Below are some categories and criteria for engaging in critique of novel-length fiction. This will help guide your writer's group and make the critique more focused and less arbitrary.
Premise and Plot
- Does the premise or story concept sound high concept? Original? If so, why? Defend your conclusion. What makes it unique when compared to published novels or nonfiction in the genre? You must effectively argue this case for or against. If against, present examples why it might not be sufficiently original to capture the interest of an agent or publisher.
- Are you able to discern the primary source of dramatic tension and complication that creates the major plot line(s)? Can you or the writer create a conflict statement for the novel that demonstrates, for example:
The Hand of Fatima
A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.
After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.
The Bartimaeus Trilogy
As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinni who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.
- Is the first major plot point that changes the course of action and begins the second act of this novel clearly defined? Can you state it? Keep in mind that the first major plot point begins the plot line noted above, i.e., the rising action of the story as a whole.
- Insofar as you know, does the story as presented to you display the mandatory tropes of the genre? If so, how? Be inclusive with your response. Demonstrate knowledge of your genre and its tropes. Does the author do anything to present or frame the tropes in a unique manner?
- Does the novel possess a setting and/or unique world that works to high-concept the novel, or at least make the story much more interesting and unique? If so, what features of this setting do you find unique or valuable to the story when compared to others? Do specific circumstances or characters evolve from the setting that make it valuable? If so, what or who are they?
- What novel(s) published in the last few years does this story most closely compare to? Why? This must be supportable with specifics and not general statements. Does it compare favorably? Is it sufficiently unique despite the comparison? If so, why?
- Why is this story, as presented, one that publishers will buy? To put it more simply, why is this story one that readers will pay to read? Respond to this with clarity and detail.
Narrative, Scenes and Style
How does the story read? Each one of the following bullet points must be addressed.
- Is the prose itself completely free of errors and ambiguity? Does the writer say more with less or is she/he wordy? Are the verbs sufficiently active or too much variation of "to be"? Also, is the writer good at description? Not sure? Ask them to provide examples of description of objects, events and people.
- Is the reader oriented spatially or do characters feel disembodied? If this narrative were film, would it make sense?
- Is the narrative sufficiently engaging? If yes, what makes it engaging? If no, what should be done to make it engaging? Be specific.
- Does the narrative include, as a whole, the three primary levels of conflict, i.e., internal, social, and plot related? If so, list them one at a time, and their context. If not, what should be done to include them?
- Are the scenes set properly? Do they have a defined beginning, middle and end? Do we get a clear concept of who/what/where, etc?
- Does the prose itself evidence mastery of the form given the demands of the genre? If so, how? If not, why? What can be done to improve it?
- Does the narrative present situations, issues, circumstances, characters or plots that seem too predictable or stale from overuse? Or would you term the narrative more unpredictable and original, insofar as possible given the demands of the genre?
- If more than one point of view, does the writer juggle the multiple POVs with skill? If so, how? If not, why not? Ask for more narrative samples as necessary.
The main thing here is to focus on the manner in which the characters reveal themselves in the course of the narrative, via dialogue and action.
- Do they feel real or simply two dimensional?
- Do we observe them at their best or worst in the course of performing an action?
- Is the author using show-don't-tell techniques to portray them or simply delivering exposition?
- Do you feel any sympathy or empathy towards them?
- Is there anything unique about them or do they feel overly stereotypical?