Manuscript Critique Quide
Below are a set of questions designed to help you analyze the manuscript. If you answer YES to all of these questions, move on. If not, keep in mind that while these are not steadfast rules of writing, they do form the bare bones of what makes a story compelling. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule but they should be deliberate choices rather than inadvertent ones.
STEP 1 – STRUCTURE
- Does the story have an identifiable Main Character (MC)?
- Is the MC’s goal clear from the onset?
- Is something preventing the MC from reaching her goal?
- Are the stakes for the MC if she fails clear?
- Is the MC attempting to overcome her challenge?
- Is the MC failing to overcome her challenge?
- Does the MC succeed on her own merits?
- Does the MC change as a result of her efforts?
Rule of Threes
- Does the MC attempt to solve her problem three times and fail?
- Are these three different actions?
- Is each attempt making things worse?
- Are there at least three different emotions being conveyed through the actions?
STEP 2 – FIRST/LAST LINES
- Is the first line a hook that pulls the reader in?
- Does the last line relate to the first line (like book ends with the story in the middle)?
- Does the last line wrap things up?
- Does the first line set reader’s expectations?
- Does the last line meet those expectations?
- Is the ending a satisfying one?
STEP 3 – THEME
- Does the story present a universal theme?
- Is the theme relatable to and appropriate for children?
- Is the theme conveyed not just in words but in symbolism?
- Is the theme conveyed in a unique and original way?
- Is this story different from others that deal with the same theme?
STEP 4 – TENSION
- Is there conflict in the story (external and internal)?
- Is the conflict believable?
- Does the conflict rise as the story moves forward?
- Does the conflict decrease after the climax of the story?
- Does the story hold your interest throughout?
- Does each page end on a cliff-hanger?
- Are the reader’s expectations challenged?
STEP 5 – WORLD BUILDING
- Has the writer established the rules that govern this world from the onset?
- Do the character’s actions conform to the rules the readers expect?
- Do the rules make sense within the world the writer has created?
Show vs. Tell
- Are there sufficient sensory details about the world?
- Are there strong verbs and nouns in lieu of adjectives and adverbs (e.g. sprinted vs. ran fast; mansion vs. big house)?
- Does the writer prove what the characters are experiencing (e.g. telling us that a character is sad vs. proving it by describing the character crying)?
- Is there enough emotion to allow the reader to connect with the character?
STEP 6 – CHARACTER
- Do the characters all have a unique voice?
- Is the MC’s voice relatable to children?
- Do the characters describe their experiences from their own point of view?
- Does the character’s voice reflect what they are viewing and why that matters to them?
- Is the MC solving his own problem?
- Is the MC actively moving the story forward?
- Is the MC the hero of his own story?
STEP 7 – ILLUSTRATIONS
- Does the text leave enough room for an illustrator to envision her own version of the story (keep in mind that writing a PB is a 50/50 collaboration between a writer and an illustrator)?
- Is there enough content for an illustrator to draw something different on each page?
- Are there enough different actions on each page for an illustrator to explore?
- Are there enough different emotions that the character experiences for an illustrator to convey?
- Are the art notes absolutely essential to the story (i.e. only include notes without which the story simply doesn’t make any sense)?
- Are art notes necessary to explain something about the text that isn’t clear?
STEP 8 – READ-ALOUDABILITY
- Is the story a joy to read? (whether it’s a silly, goofy, sweet, lyrical or even concept book, a good story must appeal to our hearts and/or mind at some level)
- Is the story easy to read out loud?
- Is it clear who the intended audience is?
- Is this topic/theme appropriate for the intended audience?
STEP 9 – FINAL EDITS
- Are there any grammatical mistakes?
- Have standard punctuation rules been followed?
- Has the spelling been checked?
- Are the words chosen the right ones for this story?
- Is the language appropriate for the intended audience?
- Does every word need to be in the text (i.e. it is moving the story forward or providing new and relevant information)?
STEP 10 – MARKETABILITY
- Is this story unique?
- Is this story dealing with a universal theme in a novel way?
- Does this story have a hook that makes it stand out?
- Is this story relevant to the intended audience?
- Is this story compelling enough for the ultimate consumer (the one holding the purse strings)?
- Does this story have other aspects that might improve its marketability?
As a reminder, these are simply guidelines intended to help you analyze a manuscript more deeply. A good exercise to do in order to understand why these points are so important is to read mentor texts and find out what makes the stories you love so endearing. One great way to do that is to stop by Carrie Charley Brown’s Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo) website and participate in the annual ReFoReMo challenge.