I recently read a novel manuscript for an experienced novelist; this novelist has turned the manuscript in to the editor, but it’s not yet in its final version. That made me think about critiquing, and all the different shades of critique depending on what the author needs.
How deeply do you read? What aspects of the story do you focus upon?
First and foremost, I tailor the critique to what the author has asked for, which is often related to the state of the manuscript. In this case, it’s at a very late stage; moreover, the book is second in a series. I thus didn’t read with the idea of suggesting big, sweeping plot changes. Nor did I read for typographical errors, since hopefully the publisher will take care of that further down the road.
Primarily, I looked at one aspect of the story about which I was specifically asked. I used that lens to scrutinize every bit of characterization and plot, to see if any of them came up wanting, or perhaps even went too far. It’s an off-center way to look at things, but I knew the author has other readers, some of whom will likely be looking at the story more generally.
Secondarily, I looked at the story more generally myself, because I can’t help but do so when in a critical frame of mind: what flowed, what didn’t; what confused me; in the worldbuilding, what was reiterated too often and what wasn’t mentioned enough. And all of that is also a lens, since it’s my eyes that are looking and not anyone else’s.