Sunday, August 21, 2016

Concept to Completion: Critique Partners

You know what you MEAN when you write. You know the pacing that the reader is SUPPOSED to use. You know the RHYTHM of the rhyme.

But is it obvious to the reader if you aren’t there to explain? Are you so close to your work that you didn’t notice a missing word? Did your point get across?  Are you ready to submit? HOW DO YOU KNOW?!?!

Critique Partners.

Good critique partners are worth their weight in chocolate.

Most writers are too close to their work. It is just a fact and we need to be real with ourselves. Others will judge the book, for better or worse, when we submit it to an agent or editor. So wouldn’t we want to know up front what people think? What we need to improve?

Phase One: Critique yourself. Try to go line by line and look at it from an outsider’s perspective. (Not easy! Takes practice!)

A trick I use is to read the picture book manuscript backwards so you are focusing on sentences individually. This prevents you from going autopilot through the story you’ve read 7,982 times.

Phase Two: Text to Speech. Most all computers have a text to speech capability. A trick if you don’t have it in Word is to copy and paste it into Excel. The computerized voice that is stilted and staccato reads much like a child would. It also may catch errors that spell check missed. You may have written loose when you meant lose. Spell check won’t save you there. But that computerized voice will shock you when you say, “That’s not what I meant.”

Phase Three: Other people. This is where the big fixes happen. They will help you with a number of things.

Big Picture Items:

Is your character’s motivation strong and apparent?

Is your story arc complete? Picture books still need a beginning, middle, and end in most cases.

Is the MC relatable to a child and do they react in childlike ways or is our adult brain seeping into the story?

Super Necessary Things:

Word chopping – Most contemporary picture books must be below 1,000 words and the sweet spot, currently, is less than 500.

Does it leave room for the illustrator? Do you really need to mention their hair color or their shoes? It better be a part of story arc if you did.

Is your word choice active or passive?

What energy is your picture book conveying? Is it loud and humorous or quiet and contemplative?

Smaller Things:

Line edits.

Word choice like ‘a’ vs. ‘the’.

Any word choices or clusters that make it difficult to read aloud or cause your reader to stumble. Read-Aloudablility is necessary for a good picture book. Ask any librarian.


Being a good critique partner yourself:

Some people like the ‘sandwich’ technique.

Bread –  Say what you like. (Positive)

Meat/Cheese/Veggies – The items that need work and will make your manuscript stronger and healthier. (Not negative per se, but the stuff that is harder to hear.)

Bread – Say more of what works and what you like. (Positive)

I personally like club sandwiches, so throw some of that bread in the middle too. Just sayin’.


Your job as a critique partner is to help others find weak spots in their structure, build on solid foundations, and polish a beautiful and strong story. An added bonus, when critiquing other’s work, is you may notice areas that you need to work on too. This will help you when critiquing your own work and will make you a stronger writer.

It may take a few tries to find a group or partners that are a good fit. If you write in rhyme, find other poets. If you lead a super busy lifestyle, find an online group that has more flexibility. Do you need accountability? Find a local group that you have to look in the eye every week or every month. Go find your people.

Happy writing and happy critiquing!




  1. Awesome post! I'm a club sandwich critiquer myself. :D

  2. Awesome post! I'm a club sandwich critiquer myself. :D

  3. Thanks Tracy! Club sandwiches are the best :-)