A Guide to Critique Space - For In Production I and Editor Suite Peer Review Writer Workshops

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The Nature and Scope of Critique on Author Salon Share/Bookmark

Author Salon writers become authors the old fashioned way. They earn it.

Author Salon is looking to discover, develop and promote high-concept fiction and nonfiction projects for agents, film producers, and acquisition editors at major publishing houses. By "high concept" we mean a story premise that sounds sufficiently unique and commercially viable, regardless of genre. In other words, a story that publishers (and their marketing department) will want to publish, and market. Please read the AUTHOR SALON PROFILE GUIDE for examples in the form of synopses and hook lines. We need to discover and communicate the hook.

If the above can be achieved, our peer-and-pro writer workshops will serve to develop, refine and monitor the process of masterful execution.

Author Salon exists for all those aspiring authors who take their work and time seriously enough to engage in an ongoing and productive evolution of their manuscripts, as well as their prose craft, regardless of whether they intend to become published by a major house or an independent press. Appropriate and honest utilization of AS critique criteria (noted below) in our writer workshops enables a writer to develop a keen editorial sense when it comes to reviewing the work of others, thus making it possible for them to edit their own work in a more productive manner. It also prepares them for the task of effectively communicating with business professionals on the site (editors and agents) regarding any matters or issues associated with the proper rendering of character, narrative, plot, story premise, and all else.

General rules, notes and criteria as follows. Please read the Author Salon STEP BY STEP GUIDE before you read this page.
  • Critiques of a writer's project at Author Salon, regardless of level (IP I or Editor Suite), are based on the extensive structural and narrative matter provided in the writer's profile, and on additional writing samples as deemed necessary by writer peers or professionals at Author Salon. At Editor Suite (ES) level, critique provided on Author Connect or in a member's Critique Space officially requires critique based on the profile as well as on the first 50 pages of each writer's project, going up to 100 pages as necessary and appropriate. ES level writers are advised to base critique on the profile first and on the first 50 second.

  • Author Salon editors, mods and administrators will work with writers and their manuscripts beyond the ES level to prepare them for submission to agents and publishers.

  • Whenever writers at Author Salon methodically critique work written by their peers, we ask them to wear the eyeglasses of an agent or editor in this business. See it from their viewpoint, not from the viewpoint of the average workshop writer. Ask the same questions: Will I put my career on the line for that novel? For that memoir or nonfiction? ... If not, why? The right answer makes a huge difference in the way writers choose to approach the development of their own novel or nonfiction project.

  • Writer peer groups are not to provide any critique for a writer's project unless and until the writer has made it clear by communication via site email and/or in the proper Author Connect forum that they are ready to receive critique. Writers are not to use outside email to work on their projects, only site email and other means of communication. Author Salon needs to have a clear record of works in progress and all critique associated with that work.

  • Once a writer signals to their group they are ready to begin having their project critiqued (based on their current project and bio profile), peer group members may use the current Critique Space criteria (see categories below) as a basis for initiating preliminary critique in the topics designated for such critique in the Author Connect forums.

  • As noted above, writer peers may also request additional samples of narrative including the writer's first 50 pages, or even more as necessary, up to 100 pages. For more information on acquiring critique at Author Connect, or utilizing Critique Space, please review the AS STEP BY STEP GUIDE.

  • Upon satisfactory completion of preliminary critiques by writer peers and AS staff as appropriate, and upon the inclusion of project profile updates necessitated by such critique, the writer may choose to call for official rating and review in their profile Critique Space. Official category ratings, and subsequent comments in support of those ratings, may not take place in formal Critique Space (CS) in each writer's profile unless and until the writer has formally called for formal Critique Space review.

    Critique Space star ratings explained as follows:
      *****  PERFECT. Facets of the work argue for the writer comparing favorably with the best authors who have ever lived.
      ****  VERY GOOD AND PUBLISHABLE. Without doubt, the work presents itself as commercially publishable and agents will represent it.
      ***  GOOD BUT NEEDS TWEAKS. The work as a whole is well done, but still needs tweaks and editing to achieve the next rank.
      **  AVERAGE. The work is evolving towards a state of potential publication, but still needs work in several areas.
      *  REBOOT. The work shows promise, but more importantly, a need to address basic structural and narrative issues.
  • No one is to post any review in a member's CS at any time without this official call. For more information on critique at Author Connect, please review the AS STEP BY STEP GUIDE.

  • When engaged in critique at any level, peer group members must be critical, courageous and fair with their critique. The purpose is not to be laudatory or negative, but to provide depersonalized and accurate critique that will help the writer and their project evolve to a competitive state. Peer group members should also utilize and reference the AUTHOR SALON CRAFT POINTS AND EPIPHANY guide when providing critique, paying special attention to crucial areas of structural and narrative craft. Is the writer at a Level 3 for narrative? Do the scenes evolve in the proper manner? Is the first major plot point obvious? And so forth.

  • Decorum must be observed at all times. Peer group members will act in good faith and writers will accept critique with style and grace. Recalcitrance and undue stubbornness will not be condoned.

  • Writers with insufficiently balanced and incomplete critique in their respective Critique Space will have their petition to advance to Editor Suite (or to Marquee if already in Editor Suite) denied if critique as a whole appears too laudatory, indecisive, vague or inaccurate. It is therefore in the interest of each writer to make certain their peers maintain a high level of critique at all times.

  • Denial of petition will also take place if critique has not productively led to sufficient improvement in the writer's project profile. All writers are responsible for updating their profiles (btw, save prior synopses for reference if needed). Writers have the right to form a new Peer Group for critique if they feel they need more critique to succeed. Writers also have the right to form two Peer Groups, or even more groups simultaneously, as long as at least one of the groups provides the writer with no less than a 3.75 evaluation (three four stars and one three star) when averaged over all four categories. However, excessive "peer shopping" to achieve only positive evaluations is frowned upon and will count against the writer when it comes to CSpace review by AS.

  • Author Salon staff and editors reserve the right to comment, if appropriate or necessary, in the Critique Space of each writer, and will do so from time to time. Author Salon in all cases is the final authority on matters of critique and project quality. NOTE: AUTHOR SALON CAN AND WILL OVERRULE CRITIQUE THAT IS INAPPROPRIATELY POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE.

  • Writers must use the In Production and Editor Suite Forums at Author Salon Connect to obtain advice and to experiment with concepts, titles, and narrative before calling for Peer Group evaluations in Critique Space, and whether such evaluations be initial evaluations or subsequent.

This first step of critique at Author Salon is the most difficult. If you do not respond well to the process or feel the process is somehow unfair or feel you are being treated unfairly by other writers no matter who critiques you, then our recommendation is to take a time out and reconsider your stay at Author Salon. We genuinely wish to help you, but we have our philosophy and goals here and that cannot be compromised. We hope you understand.

The following are issues and points that must be raised and discussed in any Critique Space evaluation or Author Connect critique by all members of the Peer Group. If these issues and points are not included and argued effectively in the Critique Space evaluations, the evaluations will be considered invalid by Author Salon and petitions on the part of the writer to advance to a new level at Author Salon will be denied.

Note: feel free to use your personal blog or the AC forums for purposes of drafting work and presenting for peer review as needed.




Premise and Plot
  • First of all, does it appear the writer has faithfully attempted to complete the profile questions, or do the responses appear incomplete or simply poor? Is the synopsis on the first page too long? What can be done to improve the profile? List everything you can think of.

  • Does the premise or story concept sound high concept? Original? If so, why? Defend your conclusion. What makes it unique when compared to published novels or nonfiction in the genre? You must effectively argue this case for or against. If against, present examples why it might not be sufficiently original to capture the interest of an agent or publisher.

  • Are you able to discern the primary source of dramatic tension and complication that creates the major plot line? Can you create a conflict statement such as the examples used in the AS Profile Guide from matter available in the writer's project profile? If not, why not? Is the plot line going forward vague, nonexistent? What can be done?

  • Is the first major plot point that changes the course of action and begins the second act of this novel clearly defined in the project profile synopsis? Can you state it? Keep in mind that the first major plot point begins the plot line noted above, i.e., the rising action of the story as a whole.

Part II

  • Insofar as you know, does the story as presented in the project profile satisfy the mandatory tropes of the genre? If so, how? Be inclusive with your response. Demonstrate knowledge of your genre and its tropes. Does the author do anything to present or frame the tropes in a unique manner? If not, can you think of any way to do this?

  • Does the novel or nonfiction possess a setting and/or unique world that works to high-concept the novel, or at least make the story much more interesting and unique? If so, what features of this setting do you find unique or valuable to the story when compared to others? Do specific circumstances or characters evolve from the setting that make it valuable? If so, what or who are they?

  • What novel(s) published in the last few years does this story most closely compare to? Why? This must be supportable with specifics and not general statements. Does it compare favorably? Is it sufficiently unique despite the comparison? If so, why?

  • Why is this story, as presented in the project profile, one that publishers will buy? To put it more simply, why is this story one that readers will pay to read? Respond to this with clarity and detail.




Plot, Setting and Conflict Outline

Writers will reference the PSCO PDF FILE and create their PSCO according to the guide. PSCOs will be posted in Author Connect for review. Writer peers will review the PSCO in Critique Space once an official call is made. Writer peers will focus their rating and critique on the quality of the plot and plot elements (e.g., reversals and complications), on the variety and energy of the settings, and on the proper placement of three-level conflict throughout the story.





Narrative and Style

How does the story read? Each one of the following bullet points must be addressed separately in Critique Space.
  • Is the prose itself completely free of errors and ambiguity? Does the writer say more with less or is she/he wordy? Are the verbs sufficiently active or too much variation of "to be"? Also, is the writer good at description? Not sure? Ask them to provide examples of description of objects, events and people.

  • Is the reader oriented spatially or do characters feel disembodied? If this narrative were film, would it make sense?

  • Is the narrative sufficiently engaging? If yes, what makes it engaging? If no, what should be done to make it engaging? Be specific.

  • Does the narrative include, as a whole, the three levels of conflict as noted in the AS Profile Guide, i.e., internal, social, and plot related? If so, list them one at a time, and their context. If not, what should be done to include them?

Part II

  • Are the scenes set properly? Do they have a defined beginning, middle and end? Do we get a clear concept of who/what/where, etc?

  • Does the prose itself evidence mastery of the form given the demands of the genre? If so, how? If not, why? What can be done to improve it?

  • Does the narrative present situations, issues, circumstances, characters or plots that seem too predictable or stale from overuse? Or would you term the narrative more unpredictable and original, insofar as possible given the demands of the genre? Be specific with your response and compare a defined slice of narrative from the writer's project profile (at least 300 words) with a slice of narrative taken from a comparable published work in the genre. Cut and paste, or else type this comparable narrative into the Author Connect forum. This is critical.

  • If more than one point of view, does the writer juggle the multiple POVs with skill? If so, how? If not, why not? Ask for more narrative samples as necessary.




Characters

The main thing here is to focus on the manner in which the characters reveal themselves in the course of the narrative, via dialogue and action.
  • Do they feel real or simply two dimensional?

  • Do we observe them at their best or worst in the course of performing an action?

  • Is the author using show-don't-tell techniques to portray them or simply delivering exposition?

  • Do you feel any sympathy or empathy towards them?

  • Is there anything unique about them or do they feel overly stereotypical?




All Else

This is a catch-all category for all other issues that can make or break. Consider carefully! Does the title sound original and does it grab you? Is the hook line adequate or sloppy? Is the conflict stated precisely or vague? Is there a defined climax? Is there a real antagonist or all in the mind? Are the comparables appropriate or no?

All these things need to be working! Consider carefully, be honest. Titles, hooks, conflict, climax, and comparables must be methodically addressed.




Critique of First 50 Pages (Editor Suite Critique Only)

We know from experience that agents and editors in the business look for highly polished and engaging narrative right from the first line, as well as cinematic scenes, sympathetic characters, and the launch of major plot tension, among other things. We need a means for making certain their expectations are met.

All of the questions, one at a time, that apply to the Character and Narrative sections above also apply to the first 50 pages submitted by each ES-level writer in the Author Connect forum. There is some overlap with a few of the questions below so take note. In addition, the following new ones also apply and must be addressed individually and in detail in the Author Connect critique forums, and later, in Critique Space on Author Salon (note: pages of narrative from each writer's project will NOT be posted in Critique Space on AS, only the critique itself).

Author Salon and staff will give special weight to the critique and quality of the first 50 pages when making a decision whether or not to advance a writer to Marquee.
  • Does the first line of the first page sufficiently hook the reader? Is it a great first line? Does it make you go WOW? If not, why not? Is there a better first line deeper in the story? If so, what is it?

  • Do the critical first five pages get things going quickly, begin with show-don't-tell narrative as well as a scene that depicts engaged characters? Or do they deliver too much expository narrative that slows the pace?

  • Is there sufficient tension on every page? Any dramatic irony in play? Mysteries introduced? Suspense of any kind? Conflict? What keeps us from taking our eyes off the page?

  • Is dialogue too quiet or riveting? Overdone or tight?

  • Does the opening avoid overused openings, e.g., beginning with a dream, riding in a car or other, looking out from a cliff, waking up in the morning to alarm clock, waking up to darkness, being chased, and so forth?

  • Does the FIRST MAJOR PLOT POINT take place before the first 50 pages end, i.e., the inciting incident or circumstance of major complication early in the story that begins the main external plot line which propels us through the bulk of the novel? In a screenplay, the first major plot point would begin the second act or rising action of the story.

  • Are there adequate and polished examples of interior monologue, regardless of viewpoint? Is the reader able to transition into the character's mind and back out again smoothly? If yes, provide an example. If not, provide an example and discuss solutions.

  • Are there polished examples of narrative description of specific objects in the first 50 pages? For example, characters and environs? Do the examples compare in mastery to good published authors in the genre? Defend your position. If this is not the case, it must be noted.

  • Are there polished examples of an activity of any sort observed by a character. e.g., watching a horse race, a parade, a group of people dancing, etc. How does the writer handle the dynamic imagery on the page? Is it mastered or does it need work?






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