Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wicked Wednesday - Critiques (part 2)

This is the second part of my Critique series. On how I do critiques. It may not be the way anyone else goes about it, but hopefully I can offer a few tips that you might find helpful. You can read the first part of this series here.

After the initial read and the narrowing of the genre, I start a second read and focus on the first chapter. This is the most important chapter. If you can't keep your readers' interest, they aren't going to keep reading. I look for the hook, the setting, the backstory, the inciting incident, and the overall story problem.

Hook: hopefully it's right in the first line or at least in the first paragraph. This grabs the reader's attention with usually a dramatic action, thought, or desire. It sets the mood for the entire book. (Example: the opening line to THE DRAGONSLAYER: Xan missed the shot.)

Setting: the reader must know when and where they are. Not the exact time and date, unless it's key to the plot. But if we're in modern times, the past or future. If it's a fantasy world, it could start off in a barn or a cave. Don't leave the reader in limbo.

Backstory: You want enough to get the story going, but not too much to overload the reader. People are tempted to tell a lot in the beginning of the story, but readers only need to know enough to support what's happening in that moment.

Inciting incident: This is the event that turns the protagonist's life upside-down, or at the very least, the incident that leads to the chaos. It could be a letter from a distant relative or an assassination attempt. Big or little, it must propel the plot forward from chapter one.

Overall story problem: This isn't the hero's goal of killing the monster. What I'm looking for here is the protagonist's key internal problem. A flaw or weakness, something that she struggles with and that she needs to overcome in order to be victorious. Even if it's not obvious in the first chapter, I need to see a sign of it.

The first chapter is usually where I end up making the most changes in my manuscripts.

What do you look for when critiquing a first chapter?


  1. What a great post... I loved reading about how your approach critiques:)

  2. I love your approach to critiquing.

    I try to approach first chapters more as a reader. Are things working for me? Am I hooked? What do I think of the characters so far? Those sorts of things can be telling on what is to come.

  3. Great to read your approach. I am still getting my feet wet with critiquing so I enjoyed reading about your process.

  4. Yup, that all makes sense. Often the protag has an internal problem or two as well as an external one.

  5. Well, you've seen what I do. I actually only read the story once when critiquing because I work under the assumption the general reader will only give the story one chance to catch and keep him/her. So if I have a question or comment on the first time, I assume anyone else reading it might also have that question. Even if it's, "I don't like this guy" written next to the first time I meet him, I put down all my initial impressions. Because that's what a reader out in the world will do. And that's what will determine whether they keep reading.

  6. That's a great checklist, Christine. My inciting incident is usually there, just maybe not as obvious as it should be.

  7. You have a great approach. I especially like the inciting incident and overall story problem. Good things to keep in mind!

  8. Thank you, everyone. I try to be thorough. There are so many aspects to a good story.

  9. That first chapter/opening scene really dictates how the story is going to end for me. It took me a while to figure out that in order to have a kick ass ending, you need a kick ass beginning. :)

  10. I look for those same things in a first chapter. I'm usually weak on setting... true :) That's where I get the most flags. So, I always send my 1st chapters through my group.

    I'm the logic queen of our group. I also look for whether the idea is believable.

    Great series, Christine.

  11. Very succinct! You give awesome crits! And I agree the first chap is the hardest. I always rewrite mine like 10 times. I just did it with my recent ms and whittled out some extra backstory that I didn't even realize was there.

  12. Thanks for these tips Christine. I don't post many reviews as I'm a little unsure of how to put one together. I guess everyone does them differently but it's good to get an idea of what direction to take.
    I want to try and do more of this in the future. I have a brilliant book that I've just finished reading but I'm just not sure how to put it into words.


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