Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Part Two of the Submission Dynamic Duo - The Synopsis

Last week, I outlined query letters. This week, I will provide advice on part two of the Dynamic Duo that makes up a submission package:

the Synopsis

The synopsis is a summary of the entire novel. It is always written in third person present tense. Usually, the maximum length is two pages, double spaced (though mine is 1.5 spaced) with your contact information at the top.

As I suggested last week, do an online search and you will find many examples of novel synopses. This one is straightforward.

The synopsis should contain five pieces of information:

- an introduction to of each of the main characters
- the novels that your novel is similar to
- a sense of the voice of the novel
- what happens at the beginning, middle, and end including major plot points
- a strong concluding statement to leave them wanting more

Note: All of the examples in this post are from the synopsis of my as-yet-unsold novel, "Flight."

Introduction of Main Characters

The first time each main character is mentioned, the full name appears in BOLD CAPS. After that, you can refer to the character by first name only, and it does not need to appear in bold. With each intro, say something brief but important about the character.

KYLE STANLEY is a teenager recovering from a car crash. When Kyle discovers...

Similar Novels

Just like in the cover letter, you should provide examples of comparison novels in your synopsis to give the prospective editor or agent a sense that you've done your homework and you know where your novel fits in terms of marketing, readership, and tone.

Flight follows a tradition of Young Adult novels such as Uglies by Scott Westerfeld and Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel.

The Voice

In my synopsis, I provide a one-sentence quote from "Flight" that generates excitement and gives a sense of the novel.

The smell of decay hangs in the space, misted by the other young gnardors to display their shame. The only child of Elder Roquen has failed his kindness challenge.

The sentence should grab the reader, and is usually the same sentence, if not very similar, to the "hook" sentence at the beginning of the query letter.

Beginning, Major Plot Points, End

The synopsis is the classic example of the worst spoiler of all time. You're providing a sense of your entire novel in a short amount of space. The agent or editor wants to know it all, and quickly, to decide whether or not they will invest time in reading the novel for serious consideration.

Make sure you include:
- How the novel opens
- Each important plot point
- What happens at the end

I will not give away all of the details from my book, especially since I haven't sold it yet, but here's a section from the middle of the synopsis:

Immobile from his injuries, Kyle lies frustrated in bed, yearning for a chance to visit Anna when Kixur hurtles in his mind. Kyle learns about the gnardor, his world, and the realms where memories and thoughts exist beyond physical form.

Leave Them Wanting More

At the end of the synopsis, write a concluding sentence that resonates with the prospective editor/agent to encourage them to contact you. I'm unsure as to whether mine works (maybe that's why I haven't sold this novel yet?) but I will include it here as an example of one way to go.

Many Young Adult novels are aimed at young women via female protagonists. Flight will appeal to young men searching for a heroic story that speaks to their sense of invincibility and their desire to exert authority over not only their lives but every soul in the universe.

So put that synopsis together and send it out. Because no one will ever read your book if it only lives on your hard drive and not out there in the real world.

Do it now
Perform a search on examples of the synopsis. Use their suggestions to write a draft of your resonating-last sentence.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Part One of the Submission Dynamic Duo - The Query Letter

Last week, I outlined ten reasons why I hate submitting novels. This week, I will provide advice on part one of the Dynamic Duo that makes up a submission package:

the Query Letter

The query letter is your introduction to either a publisher or an agent. The letter should contain four pieces of information:

- what your novel is about
- the novels that your novel is similar to
- what makes your novel so incredibly awesome
- who you are as a writer

The agent or editor wants to know what type of novel you are shopping. Is it a comedy, tragedy, romance, hard science fiction or urban fantasy? Which age group of readers will buy your book? How is it unique and how does it fit into the marketplace to attract buyers? Also, are you a writer who is in the business as a career, or is this possibly the one and only book you will ever write?

These questions are always front of mind for agents and editors. Every query letter that they receive will attempt to answer these questions. You don't want your letter to be so boring and so matter-of-fact that they won't remember it the moment they move on to the next one.

Your letter needs to grab them!

Your letter needs to make them desperate to buy your book or represent you.

Most of all, you want your query letter to linger in their minds and resonate with them long after they set it aside to read the next one in the pile.

To make your query letter stand out, it should contain several crucial elements:
- a hook i.e. a catchy opening
- a sense of the voice of the novel
- genre and/or novel comparisons
- a brief biography

The hook should grab them, contain some irony, and make them sit up and take notice. Yes, they will think, this novel sounds so amazing that I can't help but buy it.

I was going to list a series of good examples of query letters, but there are so many online I didn't know where to begin.

Use a search engine and you will find plenty of good ones.

The next couple of paragraphs should give a summary of the plot similar to what would appear on the back cover of the novel. The most important thing to remember for this section is to write the summary in the voice of the novel. You are selling the voice just as much as you are selling the plot itself, so focus some solid effort in this section of the query.

Most publishers and agents will also be looking for examples that compare your novel to other novels with similar styles or plots. Sometimes in this section, you should also include the word count of the completed novel.

Examples of Comparisons:

My novel, "Stress Invaders" reads like Star Wars meets Zen and the Power of Meditation.

My trilogy of novels, "The Romance of the Alien Nascar Drivers" are a series of romance-thrillers with romantic entanglements similar to those in the Twilight novels by Stephenie Meyer and the aliens in Illegal Alien by Robert J. Sawyer.

Okay, I was aiming for over-the-top and somewhat ridiculous examples but I hope that you get the idea.

In the last paragraph, try to sell yourself. Mention previous publishing credits only if you have any. Mention any awards you've won (The Aurora, The Nebula, The Hugo, etc.) or any organizations you belong to. (SF Canada, SFWA, HWA, etc.)

You might also want to include relevant work experience but ONLY if it is RELEVANT. If you've written a book about Nascar racing, mention that you've won several Nascar races, that sort of thing.

Watch for next week's post on writing a synopsis.

Do it now
Perform a search on examples of query letters. Use their suggestions to write a draft of your hook sentence.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Numbers are In!

After twenty-four hours of writing at Casa Church, the participating Stop-Watch Gang members' word counts are below.

Costi - 10,203 new words on a novel
Ian - 15,900 words edited on a novel, some of which were new
Mike - 4,850 new words on a short story (he had to leave 3 hours early)
Richard - 7,000 new words on one short story and part of another
Suzanne - 8,425 (mostly on a new short story, and over 1K on TMS novel)
Tony - 8,020 new words on a novelette

Those not participating at Casa Church will post their results later. (we hope)

Definitely a successful writing weekend!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Writing Weekend Prompts

Instead of our usual monthly critique session meeting, this month the members of the Stop-Watch Gang are participating in a writing weekend.

To motivate those who might be inspired by writing prompts, I sent along the list below. I was inspired by the letter "W". For all of you writers out there who might wish to spend the weekend writing, feel free to use these prompts.

Using the five senses…
Taste – wasabi, watermelon, waffles
Touch – wool, water, wicker
Smell – wildfire, waste, war
Sight – wilderness, winner, wrench
Sound – waves, wheeze, wreck

Using Words…

A quote by Virginia Woolf: “If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”
(In other words, speak your truth, fellow writers, and write about what you know.)

A quote by William Wordsworth: “Fear is a cloak which old men huddle about their love, as if to keep it warm.”

A quote by H.G. Wells: “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”

Using visual prompts, follow the links below…

“Wolf Moon” by Andrew Wyeth

“The Wall” by Brett Whitely

“Wild Raspberries” by Andy Warhol

Using auditory prompts, follow the links below…

The song “Waste” by the band Staind

The song “We Don’t Have to Look Back Now” by Puddle of Mudd

The song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles

The song “Wild Wild West” by Will Smith

Feel free to post your word counts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Harry Harrison - March 12, 1925 - August 15, 2012

Science Fiction has lost another Grand Master.  Harry Harrison died at the age of 87. For those who don’t know who he was, Harry Harrison created the Stainless Steel Rat series, Bill the Galactic Hero, and that Charlton Heston movie “Soylent Green,” was based on his novel, “Make Room! Make Room!”

I met, or rather saw Harry Harrison once when the World Con was last held in Toronto.  He was a panelist and getting ready to sit when an older gentlemen came up to the Grand Master, smiling and started talking in German.  Mr. Harrison returned the smile, shook the man’s hand and said, “Yes, of course, I remember you.”

The rest of the conversation was essentially nods and some broken English. Coming from a European heritage, I’m very familiar with such conversations, and this one stuck in my head over the years because it could have gone a very different way.  I’ve seen rude brush offs, uncomfortable silences, and comical attempts to communicate using sign language or just speaking loud and slow.

There was none of this.  The two men seemed to have a kind of fannish bond and it wasn’t so much that Mr. Harrison politely waited until the German fellow took his seat, but that he enjoyed that brief time being in each other’s presence.

I’m probably reading too much into it, but it was one of those moments you only get at a World Con, and one I will always remember.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ten Reasons Why I Hate Novel Submissions

I promised to write about the novel submission process quite some time ago.

Ironic, right?

If you're wondering how that statement could possibly be ironic, I offer for you, the first reason why I hate the process of submitting novels.

10. The steps are mind-numbingly slow.

If you submit an unagented, unsolicited manuscript to a publisher, expect to wait at least a year before you hear a word back.

A few publishers still accept unagented, unsolicited submissions. That means, you don't require an agent to send the novel for you (unagented), and you don't need the prospective publisher to show an interest in your query before you send them the novel (unsolicited).

This process is sometimes called an over-the-transom submission. Imagine arriving at the publisher's office after hours, you stand on your tip-toes, and you stuff your manuscript through the open transom above their office door. Totally 1950's right?

Unfortunately, most publishers stopped allowing this sort of submission on or about the 1950s. Thus, you should seriously consider acquiring an agent.

Agents can substantially speed up the submission time-line, but finding one has its own issues.

9. A sizeable portion of agents will never respond to your query.

Sounds harsh, right?

That's why it's my reason number 9.

Don't get me wrong I understand why the agents don't respond. They are very busy. They get thousands of proposals every day/week/whatever, many of which are terrible/boring/not what they're looking for. They don't have the time to respond to every single query.

Still, after I've put all of the effort into writing the novel, editing the novel, begging feedback, editing some more, writing the perfect query, and perfecting the synopsis, it's a drag to simply never hear a word back. It's like the silent treatment your mother gave you when you were six and about to be grounded for breaking her favourite vase but first you have to admit your guilt.

8. Not all agents are above board.

Before you submit to an agent or a publisher, visit the website Preditors and Editors. The site includes a comprehensive list of agents and book publishers (among other important resources) and provides information as to whether said agents and publishers are likely to help you or rob you blind (and the levels in between).

I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to do your research before you submit your work.

7. Choosing the right agent is as important and difficult as choosing the right spouse.

This one's a biggie for me, because I've been through a divorce. No matter how "amicable" the separation, this type of break-up can be emotionally crushing and financially devastating.

In many cases, your agent will be representing you for a long time. They will need to be behind each project, working for foreign rights, film rights, going to bat for you time and again. They need to "get" you and "get" your writing and if they don't, then you're likely to be very disappointed with the relationship.

On the plus side, the agent only makes money when you make money, so they have a vested interest in making sure that you sell your work.

Research again plays a key role here. Make sure you meet with the prospective agent (or at least speak with them on the phone, but in-person is better) before you sign a contract. And be prepared to back away if the relationship doesn't feel right, even if it means going back to the ugly prospect of square one.

6. Writing a query letter is really difficult.

Now we're getting into the meat and potatoes of novel submissions.

The query letter should grab the reader, provide a sense of the "voice" of the novel, outline the genre and/or similar published novels, and provide a brief biography.

Sounds easy, right?

Did I mention you need to accomplish all of these elements in less than one page? And that's including room at the top of the letter for your info/address, their info/address, the date, and the opening and closing salutations. (The query is a business letter, after all.)

Most writers despise composing query letters. Because you're essentially distilling 80 to 100 thousand words into about 150 words.


But the query is a crucial part of the process, so you must endure it, like a rite of passage. (Or write of passage, if you're looking to be punishingly clever.)

I will explain the query letter in more detail next week.

5. Writing a synopsis is really difficult.

The synopsis is the Readers' Digest version of your novel.

A synopsis is NOT a cover blurb. (That's the one or two paragraphs at the back of the paperback, or on the inner sleeve of the hardback, providing a teaser of the plot.)

A cover blurb does not contain ANY SPOILERS.

A synopsis is the ULTIMATE SPOILER.

In your synopsis, you must introduce the most important characters, point out the major plot points, and explain the ending. Often a synopsis will also include comparative novels from a marketing perspective.

Again, it sounds easy, right?

Did I mention you need to accomplish all of these elements in two pages? (Some publishers will allow up to ten, but that's rare.)

I will explain the many rules and style-related expectations for a synopsis in greater detail in next week's post. Suffice it to say, writing them is a real pain.

4. There are a finite number of publishers.

In any genre, a finite number of "major" publishers exist. Add to that a handful of "small" publishers, and you might have fifteen (or so) possible places to send your novel.

And then you're done.

That last phrase scares the crap out of me. Because, let's face it, I've spent YEARS on my novel and the thought that I could exhaust every avenue makes me want to weep.

What then? What will I do? Where will I go? (Sounds very Scarlett O'Hara, doesn't it?)

Hence the reason I dread this aspect of the novel submission process. Because a part of me is terrified that I will, in fact, run out of places to send out my novel, and no one will ever like me, or buy anything I write, or--


Whew! I needed that.

Of course, there's always self-publishing either in print or e-format, but I don't have room to discuss those issues in this post.

Shall we move on to the top three? Bronze, silver, and gold in honour of the Olympics that just finished?

3. Every time I'm sure the novel is ready to shop around, I receive feedback that suggests the novel requires a MAJOR rewrite.

Man, I hate this one. Because a critic lives inside every writer and that critic is always ready to tell us that the words are terrible and we should edit them just one more time.

Only once more. I swear.

But we don't stop. We never stop. Many writers will spend years, decades even, rewriting and reworking the same novel over and over again and never submit it anywhere, because they are afraid.

Every writer is afraid, but they submit anyway.

So pull up your socks, lock your internal critic in a closet and throw away the key. (Or maybe put it in your sock drawer so you can find it quickly, just in case you need to ask the critic a quick question.) Then submit the novel.

2. That agent/editor seemed really keen when I pitched to them, so I should wait to hear back because they object to simultaneous submissions.

I universally despise this one, too, because the temptation is like candy or chocolate. (Or crack, but I run a positive ship here, and I do not condone drug use, so don't misquote me, please.)

Maybe you did have an awesome pitch session, and you did submit a partial or full manuscript, and you haven't heard back yet. Do not wait!

I will repeat this message.

Do not wait!

Work on something else. Either on a new novel, or a short story, or submit to other places. Or go to a writers' group meeting, or whatever it takes to get your mind off the hope-filled waiting!

I have been burned far too many times by this reason. I wait and I hope and then the rejection comes and I kick myself for NOT sending the novel elsewhere, or NOT working my heart out on another project.

Save yourself the butt-kicking and self-loathing and keep working.

Ready to go for the gold? To learn the number one reason why I hate novel submissions? Because...

1. Rejection sucks.


Really. Really.

Years ago, when I did submit my first over-the-transom novel to a major publisher, I kept myself busy. I worked on other writing -- short stories and other novels -- and lived my life without too much concern for the submission.

Just for clarity, I'm not Catholic, but sometimes I give up something for Lent, simply because I believe that those of us who live in first world nations can do without for 40 days, simply to remember that it's okay to experience want.

So while my first novel was sitting in some queue at an unnamed major publisher, (Okay, it was TOR, I aimed high), I gave up chocolate for Lent.

Oh, you know where this is going.

Yep, I received my first novel rejection on the first novel I ever submitted to a major publisher, during Lent when I gave up chocolate.

Rejection SUCKS!

I believe that the lesson to be learned here is if you're planning on making writing your career and you plan on submitting novels then never give up chocolate for Lent or any other reason (unless you're diabetic, but I hear they make really good sugar-free chocolate these days) (or unless the caffeine gives you migraines, but I hear they make really good migraine medicine these days).

You get the idea. Chocolate is an important tool in the writer's toolbox.

Do it now
1. Raise your left hand, place your right over your heart, (or is it the other way around?) and repeat after me:

Rejection sucks, but acceptance rocks!

2. Buy chocolate.

3. Research three agents that you've always wanted in your corner, including checking their reputation on Preditors and Editors and ensuring that they represent your specific genre/market.

4. Repeat step 3 for three publishers.

5. Buy more chocolate.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

And the award goes to...

I am very honoured and elated to announce that my short story, "The Needle's Eye" won the Aurora Award in the Short Fiction English Publications category.

Check the Aurora website for the full list of winners.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Critiques - Part Two - The Stop-Watch is Your Friend

Last week, I outlined my personal checklist of "what" areas to consider when you provide a critique (aka crit) of someone else's fiction. This week I will discuss the "how" of sharing said crit. For those of you who may be wondering why our writing group is called The Stop-Watch Gang, read on...

Most writers receive their feedback through formal writers' groups. Read my post on Writers' Groups for more information on why joining a group is a great idea.

I provide crits for writers all over this lovely planet we call Earth. Suffice it to say, I can't always discuss the details in person. Fortunately, we live in an era where tools like Track Changes in Word and messenger services like Skype and BlackBerry Messenger can closely emulate the e-crit experience so that it mimics that of the face-to-face crit experience.

The advantages of e-crits:
- exposure to a myriad of different writing styles
- a variety of professional connections in alternate demographic markets
- shorter time commitment
- no limit to the number of participants

The disadvantages of e-crits:
- inferior opportunities for rebuttals and plot noodling
- loss of the "social" aspect
- real possibility of misinterpretation
- spending too much time on crits and not enough on writing

Try to be as clear as possible with your written comments. Vague notes can lead to misinterpretations and in-fighting.

Read my previous post for more information on Plot Noodling. For ideas on where to meet new writers, read my previous post on Conventions.

Budget your writing time carefully. Do not get involved in so many crit groups that you're spending all of your writing time reading and doing crits of other people's work instead of meeting your own word count goals.

Looking for a more personal crit experience? Join a writers' group that meets regularly (once a month, one a week, whatever works for your collective schedules) and provide and receive live crits in person.

Our group, The Stop-Watch Gang uses a stop-watch to time our critiques. Each person is allowed to speak for five minutes and then the stop-watch rings.

During this five minutes no one else is allowed to speak and if you do, then you are severely reprimanded. Hence the phrase, They will cut you! (In case you were worried that we were a bunch of axe murderers.)

Once all crits have been shared, the author has a chance for rebuttals, clarifications, and plot noodling. This segment of the session is NOT timed, but we do keep an eye on the clock to ensure that all submissions get the full advantage of our shared time.

The advantages of live-crits:
- each person doing a crit gets ideas from the other participants
- patterns emerge and "trouble sections" become clear
- scheduled opportunity to socialize with other writers
- regular deadline to write new fiction

The disadvantages of live-crits:
- stressful for shy-type personalities
- larger time and travel commitment
- difficult to get the right "mix" of personality and skill set
- limited number of participants

Some of you might already participate in writers' groups who do NOT time the participants. If open-ended crit times work for your group, then by all means, go with what works for your collective.

Many of us in the Stop-Watch Gang have been caught at one time or another in groups where one or more participants ramble on and on, refusing to be interrupted. Those nights can take forever and everyone's time is always in short supply.

The stop-watch is a safety device that ensures our meetings keep to a reasonable length and everyone has time to say their piece.

Now that you are armed with what to put in a crit and how to deliver your comments, get out there and join a group, or start your own.

Keep in mind that writers' groups are continuously evolving. People come and go, so be prepared to be flexible and open-minded.

Do it now
Call up or email a writer-friend and make a coffee date.

Go online and investigate writers' groups. I listed several in my post on Writers' Groups.

Sign up for a class/workshop. Two of the groups I belong to are made up of members from a workshop I attended.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

A Critiquing Addendum

Suzanne's essay on critique was well-done. I'd like to add only one thing, and this is a little bit out of left field.

Something I hear over the years from beginning writers who waffle on joining critiquing groups is, "I'm not qualified."

This is wrong, plain and simple.

Bottom line, if you've gone to the trouble of reading something, you've automatically made yourself qualified.  There is no law that says you must be a university graduate of English to comment on an author's written work.  If you liked it, or hated it, you have the right to say so.  And, while you might not understand why, after some thought, you will piece together exactly why you didn't like it.

It's like leaving a movie theater.  Your first reaction is usually, loved it, or hated it. and then on the drive home or talking with your friends you flesh out what didn't work.

If you can tell your friends, you can tell an author.  Just be polite.

And this is what an author needs and wants to hear.  If some plot point fell flat, or the story dragged, or you thought a scene which was supposed to be funny was actually--funny, then yes, we as writers want to know this, and you as a critiquer, should feel free to say so.


Going to be a panelist at World Con in Chicago!

This year’s World Science Fiction Convention is being held in Chicago and I’ve been invited to be a panelist.
Here is my schedule:

Sat Sep 1 1:30:pm
Sat Sep 1 3:00:pm
Canadian Genre Writers McCormick
What do Canadian writers offer to genre writing. Is there a unique Canadian perspective?
Cary A. Conder Mike Rimar Robert J. Sawyer Susan Forest
Sun Sep 2 12:00:pm
Sun Sep 2 1:30:pm
The Future Evolution of the Short Story
Columbus EF
What role is the short story playing in reading lives today? It used to be a proving ground in SF, is that still true? Why/not? What are our favorite venues for short stories lately? What\'s the right price point for short stories? Electronic or print? Anthology or single sale? This would be a great panel for lots of audience participation.
Barbara Galler-Smith Ellen Datlow Jacqueline Lichtenberg Marie Bilodeau Mike Rimar
Mon Sep 3 10:30:am
Mon Sep 3 11:00:am
Reading: Mike Rimar

And check out my fellow panelists!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Critiques - Part One - The What

What is this thing you writers call a critique?

We all require feedback on our work, and that goes for any profession, not simply for written work. When someone reads over your story and provides their opinion on how to improve said story, that feedback is called a critique, henceforth referred to as a crit.

I used to begin all of my crits on Critters with the sentence: Please remember these comments are only my opinions.. All critiquers should remember that the point is to help the writer, not humiliate them. And all writers should remember that they are free to ignore anything that doesn't feel right for the story.

When I used to write formal crits on a regular basis to Critters I used to use these seven headings to organize my crit. That way, I could keep track of different aspects of the story quickly and easily.

You don't have to follow the structure below to the letter, but most writers are looking for feedback in these particular areas.

Plot and Setting
The Nits

Character Development

The main characters should be well rounded, three dimensional individuals who learn and change by the end of the story.

Your crit should systematically analyze each aspect of the main characters in the story. Did the protagonist work hard to achieve a goal? Did they have a distinctive personality that wasn't cliché or stereotypical? As you read the story, did you care about whether or not they succeeded? Did some characters exist merely to advance the plot, and could they be eliminated or combined?

For more aspects of characters, read my post She Ran Her Fingers Through Her Long, Blonde Hair.

Plot and Setting

A story needs to begin with a hook, keep the tension building using cliff hangers, level the pacing using well-timed moments of calm, and then provide a satisfying payback at the end that resonates with the reader.

Your crit should systematically analyze each aspect of the plot. Were you bored in some sections? Did some beats happen too quickly? Did you want to read more right from the first sentence or paragraph? Did the ending work for you? Why or why not?

For more information on plots, read my posts Beginnings, The Long and Slow Trudge Through the Middle, and Elusive Endings.

The setting needs to be multi-layered and vivid. In our high-consumption-of-media world, we're used to visual images, flashy graphics, sound-bites, and over-stimulation. When we read, we don't necessarily want to watch and hear all of these things, but we do want to imagine them as well as if we were actually watching and hearing them. The writer should invoke all five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

Your crit should systematically analyze whether or not you were able to imagine and live in the story's world. Could you picture each room, vista, or city? If the world is alien or fantastical, did the society make sense? Look for inconsistencies in geography, commerce, economics, social hierarchy, government, transportation, or communications. How many senses were represented?

For more on the senses, read my post Using the Five Senses.


Dialogue is hard. (Almost as hard as comedy, but I'll leave that topic for another post.) Each characters should speak in their own, distinct voice and the words they speak should be concise and realistic.

Your crit should take a hard look at the dialogue for each character. Did they speak in long, stilted sentences? Did you experience adjective or said-ism overload? Did long sections of dialogue include the occasional action so that the text wasn't merely a long section of talking heads? Could you always follow who was speaking in a multi-character scene? If you read one sentence from the dialogue, could you tell from the manner in which they spoke which character said it?

For more details on how to write effective dialogue, read my post Editing - Part Two - Dialogue.


The theme is what the story is really about, and usually involves an ethical dilemma, a lesson to be learned, or a message for the reader.

By the time you've finished reading a story or novel, you should have a feeling about what happened. If you didn't, then perhaps the story is missing a theme. Did the writer brow-beat you with their message of morality? Did you hear one message and then another slammed into you without any notice? Did you wonder whether the comedy was intentional or unintentional? Was the protagonist at odds with the lesson meant to be learned?

For more details on the importance of theme, read my post on Theme.


Titles are my nemesis. Seriously.

As a matter of fact, for the last few weeks, I've been trying to come up with a title for my upcoming collection of short stories and I am stumped.

The title of your story or novel should be memorable, have a hook that often includes a hint of irony, and tell the reader what the story is about.

Any comments you make about the title should consider these aspects. Did the title make you want to read the story? Did you remember the title an hour later? Did it promise you more? Did it speak to the theme?

Feel free to suggest other titles. Some writers really appreciate the brainstorming, because these alternatives could trigger ideas in a direction they hadn't considered.

The Nits

The term "nits" or "nit-picking" comes from the tedious act of picking head lice nits out of someone's hair. Your list of nits includes spelling errors, grammar goofs, detail inconsistencies, or style issues.

As you find nits, pull out "old red" and circle them on the manuscript (or use Track Changes to point them out in a Word document). You are not obligated to point out every mistake.

Allow me to make this clear:

If you point out too many nits, you might annoy the writer and they won't hear the more important aspects of your crit.

You do need to do your part to look for nits as practice for your own writing. Were the character's eyes blue on page three and then brown on page twenty? Did the writer use the listing comma sometimes and not others? Are they missing close quotes? Did they repeatedly use the same word in several sentences? Did they include a phrase that was funny but really wasn't meant to be?

For more information on style, read my post Editing- Part One - Ten-Point Checklist. For more on grammar and punctuation, and links to great resources, read my post Editing- Part One - Ten-Point Checklist.


At the end of your critique, try to write a one-sentence summary of your impression of the story. For the second sentence, end on a positive note, emphasizing the parts you enjoyed in the story, so that the receiver of the crit feels good (and doesn't want to wring your neck!) about the effort you've put forth to help them.


You've worked hard to stay with me until the end of this post. Thank you.

Remember the added benefit of doing critiques: by analyzing others, you will hone your skills and become better at analyzing your own writing.

Do it now
Grab one or two of your favourite novels.

Read the first sentence. Write down what worked to hook you, or what didn't work. Do the same for the first paragraph.

Flip to a page with a solid chunk of dialogue. Could you tell who was speaking, even without the "said Mary" tags?

Skip to the end. What was the most satisfying part of the climax for you? How would you change it to make it better?

Make up an alternative title to the novel.