Critiquing Guidelines & Basic Editing Guidelines


ABOVE ALL THINGS REMEMBER that critiquers are to help one another in this very frustrating world of writing. We are here to point out errors that have been overlooked, note inconsistencies, pick out potential problems, and offer suggestions that will help one another. And remember, no matter what anyone else has suggested or pointed out, the story belongs to the writer. The writer alone should review all that was suggested and weigh each comment against their own inner voice.


  • Sandwich criticisms: positive, negative, positive
  • If you are remarking on something that is a personal prejudice, tell the writer that.
  • When you find something that doesn’t make sense, point it out and explain why it doesn’t, in your opinion. Then offer a suggestion.
  • Don’t try to make the other person write just like you.
  • Show tact and diplomacy, but do point out errors, inconsistencies, etcetera.

 EDITING GUIDELINES: Overall Story Items to Review


  • Hook – Is there a grabber in the first line, sentence, paragraph, or page?
  • Beginning Point – Does the story start in the right place?
  • Backstory – Is there too much background given too soon?
  • Character(s) – Is at least one main person identified and described?
  • Character(s) – Is sufficient motivation shown?
  • Character(s) – Is the main person interesting or sympathetic, likable?
  • Plot – Is it unique or have a different twist?
  • Plot – Is the critical situation laid out?
  • Conflicts – Are the internal and external conflicts identified?
  • Dialogue – Does it read naturally and move the story forward?
  • Setting – Is the setting and time frame identified?
  • Tone – Is the tone set early and clear to the reader?


  • Clear images – Do they come alive via clothing, physical and personality traits?
  • Individualized – Is there a contrast between the various characters?
  • Likability – Are they likable enough to make the reader want to read about them?
  • Motivation – Are their goals and motivations established?
  • Well-developed – Are they described by action, dialogue and narrative?
  • Consistent – Are their habits, dialect, and actions consistent and appropriate?
  • History – Is their background information woven by bits and pieces into the story?
  • Growth – Do the main characters continually grow as they struggle with the conflicts?
  • Number of – Are there too many characters for the genre?
  • Secondary Characters – Do the secondary characters take over the story?


  • POV – Is each scene or chapter viewed from one specific POV?
  • POV – Is there author intrusion (the author telling something rather than a character)?
  • Viewpoint Changes – Are they smooth and appropriate?
  • Tags – Are excessive tags used?
  • Movement – Does the dialogue move the story forward?
  • Balance – Is there a good balance of dialogue and narrative?
  • Natural – Does it sound natural, conversational and not stilted?
  • Dialect/Colloquialisms – Is it not overused and distracting? Is it consistent?
  • Slang – If used, is it correct for the time period?


  • Descriptions – Are they fully described by: visuals, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches?


  • Believable – Will the reader accept the plot as believable?
  • Justifications – Are there at least three reasons for each scene being included?
  • Details – Are the descriptive details and history accurate for the time period?
  • Triteness – Are there trite, clichéd situations?
  • Movement – Do all scenes move the plot forward? Is the story well-paced?
  • Action – Does the action escalate? Are the action scenes confusing?
  • Breathers – Are fast-paced scenes followed by slower-moving ones?
  • Hook – Do the scenes/ chapters end with something to make the reader turn the page?


  • Goals – Are they crystallized and polarized?
  • Obstacles: – Do they continually get more serious, leading to the black moment?
  • Need – Does the need to overcome the obstacles continually grow?
  • Pressure – Does it continually get more intense as the story progresses toward the black moment?
  • Relationship – Does the emotional relationship develop believably? (romances)
  • Sexual Tension – Does the attraction continually grow despite the denials/obstacles? (romances)
  • Black Moment – Is there a big, central conflict that peaks and seems unsolvable?


  • Loose Ends – Are all the loose ends hinted at in the story tied up?
  • External Conflicts – Are the external conflicts resolved or compromised first?
  • Internal Conflicts – Is the internal or conflict of relationship resolved last? (romances)
  • Ending – Is the ending satisfactory for the reader?


  • Spelling – Are there spelling errors?
  • Sentence Structure – Is there a variety of sentence structure?
  • Emotion – Is there emotion shown on every page?
  • Transitions – Are the transitions clear?
  • Redundancies – Are ideas or thoughts repeated needlessly?
  • Foreshadowing – Are there subtle hints of something to come?
  • Flashbacks: Do they reveal essential information to understand the characters?


 Grammar and Punctuation

CommasUse correctly, review the rules

  • Use to separate items in a series: Words, phrases, and separating subordinate clauses and short independent clauses in a series.
  • Use to separate two or more adjectives preceding noun.
  • Use before and, but, or nor, for, and yet when joining independent clauses.
  • Use to set off an expression that interrupts a sentence.
  • Use to set off appositives and appositive phrases: My bff, Betty, likes cupcakes.
  • Use in direct address: Alice, did you eat Betty’s cupcakes?
  • Use before “too” when ending a sentence with the meaning “also.”

Semi-colon – Use sparingly

  • Use to separate two independent clauses closely related in meaning: Her instinct told her to eat the cupcakes; her head told her to stop.
  • Use in sentences using a conjunctive adverb: Betty likes all kinds of cupcakes; however, she prefers chocolate ones.


  • Use (—) instead of double dash (–)
  • Use to indicate a break in thoughts, sentence structure, or interruption in dialogue: Will she—can she—eat all those cupcakes? OR “I don’t know,” she began tentatively. “But she is obsessed about—”

Ellipses – Usually is 3 dots (…)

  • Use in dialogue when a character trails off in speech: “She is going to eat all the cupcakes, and I…”
  • Add a period to the 3 dots for ending sentences: There was no way she could eat all those cupcakes….
  • Can be used in the middle of a sentence: He was the speaker…but where did he go?

Colon – (:)

  • Use to introduce a list.


Action – Use a standalone sentence that shows action, reaction, or something to indicate which character is speaking.

Dialogue – Usually he said, she said.


Use a.m. and p.m. or AM and PM, but be consistent.

Wording Issues

Active Voice – The action is direct: Betty gave Ann a cupcake.

Passive Voice – Something is acted upon: Ann was given a cupcake by Betty.

  • Watch overuse of had/have, was/were, and that.

Strong Verbs

  • Use more active verbs for stronger mood and action: He stalked across the room. INSTEAD OF He walked across the room.


  • Use adverbs sparingly for stronger effect: Enticed by the sweet smell of cupcakes, Betty strode into the dim kitchen. INSTEAD OF Betty walked determinedly through the dimly lit kitchen, happy to smell the enticingly sweet cupcakes.
  • Use stronger adjective images: Pete elbowed his way through the crowd and waved his hand to clear the smoke in the hall. INSTEAD OF Pete walked into the bright, crowded, smoky hall.
  • Watch overuse of so, just, very, rather, quite, and

Misplaced Modifiers

  • Make sure the modifier applies to the write word or image: Hurrying to the bus stop, Betty dropped her purse. INSTEAD OF Hurrying to the bus stop, her purse fell.

POV Phrases to Avoid

  • When referring to the POV character, all the thoughts, feelings, and understanding are his.
  • Avoid using: she thought, he felt, she considered, he knew.

Word Repetition – Avoid

  • Use only for impact or clarity, and use in moderation.
  • Watch having a character repeat the same word or action one after the other.
  • Watch out for overuse of looked, walked, turned, or reached for.

Body Parts

  • Watch for disembodied body parts that act on their own: His gaze followed her. INSTEAD OF His eyes followed her.

Use of IT

  • Use a more concrete word for a clearer image.

Use of THAT

  • If the sentence can make sense without that, delete the word.

Show vs Tell

  • Watch for ‘telling’ words: almost, nearly, about to, and began to.
  • Use strong ‘showing’ words instead to give a clearer image.

Italics Usage

  • Use to indicate foreign words.
  • Use for emphasis.
  • Use to indicate a dream or a past event/memory.
  • Use to indicate internal thoughts, but use sparingly. Do not combine with a dialogue tag: wondered, thought.


  • Watch using worn-out expressions or words.