Critiquing for Maximum Benefit and Minimum Hurt Feelings–part 3 of 7, BONES, BONES WE DIG FOR BONES

Okay. By now you’ve taken advantage of the Sub It Club Critique Partner Matchup.

MATCHSo it’s time to continue our journey toward Critiquing Greatness by looking at another important feature of a manuscript: the bones, or structure.


  • Does the story start in the right place? All manuscripts, whether picture books, early chapter or YA should begin with ‘the day that is different’. You may have heard of authors who write their first draft, then go back and throw out the first three chapters. That’s why. (In addition, many editors/agents don’t like a book that opens with dialogue. Just sayin’–think twice. Make sure it works.)
  • Look for a beginning, middle and end. Even for chapters. Even for picture books. There has to be a reason for each page to exist. (If you lose a sense of momentum, this might be the reason why.)
  • Is the progression linear? Flashbacky? Alternate? Does it feel like the story is spooling out appropriately or are you confused by the switching timeline? (Another hint: don’t start with a flashback. Peeps hate starting with a flashback. General rule of thumb: no flashback in the first quarter to third of the manuscript. Also, most agent/editors despise a prologue. If you’ve got one, it better be a true enhancement to the plot and not just a sneaky way to get in a little backstory.)
  • Does the main character solve the problem too easily? Does the main character actually solve the problem?
  • Check the ratio of setting description to narrative to dialogue. Too much of any of these makes the story drag.
  • See if the story is balanced–does the writer spend too much time leading up to the climax? Does the climax take too long? Does the ending tie up too many or too few loose ends?

Good structure makes it easier for the reader to actually, you know, READ. And get lost in your story.

oh please, not like that.
oh please, not like that.

Part one of series

Part two of series

Next time: What a Character

8 thoughts on “Critiquing for Maximum Benefit and Minimum Hurt Feelings–part 3 of 7, BONES, BONES WE DIG FOR BONES

Add yours

  1. Lisha, I’m enjoying this series. I think it’s very hard to find a few good matches–even if you are a good CP. It’s a really hard job to do it well, especially for a complete MS.

    I noticed a comment on you site that you write for boys, in a way that girls would enjoy. That’s what I’m currently working on. Any tips? I’ve read Chris Crutcher most recently based on someone’s suggestion, for that quality. I’m curious what you feel makes that come alive in your own writing.


  2. I am forming my first critique group. There will be 6 of us meeting for the first time soon. My main question is…if we are all “newbies” or non agented, non published writers, how do we know if the advice we are giving is good? I feel like we would be “the blind leading the blind”.


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