Are you in a place where someone needs help with their work and you haven’t a clue what to tell them?
Ask the following 10 questions of the book you’re asked to critique.
1. What were the strengths of the book? Start off with a positive! If anything else goes wrong, you at least have one or two nice things others say.
2. Who was your favorite character, why? Does it have an interesting, consistent character arc?
3. Did you think that the plot lines were plausible? Does anything sound like, “uh, no way!” If it does, then gently mention this to the author.
4. Did you think anything was missing? If you thought, I kept waiting for this to happen and it didn’t, explain to the author. Trust your instincts. If you think something’s missing, another reader may too.
5. Where you tempted to put the book down and not pick it up? Why or why not? Mark in the manuscript where you wanted to do that. Then with the author, try to figure out why. Too much description? Not enough action? Not enough conflict?
6. Did you find the setting fully described? Was their too much description? Not enough for the needs of the story?
7. Did you find the characters to be distinctive? Each character needs to be developed enough that the readers have no trouble remembering who is who. Yet, sometimes characters aren’t needed. Gently show the author the characters whose roles are redundant or dull.
8. Did you understand the goals of each of the characters? Each character should want something. Sometimes what they say they want and what they really want are two different things. If the author hasn’t made this clear, point this out. This is a big deal if they get it wrong.
9. Did you “see it coming” or were you surprised by the progress of the story? The more surprised you are, the better. Make sure the author knows this.
10. Do you wish that other things had happened to the characters that didn’t? I had a reader once who told me that she thought my poor main character went through far too many conflicts and I should ease up on her a bit. I respectfully disagreed. The variety of conflicts made the story a good one. What do you think of the conflicts the characters faced? Too much? Too little?
Good writers, or at least writers who want to be the best that they can be, use beta readers’, critique partners’ or writers’ groups’ opinions to iron out the story’s wrinkles, find out what’s missing and see what the writer doesn’t see. With these questions, you can be equipped to help the next author who asks for help. Need a beta reader? What to become one? The 10 Minute Novelist Facebook group has Buddy Day every Tuesday just for this reason!