High Country Writers Critique Guidelines
How the critique works
Critiques take place at the 4th Thursday meeting for 90 minutes (after the completion of the 30-minute business meeting).
Each member will have received an advanced copy of the submitted manuscript so they will be prepared with benevolently honest
comments. After the critique, High Country Writers treats the writer to lunch at the restaurant of the writer’s choice.
Who is eligible to have work critiqued: A member who has attended at least three (3) critique sessions. WRITER (below) outlines
how to avail yourself of this opportunity. The CRITIQUER section describes what to expect from the critiquers. Expect critiquers
to describe strengths as well as weaknesses.
Who is eligible to critique a submitted work: Any member or non-member who has read both the critique guidelines and the submitted
work. A non-member who participates in a critique is not credited with one of the three critiques required to submit material
for a critique.
1. Contact the Critique Coordinator (High Country Writers vice president) to get on the critique schedule and to discuss the
2. Submit the following to the journal editor no later than 3 weeks before the meeting at which the critique will take place:
• A manuscript of approximately 20 double-spaced pages of 12-point Times New Roman with 1 inch margins and page numbers
on the bottom.
• A cover letter that brings critiquers up to speed about:
o Intended audience (Young adults? College students?)
o Tone (Satire? Humor? Serious?)
o Genre (Romance? Thriller?)
o Whatever the critiquer needs to know to understand the context of your manuscript (e.g., if this is chapter 4, what key
points does the critiquer need to know from chapters 1-3 so this chapter makes sense?)
o Any specific questions on which you want feedback (Is the reading level right for a junior high student? Does the dialog
3. Make a 1 - 2 minute introduction to the critique.
4. Critiquers are asked to mark up their copy of the manuscript and to leave it with the writer at the end of the critique.
Not all will, so you may want to take notes.
5. If a critiquer's comment is not clear, you may ask for clarification at that time or when all critiquers have finished,
so state at the beginning how you want to proceed. In either case, be mindful of the need for the critique to keep moving
so all critiquers have time to make their comments within the 90-minute format. Any discussion for clarification should be
between the writer and the critiquer, not an open discussion among all the members.
6. As the CRITIQUER guidelines explain, comments are offered in the spirit of benevolent honesty, so:
• Have an open mind. The words are fresh to the reader, and the writer is often too close to the material to see what
new eyes see.
• Accept all comments graciously and without argument. If the point is not clear to someone, it isn't clear to them,
and it may not be clear to future readers, either. Even when you don’t agree with the critiquer's comments, the critiquer
may have identified something that could use clarification in the manuscript.
• Make use of the suggestions that make sense to you and forget the rest.
• Remember that this is a critique of your story, not YOU, and the manuscript is a draft.
7. The High Country Writers critique coordinator (vice president) is responsible for refocusing the discussion if it gets
In preparation for the critique (prior to attending the critique)
• The link to the manuscript for the critique is included with the email publishing the monthly High Country Writers
• Write your comments on the manuscript that you will give the writer at the end of the critique. Use colored ink for
• Arrange your ideas into a tactful, organized critique that includes strengths as well as weaknesses. Consider these
questions as you identify strengths and weaknesses:
o Is the title working? Can you suggest a better one?
o What is the main idea of the piece and is it conveyed effectively?
o What is the tone of the piece (comic, serious, tragic, formal, informal, satiric?) and does it appear to be logical and
true to the writer’s intent?
o How is the opening: Slow? Too quick? Confusing? Dull? Does it grab you?
o How is the piece organized (Flashbacks? Chronological?) and is the organization effective?
o Is the point of view established early and maintained consistently?
o Is there a good balance between showing and telling (action and explanation)?
o Are the characters and their dialog believable and consistent?
o Is there a recognizable, meaningful conflict? Is enough at stake for us to care about the outcome?
o How did you react to specific scenes or dramatic moments?
o Are the details specific enough? Would you prefer more or less description?
o Were all the scenes important to the story?
o Did the plot continue to move at an acceptable pace?
o Is the style clear and easy to read or does it come between you and the content?
• Rather than using discussion time for comments on grammatical issues, use recognized editing / proofing marks on the
manuscript to convey your comments.
o lower case, use a slash (/) over the capital letter
o upper case, draw 3 lines under lower case letter
o leave as it was, use "stet"
o insert a comma, use ^ with a comma under it
o insert a word or letter, use ^ with the new word or letter above it
o insert a period, put a circle around a period
o possible spelling error, use
o insert a space, use #
o transpose words, use a sideways "S" under the first word and over the second word
o delete a word, draw line through it trailing into a written letter "e"
o begin new paragraph, use a capital "P" with a parallel line before the "P"
o no new paragraph, use a sideways "S" to connect the end of the previous paragraph with the beginning of the next one
For the critique session:
1. Each critiquer will have the opportunity to speak in turn without interruption or questions from other critiquers. Write
down the points you want to make and save them until your turn or until all others have had a turn.
2. OPEN WITH SOMETHING NICE. Remember what an accomplishment it is to get something in a form you can show fellow writers.
3. Phrase your comments and responses to the above questions provisionally: "I think," "It seems to me," "In my opinion...."
It is more valuable to the writer to hear observations than evaluations.
4. Don’t argue with the writer or try to rewrite the story.
5. Be specific by pinpointing problems and offering suggestions, if possible, without trying to show your superiority.
6. If something offends you, remember that taste is subjective. We do not set moral standards. Free expression is the right
of a writer.
7. Don’t monopolize the conversation.
8. It is helpful for the writer to know that several people have the same comment – a comment that may have been made
before the discussion gets to you. In the interest of time, if the comment has already been made and you agree with it, briefly
say so, adding only additional points or agreements/disagreements on points already made.
9. Simply pass if you have not read the manuscript or have nothing to add.
10. To maintain focus on the manuscript, refrain from injecting personal experiences into your critique.
11. Commend the writer on good points and conclude with something ENCOURAGING.
12. Submit your written comments to the writer at the end of the session.
WRITING A ONE-PAGE SYNOPSIS by Maggie Bishop
The synopsis is a selling tool. It may be the only part of your work editors see -- get to the point.
First paragraph - open with a book cover blurb that contains strong, economical wording.
Hook them here to keep them reading. Study book cover blurbs to see how they tantalize and introduce the main characters and
the central conflict without really telling you anything more. In other words, what is it about back cover blurbs that makes
you want to peek inside or put it in your stack to buy?
Second paragraph - what does the protagonist want, and what keeps her from getting it? This
is essential. The goals of the one or two main protagonists are very important in a synopsis. Clearly define the goal. Is
your character sympathetic? Does the reader relate to her?
Third paragraph - what does the other protagonist want and what keeps him from getting it?
As in the second paragraph, briefly explain his goals.
Fourth paragraph - what stands in their way? Clearly define the conflicts and major plot
points. Further explain what you have alluded to in the first paragraph on the central conflict. Whether it is a person, place
or thing that they must confront/overcome, be sure to define it in this paragraph. This is also the point where additional
plot twists can be identified for the editor if you feel paragraphs 2 & 3 do not adequately explain how their individual
goals stand in their way.
Fifth paragraph - how do the protagonists resolve this/these problem(s) and come together?
If you fail to show `how' resolution is reached, you may lose the editor's interest. Don't get `flowery' in this part, be
specific. Merely saying a protagonist suddenly realized she was wrong doesn't tell the reader that she discovers the reason
behind her change. Make a list of all the elements of your climax scene as well as the `discovery' elements leading up to
that point, and put them into a few short sentences. If you feel this is too short to tell your story -- the climax, etc.,
add more paragraphs between the above required paragraphs, but make it as interesting as possible. Limit each paragraph to
Single space, indent paragraphs, present tense, third person, no or little dialogue and use the
same style as in the novel (humorous, serious, etc.). Check grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Bishop
"ENERGIZING WRITERS SINCE 1995"
Copyright 2009 to present
High Country Writers -- Boone -- NC -- 28607