Questions to ask your manuscript

If you do get a critique partner (or, say, you have a wonderful PhD-candidate husband who’s studying literature and who looks at your last post lamenting the lack of a critique partner, and says in his most sympathetic voice: “I’ll be your critique partner”), what exactly do you get them to comment on?

It seems to me that it’d be handy to have a list of criteria agents and editors use to judge whether a manuscript is worth taking on. I’m sure this will be different for every agent and editor to some extent, but there must be certain questions that guide their decision-making process.

My initial thoughts are:

1. Are characters drawn realistically enough, or do they feel flat and one- or two-dimensional?

2. If they are realistically three-dimensional, are there any scenes or pieces of dialogue where they let themselves down and start to sound manipulated?

3. Are there scenes where your mind starts to wander to your to-do list? If so, how could I jazz the scene up or improve its structure?

4. Does the conflict help build tension, or is the story arc too flat?

5. Are there any scenes that seem to come from left field, in an unpleasant way?

What do you think? Do you have a list of questions you and your critique partner use to guide your discussions? If you’re an agent or editor, do you have set questions you ask yourself about manuscripts you receive?


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3 responses to “Questions to ask your manuscript

  1. I usually have a feeling about what is missing or wrong with my manuscript. Whenever I give my CP my work, I give her specific things I’d like her to keep an eye out for.

  2. Katrina

    Hi Laurie. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I think you’re right, and your blog (along with the other Ruby Sisters) has helped me identify some of my weak points. I’m sending off my first three chapters to some writerly friends, along with a few specific things I want them to look out for.

    Thanks for your help!


  3. Pingback: How agents think (or, On nitpicking) « Reader, I created him

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