March 2013 - further up and further in

Thursday, March 28, 2013

How to Give a Good Critique

Thursday, March 28, 2013 33
How to Give a Good Critique
I found the Go Teen Writers blog by chance on my friend’s blogger dashboard, and I immediately fell in love with the idea. Now I’ve been following the Go Teen Writers blog for about a year, and I’m so glad I found it. GTW is amazing. It’s filled to the brim with helpful advice, all geared toward teen writers, and it’s an amazing support network.

As of this month, Go Teen Writers now has a book, titled Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Novel. The authors, Stephanie Morrill & Jill Williamson, are having a blog tour to celebrate, and I’m participating! Today I’m hosting one half of the GTW duo, Jill Williamson (on the left in the picture below). She’s here to discuss how to give a good critique. I found this article extremely helpful, and I hope you do too! Stay tuned for a giveaway at the end of this post.

How to Give a Good Critique
by Jill Williamson

One of the best ways to become a better writer is to learn how to critique the work of others. It can feel strange at first, especially when you can’t seem to find anything negative to say, but do your best. It will get easier.

Ask the author what kind of critique he wants, then do that. Don’t point out every negative thing you can. If you do all the hard work for him, he’ll never learn. Point out things once and suggest he make the change throughout the manuscript.

Here are ten tips for providing a good critique:

1. Read the chapter without marking anything. As you read, ask yourself: Am I confused? Did the beginning hook me? Is this realistic? Am I bored? Do I like the characters? Is there a problem the main character is facing? Do I feel drawn into the story?

Write down your overall thoughts at the end of the chapter. Point out positives first, then negatives. You can be honest without being cruel.

2. Go back and read the chapter again. This time make notes when thoughts come to you. Again, make positive and negative comments. Even if the story is horrible, you can always find something positive to say. We all learn a little at a time, so overwhelming someone with solid red marks isn’t necessary.

3. Consider not using a red pen. Pick a friendlier color like blue or green. If you’re using Track Changes, you can choose a color, but it never seems to show up the same on someone else’s computer.

4. Mark misspellings, grammar errors, and punctuation mistakes, but only if you’re certain you know the correct rule.

5. Word use. Does the writer use too many passive verbs (be, is, are, was, were). Advise him to use action verbs instead. Does he use vague or bland words over the more specific? Ex: “Walked fast” instead of “ran.” Note where the writer’s words stood out, good or bad. If a metaphor confused or impressed you, say so. Point out when you didn’t understand the description or when it hooked you into the story.

6. Dialogue. Does it sound realistic? Do character conversations move the plot forward? Does the author use too many said tags or action tags? Not enough? Is the punctuation correct?

7. Viewpoints. Can you understand the point of view? Are the transitions from one point of view to another smooth and clear?

8. Did the author use the proper manuscript format?

9. When you finish, edit and proofread your critique to make sure it’s clear, kind, and doesn’t contain typos.

10. Remember whose story it is. He doesn’t have to accept your advice. Be careful not to critique personal writing preferences or life beliefs. We are all different. We don’t want to critique each other to the point that we strip the personality from each other’s writing. Our unique way of saying things is part of our budding voice. So don’t squash that out of each other.

I always try to end my critiques with a statement like: “These are my opinions. Use what’s helpful and ignore the rest.”

When you give your critique back to the author, let it go. And don’t be offended if he chooses to ignore some or all of your suggestions. The point of a critique is to give your honest opinions and advice. What the writer does with that information is up to him.

Stephanie Morrill and Jill Williamson have written a combined two dozen speculative and contemporary novels for teens. They also blog obsessively at When not writing or blogging, they can be found at the teen table at writer's conferences or wherever chocolate is being given away. Come hang out with Stephanie at and Jill at


Stephanie & Jill have generously offered to give away a copy of the Go Teen Writers e-book to a blog reader!

Here are the ways you can enter:

Leave a comment on this blog post. This is mandatory.

There are also additional ways you can enter, such as following the GTW blog, liking Jill and Stephanie's FB pages, and Tweeting about the giveaway. Once you've left a comment, these entries will unlock in the Rafflecopter below.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, March 23, 2013

the story we must tell

Saturday, March 23, 2013 6
the story we must tell

I've been falling in love with writing again. Recently I realized how grateful I am for this gift, and how I feel so incredibly... privileged, I guess, to be a writer. It truly is amazing. Not everyone gets to make worlds with our fingertips. Not everyone gets to have a cast of varied friends to carry with them wherever they go. Not everyone gets to do this, and that's okay, because they have their own talents, and not everyone has to do this. But for me, I am so glad God decided to put me on this path of inkstains and starlight. I will forever be grateful, because writing is one of the best gifts I've ever been given.

Being able to order words and letters to form sentences and express my feelings has helped me cope through life in ways I never expected nor imagined. It's one of my favorite things about life--being able to clatter my fingers over the keys and disappear into another world for a little while.

I've been working on Broken Wings again, my NaNo novel, and this novel's goal seems to be to break my heart over and over again. I haven't caused characters to go through this much pain, ever, and it hurts. But it's also beautiful, in a weird sort of way. It's beautiful because the harder the story, the more beautiful the redemption is in the end. At least, that's the way I'm hoping it will be. I'm pretty sure Broken Wings has to have a beautiful ending. I've put Rane and Lynx through too much for them not to end up okay in the end.

Not only that, but I now have a fantasy series. I'm super excited because series don't really come naturally, and for years I've been wanting a fantasy story--well, saga, if you will--in which many of the characters are interconnected.

Some of you may remember my posts from 2011's NaNo about that year's novel, Silver Tears. Some of you may also remember that Broken Wings is a prequel to Silver Tears, which it is and happily will remain. Unfortunately, due to Broken Wings crashing the scene, Silver Tears is desperately in need of several rewrites and perhaps a complete overhaul, though I'm trying not to think about that.

Anyway, so we have Broken Wings and Silver Tears, which were already connected. (Yay, me!) But now that series has two more books. (Again, YAAAY!)

It happened by accident, when I happened to give Rane the same last name as my character, Captain Silverthorne. Captain Silverthorne is in By a Thread, which takes place in the same world as Broken Wings and Silver Tears, except earlier. I wasn't planning on or expecting them to have interconnected characters, but with the appearance of Rane, and the need for Rane to have a last name, Captain Silverthorne and Rane suddenly became related. (I blame Facebook and my writing friends for this. If I hadn't been creating FB profiles for my characters, like my writing buddies were doing, Rane would probably not have had a last name and this whole thing wouldn't have happened. THANK YOU, Facebook! For once you are making a difference in the world.)

So now we have By a Thread, Silver Tears, and Broken Wings, and I wish I could tell you all the ways these are gloriously connected. It's so exciting, guys. But as if that wasn't enough, Rane and Lynx had children.

Yes, that's right.

I have never, ever completely been aware of the future life of my characters after the novel's doors are shut. I know perhaps a year or two into the future, but never more than that. Until now. Broken Wings has brought so many new aspects into my writing life.

It started when I found this pin, and somehow I just knew that was Lynx and her boys. You know how something just makes sense? Well, this did. It made a lot of sense--arguably more than anything makes sense in the real world. :P

Over the past few months this inkling has grown, and Rane and Lynx have two sons: Kian, and Will. (Will's name may change; you have been warned.) The fourth book in my fantasy series will focus on a bitter and strong Kian, and war, and a wispy, willowy girl named Ivana.

It's going to be beautiful.

So I'm plugging away at Broken Wings, and By a Thread and Kian & Ivana and Silver Tears are all wedged tightly into my brain. (Three out of four books in this series focus on the various generations of Silverthorne men. My writing group, The Tea-Spitters, has dubbed this series the Silverthorne Mafia.)

I'm writing late at night, every few days, as much as I can manage, when I feel up to it. I really feel the need to finish Broken Wings, guys.

It's funny. When I started out with NaNo, I didn't have much of an attachment to Broken Wings. It just seemed like one more novel, one more group of characters to claim my affections. But over the past few months, I've grown to love it fiercely, perhaps more than I've loved other stories... but almost in a different way. It's wrapped itself around my heart and it won't let go.

I'm in love with these stories, I'm in love with these people, because it's almost like they exist and they are urging me to write their stories down. I know it sounds crazy, but hopefully there are some writers out there that understand. It's almost like these characters and these stories are bigger than me. I'm just the one who gets to tell them.

I love writing. I love writing. I love writing.

p.s. - the aforementioned writing buddies of mine and i are now blogging. check it out at Tea-Flavored Insanity.