Criticizing fiction from a writer’s perspective

When criticizing fiction (whether we’re talking about published work or material for a critique group), it’s easy to fall into the trap of asking “Did I like this?” The subject of that question is not the work, but the reader: “I.” These are some of the questions we should ask instead:

  • What work does the first line do? Does it set up what’s to come? Does it provide a hook for readers so that they’ll be curious enough to continue?
  • What viewpoint is used? How does it affect the story and the reader’s expectations or experience?
  • Who is the protagonist? What does he want in this story or scene? What is stopping him from getting it?
  • Who are the other characters? What do they want? How do their desires interfere with or complement the protagonists?
  • What’s important about this story or scene? What’s at stake for these characters?

Examine what’s in the work rather than whether you like it. You’ll understand it better and provide better criticism.

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