3 Critique Questions with Author Parker Peevyhouse

Recently, on the SCBWI Forum, a new children’s writer posted her doubts about her ability to critique manuscripts. My agancy-mate and fellow author Parker Peevyhouse offered her wise advice, which spoke to me as a critiquer and a writer. So I invited her to expand on her thoughts for my blog.

I hope it speaks to you.

3 Questions a Good Manuscript Critique Answers by Parker Peevyhouse

Manuscript critiques have been the greatest tool for improving my writing. But it’s not only getting a good critique that has helped me improve–I’ve learned just as much from giving critiques. Whether I’m giving or getting a critique, I’m thinking about story choices, and that kind of analysis hones my story-telling skills.

When I give a critique, I find myself focusing on three particular questions–questions that explore character, plot, and the intersection of the two:

1. Plot: Where do I feel like I can’t make sense of what’s happening OR I don’t believe what’s happening would actually happen?

Sample comments I might write on a manuscript:

How did the dog get out of the yard if the gate was locked?

It’s hard for me to believe that a tree branch would break the fall of someone dropping from outer space.

2. Character: Where do I feel like I don’t like (or am not interested in) the main character (or other characters)?

Sample comments I might write on a manuscript:

Darren complains about so many things–I’m starting to feel like he’s a whiner.

Why doesn’t Petunia speak up for herself when her sister blames her for spilling the milk?

3. Plot + Character: Where do I feel like the character doesn’t actually have a reason to do what he/she is doing in the plot?

Why does the kid try to nab the thieves himself instead of calling the police?

So Winnie walks into the villain’s lair even though she knows he wants to steal her ruby wand?

Not only do these questions help me focus my critiques, but they also help me interpret comments I get on my own manuscripts. For example, a comment like “I can’t believe he won’t help his own best friend!” makes me think, My character is losing likeability here (#2). A comment like, “Why does she bother to figure out who created the virus?” makes me think, I need to strengthen this character’s motivation (#3).

I hope you find these critique questions helpful. If you want to hear more from me, you can follow me on Twitter @parkerpeevy or sign up for my occasional newsletter right here! 

Parker Peevyhouse lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family, where she teaches part-time. Her debut YA science fiction novel, FUTURES, will be published by Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin in 2015.