I had an idea this morning.
Giving critiques is hard, and receiving them is harder. Part of the problem is that there is no standard format. Trying to line up five different critiques can be exasperating. Where five different people agree, you probably have a problem, but where one feels a certain way and four others don't, you may not. How can we standardize the process to better compare critiques?
Here is my suggestion: a standard critique format in 2 stages. First, a piece of writing has to be entertaining, engaging, and skillful enough to hold you. So stage 1, and the most important is, did you want to stop reading, and if so, was it because of technical delivery (e.g., over description, bad grammar, etc.) or story telling (e.g., not believable, bad pacing). Stage 1 is "stop" or "go" and why.
Stage 2 is polishing and strengthening suggestions. You would answer specific questions for Stage 2, then have an opportunity for general comments.
So here is my suggestion (UPDATED with Sandra Ruttan's comments):
The Evans Critique System
1. Stage 1--Did you want to stop reading? Stop/go. If "stop", break down why as follows.
1.1. Technical delivery (e.g., use of language, amount of description, spelling, grammar)
1.2. Story telling (e.g., characters, believable events, pacing)
2. Stage 2--Opportunities for polishing/strengthening.
2.1. Technical delivery
2.1.1. Narrative--strengths and opportunities for improvement (e.g., sense of setting, handling of exposition).
2.1.2. Dialog--strengths and opportunities for improvement (e.g., appropriate to the age and background of the characters? Does each character have a recognisable voice?).
2.2.1. Believable/compelling characters--strengths and opportunities for improvement (e.g., are characters vibrant, different from each other, three dimensional?)
2.2.2. Plot--is it engaging? Any holes? (e.g., does the plot hook you? When? If you couldn't put it down, when did that feeling begin?)
2.2.3. Pacing (e.g., does the story unfold at a natural pace? Where parts rushed or too slow?)
3. Any other comments.
Each question should be answered, whether positive or negative, so that the writer can focus on improving what needs work while preserving what's good.
Here's an example critique:
1. Stage 1: Go. (Skip 1.1 & 1.2)
2. Stage 2.
2.1.1. Narrative: very vivid with a strong sense of mood. Some passages, however, go too long and break the flow of the story. Watch for over-description.
2.1.2. Dialog: strong. Each character has a distinct voice. Some of the regional flavor comes out. You could use more attributions (he said/she said), however, to avoid confusion in longer dialog runs, especially with more than two speakers.
2.2.1. Characters: protagonist is great. Love the conflicts and unexpected foul actions. Gives him depth. Many of the secondary characters are too superficial, however. Try to give them more substance/complexity.
2.2.2. Plot: Hooked from the first page! The suspense is wonderfully maintained. You've planned a great main plot. Secondary plots need some help though. Probably suffers the same fate as the secondary characters.
2.2.3. Pacing: just watch those long descriptions. They can break the flow. Also, you have a few flashbacks which go too long. Trim them to short paragraph length.
What do you think? Any critiques for the critique system?
If you think it would be helpful, feel free to pass it along or link to this post.