Critiquing a First Draft


In a previous post , I mentioned that I was trying to get my first 10,000 words to my critique partner.  I ended up overwhelming her with 22,800ish words. (Remember that I have written on this for two years, so this is not really as impressive as it sounds.)  As my CP nor I have ever critiqued a first draft to a novel (Writing prompts and short stories, yes.  Novel, no.), we were trying to verbalize what results we were looking for.  We knew we didn’t want a line by line, grammatical critique.  We knew we wanted to have well-rounded characters, to have an interesting first sentence/page, and to find pace problems and plot holes.  We knew we wanted to feel captivated; we realized that honesty was better than sugar-coating things wouldn’t help in the end.

It was hard, nay, almost impossible.  So I started a list and looked to the internet for help.  Because it took me a while to combine what we wanted and to sift through Internet for help, I’m hoping this post will help out Future First-Time First Draft Writer/Critiquer.  That you can use the time it took to do this, you know, actually critiquing or writing your draft.  So here’s my list, links included:

Critique Notes

1. At what point did you put it down? If your reader went from beginning to end without halting, that’s an indicator that your first thirty pages are doing their job of introducing the situation, characters, and stakes while holding the reader’s attention. On the other hand, if your friend says that at page eight she took a break to have a root canal—well, that speaks for itself.

2. What characters did you feel the most strongly about? If your reader hates your protagonist’s opponent (a.k.a. your villain), consider reexamining that character to give her some qualities that make her at least a little sympathetic and therefore more complex. If, however, your reader doesn’t remember your protagonist’s name, closely evaluate how you can make your protagonist more intense and even larger than larger than life.

3. What parts did you skip? The answer to this question can be a real eye-opener. Although the answer will surely differ from reader to reader, what a reader decides not to read is important. By skipping a passage, your reader is telling you that that section of text didn’t establish an emotional connection. Check these skipped passages closely—they’re prime targets for rewriting or elimination.


4. Explain not only where your book can be improved, but give a few examples of how to improve it.  It should not rewrite the novel for you, but it should give you a guide so you can go back and do the dirty work.



Example 1: (Bolded text is the story.  Regular text is the Critiquer)



Critiquer: Rebecca Weston

It was a quiet night at the Other Side Bar and Grill. The usual patrons were coming and going about their business, some playing pool while others drank their miseries away. Outside, it was raining, unusual for the time of year, but it was welcomed. (I don’t feel like these opening sentences are doing much for you, to be honest. They’re too generic to be really hook-worthy.) The black pantheress sat in a booth across the room, while sipping at a drink she really didn’t want, and idly watching a pool game she wasn’t really interested in. (This is a better sentence to open with. Talking about a black pantheress sitting in a bar is more attention-grabbing as it immediately makes us go, “Wait…a what now?”) As she watched, a stranger entered the bar, tall, lean, and wearing a cloak from out of some medieval game. (“Some medieval game” isn’t sitting right with me. It feels awkward – like you don’t want to all-out describe the cloak but you don’t want to name-drop Dungeons & Dragons either. I’m wondering if you even need it.)

He went to the bar and called the bartender – a large older bear – over, a large older bear, to give him an envelope; it was plain and white, typical of anyone’s general office supplies with only one name written on it: Sabrina. The bear looked at the name then looked up to the stranger, but he was already gone, only the edge of his cloak was seen as he left. The bear shrugged then waved one of the waitresses over, murmuring to her to watch over the register while he took the envelope to its owner.

“Ree, this came for you,” said the older bear as he dropped the envelope onto the pantheress’ table. For a bear his size, he was surprisingly quiet, even in the general noise of the bar. (The “even if…” doesn’t make sense. If the bar is noisy, you’d expect moving quietly would be easy because the rest of the chatter would cover it up.) Even for his age, the old bear he (Careful not to reuse certain phrases or words or labels to often. Redundancy can make the voice choppy.) looked muscular beneath his clothes and pelt though middle age was certainly showing around his midsection. Not even his loose button up shirt with its old drink stains and faded stripe pattern, nor the tightly belted brown slacks, or the dingy apron tied around his waist could hide this simple fact of a life less active than what it used to be.

Overall, I’d say it sets a pretty good scene for the first 250 words. I’m intrigued enough by this possibility of animals-as-humans that I’d keep reading, although I’d hope to start getting a clearer picture of what was going on pretty quickly in the next few pages to avoid frustration. e.g., Are these really animals-as-humans or is it some play on words? Is everybody there one of them? Was the stranger one of them since he was never described as either animal or human?

Actually – that might be a good way to start giving us a hint is to give us a clearer description of the stranger. If you straight-up designate him as a human, that’s pretty non-invasive but gives the reader a clue as to what the setup is. I’d also suggest maybe giving us some hints about the voice and thoughts of the pantheress as she watches this little drop-off take place – assuming, of course, that she’s a POV character.

Example 2:



Critiquer: K.T. Hanna

He stepped around the body of the wailing child’s dying father. (Can you make it clear that he’s not in the same room as the infant? EG: He stepped around the body of the child’s dying father, intent on finding the baby.) The infant’s lungs expelled distress, possibly fear, though he wasn’t sure if the baby was capable of such emotion. The noise climbed in pitch, feverish and unceasing. (You can combine these last two sentences. Cut them, make more impact. Distress and fear colored the infant’s feverish cry as the volume climbed.)

House creaking in disrepair, he walked through it, following the sound. (Which sound is this? The house creaking, the baby wailing?) Smoking candles barely lit the faded wallpaper and stained carpet of the once opulent brownstone. The doors cried for grease, demanding toll, as he passed through one room and then another. (This is a round about way to say the door’s hinges need oiling. Demanding toll sounds like a stretch. He ignored the state of disrepair as he passed through each room on his way to the back of the house.)

At the back of the house, In a windowless and low ceilinged sitting room, he found her. A nurse clutched her so tight he was surprised the child could force noise from her lungs. (In a windowless, low ceilinged sitting room, he found the nurse clutching the child so tight it was surprising it made any noise at all). The woman whimpered as the door creaked open.

Taking in the scene, he paused, uncertainty halting his progress. The woman’s nurse’s distress filled the space, a mix of sweat and panic, but no tears. She watched his feet, eyes rising slowly to take him in. A floppy lace cap slid from damp brown curls, plump frame shaking when she saw the blood.

“Do you know how to quiet her?”

The nurse retreated into a distant corner. (does she scramble? If her eyes rose, then wasn’t she sitting, so retreating would be better described as scrambling, or crawling).

“I didn’t come here to kill her.” He hesitated. “Or you.”

Coming into the room he raised a hand, palm up. The nurse shook her head, mouth working but no words coming came out. She cradled the screaming child, sheltering protecting (I think in this case, protecting is the better choice) the baby with her body.

“Give her to me.” He edged closer, both arms extended. There were no weapons in his hands, though they were covered in blood. ( Depending on what this leads into, it might be better to end this section with impact. “Give her to me.” He edged closer and held out his blood drenched hands.)

Overall you’ve I can see you’re trying to provide sensory details, a nice setting for the story to start in. There are a few areas where the words are cumbersome and detract from the overall effect. One question I have is: Is the father dead or not? Does it make a difference later in the story. Because otherwise the corpse of the baby’s father would give that first line so much more impact. Still though, I’m not sure of the story’s direction, so it’s just a question.

Especially with the last line, I find the story premise intriguing. I’d just recommend going through and with every sentence asking yourself: Does this really contribute to the overall story. Good luck! It’s a promising start

**There are more of these at the website below.**

( : First Page Critique/Workshop)

**A gigantic “thank you” to all the organization, authors, and bloggers who have helped me understand the art of writing better.  I truly appreciate your time and effort, and I enjoy passing your websites along so others can partake. You guys rock with awesomeness beyond mere human comprehension! Thanks again!!!!!**


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