Critiquing for Maximum Benefit and Minimum Hurt Feelings–part 5 of 7, PLOTTING AND PLANNING

Oh, we’re comin’ around the bend, race fans.

googy bend
yes, i made this.

Today’s installment of our series on critiquing considers the actual story. Here’s your handy-dandy…


  • Problem–Can you define, clearly, what it is? When you read a manuscript, ask “What does the main character want?” If you don’t know, that’s a bad sign. Once you can identify the main problem, does it make sense? Is it believable? Is it substantial enough to care about? (Bearing in mind that a broken toy is a frickin’ DISASTER to a three-year-old, but not so much for a twelve-year-old.)
  • Conflict/Tension–Can you feel the tension that the problem (conflict) brings from the get-go? Does it build throughout the story? Things should not come easily to the hero, we should see him/her try and fail numerous times before the climax, each failure upping the tension. Amazingly, this is true for picture books as well as novels. And here’s what makes a good story, great: the main character should have both an inner and an outer conflict. Which of course, must somehow be related. (EX: Timmy and his little sister are playing in the back yard when a cat wanders in. Timmy is deathly afraid of cats, but he must protect his little sister.)
  • Subplots–Each subplot must be related to the main plot, make sense, and be interesting. While each character has his/her own needs and desires, the reader only needs to know about them if it somehow enhances the telling of the main story.
  • Flashbacks–The general rule of thumb is No Flashbacks In The First Third of the Story. Is the flashback necessary? Does it show something that could be tossed off in one sentence, or even worse, is it a scene that should be shown in real time? Flashbacks slow down the action, make sure that the tradeoff is rising tension.
  • Resolution–Does the ending make sense? Most of all, was it satisfying? Was it worth the journey? Are all loose ends tied up–including any subplots? Some stories end with a lingering question–which is okay, if it allows a reader to come to his/her own conclusion. But make sure the reader doesn’t feel cheated.

I surely appreciate all you people hanging in there. Next time: START AT THE BEGINNING AND QUIT AT THE END.

Part One of Critique Series.

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? We want to hear them!

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