Better still, suggest the tag be removed and a more emotive way used.


"Are you sure?" she asked.


"Are you sure?" she gasped.


She sucked in her breath, her eyes wide. "Are you sure?"

8. Now erase all highlighting. Control-A, highlight "none".

Step Three: POV

Go through the chapter again. Start with the first paragraph. Whose POV is it? Hero? Heroine? Other? If it is the hero, manually highlight in any color you choose. Continue through the scene until the POV changes. When you feel you are no longer in the original POV, change the highlight color code.


The pounding on the door forced her out of her bed. Since it was worse than the drumbeat in her skull, she vowed to murder whoever was beating on the wood like a jackhammer. She eased the door open an inch.

He lounged in the doorway, looking obscenely sexy for this hour of the morning. "You look like hell."

Cassie rubbed her aching head. "Thanks a lot. I vow never to drink tequila again."

She looked like temptation to him. He wanted to carry her back to bed and just hold her, but that wasn't the way to her heart. "I bring a peace offering." He hefted a styrofoam cup from her favorite coffee shop. POV change! Head-hopping alert.

"Leave me alone and let me die in peace." She slammed the door in his face and crawled back to bed.

Step Four: Conflict/Motivation

1. Is it clear why the characters are acting the way they are? Does this follow the previously established goals or is this a side trip into Never-Never Land? Does A give good, clear reasons for their behavior? Are they believable? Example: Hey! Why is she suddenly ready to jump his bones when she's a virgin?

2. Are the characters displaying flaws and virtues, or at least clear character traits? Are they interacting realistically? Example: Why is he acting like a certified jackass?

Step Five: Overall Comment

Give an overall comment at the bottom. Say something nice, if you must say something bad. Example: Loved the interaction between this supernatural being and the human. Made them both seem so realistic. Good job!

You'll note I did not use Track Changes. You may substitute every time I said, "change the font to red" and turn on and off Track Changes throughout, but turn it off every time you use the Edit/Replace/Highlight command. I did it the simplistic way this time. This is confusing enough.

As a final note, I suggest you discuss with your editor her personal "pet peeves" in the editing process. Some editors have a special dislike such as using conjunctions at the beginning of sentences, or passive voice. Find out what your editor's peeves are. Many editors will work with you to correct your personal bad habits. "Okay, in this book you had a problem with X. I want you to be more diligent about that habit in your next book."



Cynnara Tregarth said...

YAY!! I like this. More importantly, I have to remember to do this more often when I do my writing! *grins*

Lena Austin said...

LOL!! Now I'm in trouble.


Kate Willoughby said...

I disagree about emotive dialogue tags. "Said" is often preferred. If you use too many fancy tags, your writing can sound hackneyed. ;)

Lena Austin said...

You're certainly welcome to continue using them, Kate. There are many who will argue vehemently to keep them. Who's to say what's wrong or right?

I personally consider them lazy writing when it is possible to be more descriptive. As I said, you're certainly welcome to continue as you have.

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Thanks for popping by! Don't sit on the whipping horse unless you want to find out how it's used. I speak my mind and annoy many people, but all of it is meant in good spirit. Feel free to argue with me. I like it.

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