A Guide to Using The Profile "Critique Space" for Online Writer Groups

[Print version]

The Nature of Writer Group Critique on Author Salon Share/Bookmark

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

This online community 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 a writer group (hereafter referred to as "writer peer group" or "peer group") 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 Regarding Critique and Peers
  • Writers may form peer groups (two to five writers) for purposes of having their work critiqued. Writers should first "friend" potential peers and communicate with them via the devices of social media extant on this website.

  • Writers who have formed peer groups on Algonkian Author Salon are advised to conduct prototype reviews and discussions on each other's profile blog before later moving to the Critique Space portion of the profile, if desired or appropriate, for a more final and absolute critiques (see guidelines below for using Critique Space feature of your profile).

  • Critiques of a writer's project at Author Salon, regardless of level or genre, are based on the extensive structural and narrative matter provided in the writer's profile, and on additional writing samples. We highly recommend that writer peers post on their blog not more than one scene at a time for review, and continue to do so for the entire opening hook of the novel as each scene is critiqued/reviewed in turn by peers ("hook" includes inciting incident followed by first major plot point--see Six Act Two-Goal Novel). We also recommend reading and utilizing the following craft articles for intelligent creation and deconstruction of scenes and narrative in the hook:
    What if We Are Not in the Same Genre?
      If writer peers are not in the same genre, we recommend using the craft technique above as a basis for focusing critique on the structural aspects of the story and narrative rather than engaging in commentary on the story premise itself. Under such circumstances, writer peers can begin by posting scenes for review in their respective blogs.
  • 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 Algonkian Author Connect forum that they are ready to receive critique.

  • Upon satisfactory completion of preliminary critiques by writer peers, and upon the inclusion of project profile updates necessitated by such critique, the writer may choose to call for additional ratings 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

    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 Algonkian Author Connect critique by all members of the Peer Group.

    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.


    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 or More

    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?


    [Print version]