A critique is an evaluation of your story accompanied by suggestions for improvement. In some ways, it’s like an annual review with your boss or a school report card: You’re told a little about what you’re doing right, and offered some suggestions on how you could do better.

It’s a great way to tell if your story is strong, before you send it to a publisher. A good review can mean the difference between publication and rejection.

Do you want someone to read your work and tell you how to improve? Exchange reviews with another person. Not only do you get another writer’s opinion, but you improve your own skill set. By critically reviewing the work of others, you learn what works and what doesn’t, and can apply it to your own writing.

Here are ten things to keep in mind when evaluating the work of others:

1 – Hook

The hook is the first line or paragraph of the story: the opening. Is it enough to interest the reader? Is there a balance between dialogue, action and narrative to set the hook? What works or doesn’t work? How can it be improved?

2 – Character

Discuss the credibility of the characters. Are they well rounded or just two dimensional? Are they caricatures or stereotypes? Are the actions of the characters consistent? Are their motives understandable? Are the plot and the motives of the characters in sync? Provide strong examples to prove your point.

3 – Configuration

Creating a believable world is crucial. You also need to help set the mood. Discuss whether or not the setting is suitable for the story and give examples of what works and what doesn’t. Is the description of the place too much or too little? Did your mood improve? Can you visualize the scenario? Can you imagine what the characters are seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling?

4 – Stud

Does the plot make sense? Did the events occur in a logical order? Did the story start in the right place? (Maybe not, if there’s no apparent hook, or if the story feels like the author doesn’t get to the point right away.) Discuss any rough points. Did the story have a beginning, middle, and end? If in a particular genre, did it work? Is it appropriate for the chosen audience? Does the rhythm work throughout the manuscript?

5 – Theme

Not all authors write a story with an intentional theme in mind. However, one usually develops at the end of the story. When critiquing, consider if and what the story has an overt theme. If a topic comes up, does it work? Can you restore the topic in a single sentence? Is the plot of the story or plot appropriate for this topic?

6 – Conflict and Resolution

Is there enough conflict in the story to create the right tension? If not, what prevents the tension from increasing? What could be changed to increase it? Is the story resolved too easily? If so, is that a reflection of the characters or the plot?

7 – Dialogue

Is the dialogue realistic? Forward the frame? Is it obvious who is speaking? Are enough dialog attribution tags used? Are too many tags used? cross out said bookisms-dialogue attributions that are impossible (he smiled, she hissed, he sniffed) or those that explain the conversation (he demanded, she insisted, etc.).

8 – Lookout

Review the characters and their roles in the story. Are there jarring changes in character viewpoints within a scene? If a scene doesn’t work, is it possible that another character has the point of view to carry the plot forward?

9 – Grammar/Language/General Writing

This is a detailed test of grammar, language, and writing. In the manuscript, mark awkward passages, misspellings, hackneyed or overused phrases, incorrect grammar, poor transitions, etc. Point out the passive verbs and cross out the unnecessary adverbs. Look for places the author may have said more than him presented. Were there metaphors or analogies? Did they work? Was there a balance between narrative and action? Was the pattern of rewards varied? Has the author made any Freudian slips or written in some anachronism?

10 – Summary

Summarize general impressions of the manuscript. Did you like the story? Why or why not? Did it work as a whole? Did you feel cohesive? What about the title? Does it work for the story? Why or why not? Please indicate whether or not you believe the story is marketable and provide a strong reasoning for the belief, especially if you do not believe the piece is marketable. If you think it will sell, suggest one or two markets for which the manuscript may be relevant.

Even if you meet face to face to discuss the stories, always give the author a written copy of your comments. He should do the same for you. It is useful for providing detailed observation of writing and can be useful for providing a cohesive and articulate oral review.