Guidelines for Writer's Critique Sessions

Here are some guidelines on how we critique each other's work.

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 if that person decides to join.


1. Contact the Critique Coordinator (High Country Writers Vice President) to get on the critique schedule and to discuss the details.

2. Submit the following to the Membership Chair 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” margins and page numbers on the bottom.

  • A short bio, particularly about your life as a writer.

  • A digital headshot (or similar) if you have one.

  • 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?)

  • Any specific questions on which you want feedback (Is the reading level right for a junior high student? Does the dialog sound authentic?)

3. Make a 1to2 minute introduction to the critique, including the specific areas on which you would like feedback.

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 critiquer’s 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 of 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 off track.


In preparation for the critique (prior to attending the critique):

• You will receive the manuscript and author’s cover letter by e-mail 2 to 3 weeks before the date of the critique.
• Write your comments on the manuscript that you will give the writer at the end of the critique. Use colored ink for easy readability.
• 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? 
o Is the central premise clear and the supporting evidence convincing?

• 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 POSITIVE. 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.