Sample Critique #1
excerpt of an editor's report
TITLE: The X Game
GENRE: supernatural horror
It was a pleasure to read your novel, The X Game. The title itself evokes a sense of play and mystery—What is the X? And what kind of game is it?
In critiquing your novel, I read it first as a reader, then again as an editor. Although you will find occasional comments inserted in bubbles in the electronic manuscript, the majority of my feedback is summarized here in this critique. I will close this critique with my editorial recommendations and final words.
PLOT & STRUCTURE
This has all the elements of a classic horror story. From the beginning, the main character, a leader of a mysterious order, turns off the security system inside the manor, immediately cueing the reader that the protagonist is about to do something clandestine. There is an underground tunnel and secret doors, and rumors of frightful things inside the forest. By the end of the prologue, it’s clear from the tropes you use that this is a horror story with Gothic elements, and that from this point on, things are only going to get worse—in a delicious, thrilling way.
You wisely start in the middle of the action and propel the protagonist—and the reader—into the unknown, which we know is going to be dangerous. There are encounters—with a mysterious creature and an attack by wolves—that keep the action going and the reader reading—all good.
After Egri is rescued by Jordan (perhaps too conveniently?) and taken to the manor, he is confronted by a stranger—Marlo—who is the one who summoned him in the first place. What Egri does not know, but we readers know, is that Marlo is not a normal human being. In fact, he too is a supernatural creature, possibly a vampire. In other words, the protagonist is not really safe nor is he in an ordinary place, but rather he has entered an extraordinary world, and that as much as he wishes to turn back, it is too late.
Overall, the plot is unfolding naturally—or perhaps I should say, classically. The danger in taking this approach is that a sophisticated reader of horror is not going to find much here that is fresh and new in the way of storytelling. But if it’s an ordinary horror story that you’re hoping to provide, then I think that’s what you have here.
Egri is a transparent and expressive character who does not hesitate to act, speak, or run away (if he has to). His frank manner makes him easily knowable and perhaps, for some, relatable and even comical. In a sense, he is your average man who is put into extraordinary circumstances. It’s that tension between the ordinary and the extraordinary that keeps the reader interested. As a reader I want to know how the protagonist is going to react and cope with all that happens to him. In other words, I want to know if he is going to survive his ordeal and how he will be changed by it. Having said that, however, I noticed that there are times when Egri over-expresses verbally and physically, by shouting, talking to himself, and so on, which can have a theatrical and cartoony effect. Sometimes, subtle words and gestures can be just as effective in conveying fear, horror, and anger.
Marlo is the second major character and he is intriguing, because not only is he a vampire, but a remorseful one. That in itself makes him rise a bit above the stock vampires you see in fiction and movies. As a reader, I want to know more about him and what he has done in the past and what he hopes to do to rectify his past sins. I suggest developing this further in subsequent chapters.
POINT OF VIEW (POV)
You’ve chosen to write in third-person limited POV, starting with Egri, and then switching to Marlo's in chapter 2. I think this approach works fine, as long as it remains consistent throughout the novel.
The setting is atmospheric and effective. In the opening chapter, it’s nighttime, there is a manor, a dark forest, strong winds and rain. The important thing here is to make sure the weather is consistent. In the forest, it’s windy and rainy, but when Marlo is looking through the window, the sky is bluish and clear, with no sign of wind or rain. So, as a reader, I’m wondering if the wind and rain in the forest was an isolated event? Also, Marlo is looking out at a city skyline. This was unexpected, since the way the beginning is written, it seems we are in the remote countryside, where there are forests that go on for miles. Something to think about.
Voice is partly how characters speak as well as how the story is written. I found that the most glaring inconsistency in voice is in the leader's diction. Normally, he speaks in contemporary diction (the way most people speak today), but occasionally he switches to more formal and archaic diction, which stops me as a reader because it’s as if another voice has taken over. I have flagged these areas in the manuscript for your review.
Regarding tone, this changes depending on whose POV we are following. When it’s the leader's, the tone is one of urgency, fear, and confusion, sometimes anger. When it’s Marlo's, there’s sadness and calm, with a bit of irony too. This works fine as long as it’s consistent. What to be careful of is overstressing tone by using ALL CAPS or exclamation points. There are other, subtler ways to convey tone via gestures, physical details, metaphors, rhythm, and so on.
Above, I briefly mentioned rhythm. Rhythm involves pacing and timing. Sentences have a rhythm, as do paragraphs and scenes. There are a few instances where this isn’t working in the story and the action falls flat (see pages 44 & 52). The dread and horror of the scenes are not effectively conveyed—and horror relies heavily on timing and pacing to scare readers. So, I recommend that you rewrite those areas, keeping in mind pacing and timing—to create surprise, horror, and dread—the hallmark emotions in horror fiction.
GRAMMAR, PUNCTUATION, WORD USAGE, ETC.
I did a light copyedit with some heavy line editing, refining sentences when necessary. Wherever I had questions or saw the need for a major change, I inserted a comment bubble with my query and suggested revision.
Most of my recommendations have already been given, but to summarize here, I think what you have written is a contemporary Gothic horror story that, with some refinements, will no doubt find avid readers of genre fiction. The question you may need to ask yourself is, Do I want to give readers something new? If so, you may have to rethink the tropes and motifs you are using and reimagine this story differently, so as to surprise and satisfy the more sophisticated reader of horror fiction.
Whatever you decide, I recommend revising the manuscript, keeping in mind my comments and suggestions. After that, the next step would be to either submit this to an agent (who specializes in horror fiction) or self-publish, if that is your intention. If you decide to self-publish, I recommend having your book copyedited and proofread to ensure that your book is error-free prior to publication.
Sample Critique #2
excerpt of an editor's report
TITLE: My Hollywood
It was a pleasure to work on your book, My Hollywood. As a reader I learned a great deal about the impact of consumer culture on women and the empty feminine ideals it promotes. And I learned much about you, a writer, thinker, and woman who has been brave enough to pull all the stops and reflect on your upbringing and analyze the forces that have influenced your life. The voice you write with is smart, wisecracking, and honest; a voice that young women today can relate with. I think your book will speak to many women who struggle with the same issues you once faced [...] in the process of becoming a Hollywood desirable.
What follows is an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript and includes editorial recommendations on what and how to revise it. Be prepared to do several more rounds of revisions, with each revision bringing your book closer to perfection and the fulfillment of your vision.
The structure you have now is not consistently linear, and the links from one topic to the next are not often clear. [...] Your timeline is a bit shuffled, with a chapter of your life post-college coming before a chapter on your college years. It’s better in this instance to tell your story chronologically so as to give your book some structure and order.
Breaking up your book into three acts works fine. Starting Act I after the introductory chapter is good. And having Act II at the start of your college years is also a good choice. But I would move chapter 6 to Act II since it deals with your college years, not high school. As for Act III, consider starting it at chapter 18—which is after your stint as a script reader. The last sentence of chapter 17 rings a satisfying death knell for the end of Act II and segues nicely to chapter 18.
I also recommend creating a new chapter—between chapters 3 and 4—that focuses on [...]. I also suggest breaking up chapter 4 into two separate chapters (see page 28 of your manuscript).
Mixing memoir with analysis is tricky. It’s easy to write emotionally about oneself and to allow that emotion to carry over into the analysis. The challenge is to stay objective while at the same time write about things you feel strongly about. When there's too much subjectivity in the writing, the author loses credibility. Readers will start to distrust what the author is saying and feel like they're being manipulated to feel, think, believe what the writer so strongly feels, thinks, and believes. I can see this happening in your book. So, what’s the solution?
One trick is to write about yourself in third person, then later rewrite it in first person. By initially writing in third person, it allows you to see yourself as a character—to observe without judgment and instead with curiosity and insight. This would require hard work on your part, but it is a method that some memoirists use when writing autobiography.
If that strategy doesn’t appeal to you, just remember as you revise to write about yourself with objectivity and compassion. I know that sounds contradictory, but what I mean is, when you write about your mistakes and failings, try to do it without judgment. Let the facts speak for themselves. Or paint a scene in the reader’s mind so they can visualize your life and feel whatever naturally comes to them in response to your experience. In other words, avoid telling the reader what they should think/feel/judge about you and let them see/judge for themselves.
When it comes to your research and analysis, make sure to recheck all your quotes and paraphrases. Also, fact-check everything. I noticed that you tend to speculate and make educated guesses. These are okay some of the time, but make sure you have evidence to support them. I flag a few of these in the manuscript.
Also, I noticed that certain topics are revisited more than once. Sometimes this is okay if kept short and to a minimum. However, I noticed occasions when ideas/topics that were covered earlier in the book are discussed again and at length. I’ve flagged these areas, suggesting to either delete them or move them to an appropriate section or chapter.
Some of what I wrote in the preceding paragraph applies here as well. Your writing voice is smart, sassy, and witty, and conveys your distinct personality. However, there are times when your voice comes across as too emotional and judgmental. Also, there is liberal use of hyperboles and exaggerated language, which tends to undermine the credibility of your argument. Here are three easy tricks to tone down your writing:
1. Find all adverbs ending in –ly and delete most of them. Recast the sentence without them and see if the sentence reads calmer and clearer. Adverbs tend to exaggerate, so use them only when necessary. Examples: entirely, completely.
2. Remove extreme language in most cases. Some examples are “all,” “always,” “never,” “forever.”
3. When you come across a sentence that expresses an opinion, feeling, or judgment, ask yourself, “Is this true?” Do this for facts, as well.
You have some very fine writing in this book. And you present a persuasive argument. You also do a great job of expressing your personality through your choice of words and examples. As this is a developmental edit, not a copyedit, I did not edit the language except on occasion when I thought it would be helpful by showing you how to revise a sentence or paragraph.
I understand that early drafts are necessarily verbose and a bit messy—you’re trying to get your ideas down as quickly as possible. Now, as you revise your book, see where you can tighten up a sentence or paragraph to make what you’re saying clearer and more succinct. Ask yourself, “Is this necessary?” “How can I say this in fewer words?” Then delete, delete, delete.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS
The footnotes at the bottom seem to distract from the text. I recommend deleting all footnotes and moving them to a new section called “Notes.” Look at how Orenstein does it in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter (I’ve attached screen shots from the back of her book to my email). Your notes do not have to be as extensive as hers, but you can indicate the citation and source this way. Then after the “Notes” section, have a “Bibliography” page.
The next step is to revise. When you’ve completed a revision, I recommend having a few beta readers (people who most match your ideal reader) to read your draft and give you feedback. Then revise your book again, and if necessary, revise it one more time, then share it with an editor (myself or another editing professional) for an assessment. If your manuscript is done, meaning there is no need to revise it further, then it’s ready for a copyedit. A copyedit is a line-by-line edit to polish your writing so that it reads smoothly and professionally.