6 Most Common Critiques

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I've been freelance editing for over a year now, and in that time I've written a lot of edit letters. Which is great, because it means I've had the opportunity to read and critique a lot of work, which I've really enjoyed.

It also means, over time, I've noticed quite a few patterns in the critiques I frequently end up giving, because there are trends in the issues many manuscripts I've worked with have had. These trends are things I figure would be helpful for writers to look for while revising on their own, so I thought I'd share them.

So without further ado, here are the six most common critiques I have for manuscripts and samples I've read over the last thirteen months. In no particular order...

  • Filtering/telling emotion. I did say this list is in no particular order but this is definitely my #1 most common critique. As I've talked about here before, filtering is a form of telling that often subtly distances the narrative, and removing the amount of filtering can make the narrative feel more intimate. Same goes for telling emotion—rather than stating how characters are feeling, it's much, much more effective to consider how those emotions affect your characters physically and consider how they affect your characters' thoughts. Then by writing those physical and psychological effects, your readers can intuit what emotions your characters are feeling without ever being told. Which again, makes the narrative feel closer and more immediate.

  • POV issues. There are several POV issues I frequently come across, namely: too many POVs, POV slips, and adult POVs in YA manuscripts. The first two kind of go together: I frequently remind my clients they should only use as many POVs as they need to tell the story, and it's not uncommon that when there are too many POVs in a story, the POVs also kind of slip together—meaning POV will switch within a scene without any transition, which is confusing and hard to read. The last point is pretty YA-centric, but I've on several occasions come across adult POVs in YA manuscripts, which isn't really allowed in YA. YA, after all, is a teen category for teen readers and their stories are supposed to be told by teens. Save the adult POVs for adult books, because they largely don't belong here.

  • What is the protagonist's goal? This is a pretty big plot issue and it's not uncommon. Sometimes I'll go through a manuscript and it won't be clear until halfway through, or the last act, or later, what the protagonist's goal is—but that's way too late to introduce a goal. The protagonist's goal should be clear right from the beginning. It's okay if their goal changes over time, but the protagonist must always have something to strive for—without that goal, the plot and pacing falls flat.

  • Voice issues. Given that I edit YA and NA, voice is especially paramount, and a frequent critique I have especially for YA works is that the voice doesn't quite sound like a teen. This is hard to nail, especially at first, and my biggest suggestion for fixing that is to read a ton of YA. But it's also a matter of constantly reminding yourself that you, the adult author, aren't the one telling the story—your teen characters are.

  • Action tag + dialogue tag. This a pretty easy to fix—but common—one. When writing dialogue, you only need an action tag or a dialogue tag—not both for the same line. So rather than saying, "'I hate you,' she said with a smile," you can say, "'I hate you.' She smiled" and get the same point across in less words. It's a trick to help cut down on wordiness. And speaking of which...

  • Wordiness. Line editing is really my forte, so it's not surprising that I pretty nearly always find wordiness to cut in a manuscript. I already did a post on things to look for to cut down on wordiness though, so I'll refer you to that.

So that covers my most common critiques. Do you catch any of these in your own work?

Twitter-sized bite:
Author & freelance editor @Ava_Jae shares their most common critiques. Do you catch these in your own work? (Click to tweet)

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