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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Critiques of Accidental Witness

As you know, I didn't win, or even qualify as a finalist, in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Competition. But part of the promise of the competition was a critique based on a two-page synopsis and the first chapter of the book (the submission). I got the critiques in the mail yesterday and thought I'd share what they had to say. It's long, so I've put it behind the cut. All told, I'm pretty pleased with it. I printed and mailed the manuscript in Barcelona, so it was on A4 paper instead of standard 8.5x11, and the critics didn't like that (it is against the rules), but other than that, everything in the critique seems to be positive.

Pacific Northwest Writers Association Critique Form
ENTRY # 854 TITLE: Accidental Witness
CATEGORY: Jean Auel Mainstream Novel
Basic Idea/Theme: Is it clear? Is it carried throughout the entire piece? Is there a hook?
  1. Excellent opening sentence in your synopsis; I’m immediately intrigued. The excerpt opens slowly (just fine) and is a logical, well-written beginning.

  2. The theme is clear. The reader will become engaged faster when you reveal the hook more openly, but as it is the reader can ascertain the theme fairly quickly.

Plot: Is there a plot? Is it plausible, or does the writer’s skill suspend your disbelief? Do the characters move through the story in a realistic way?
  1. The poker game/investigative business is a terrific and original hook. Th oral histories of the elderly are also good to tell a story and wrap around Aaron’s story. The submitted excerpt is from the beginning so I can only assume all will tie together nicely.

  2. Yes.

Viewpoint: Is the point of view clear and consistent? Does the reader feel a part of the story or an outside observer? Does this help or hinder?
  1. POV is third person from Aaron’s view, transitioning occasionally into omniscient when explaining things like the poker. Transitions are smooth and well-handled. I’m an observer, along for the ride, which works for this story.

  2. Because you tell the story from Aaron’s viewpoint, the first person narration of the interviewees flows well and keeps the reader within the story. Good job here!

Characterization: Are protagonist’s motivations clear? Is he/she multidimensional? Is the conflict clear? Are secondary or peripheral characters well drawn?
  1. Mad Aunt Hattie is delightful – the tone of her voice in juxtaposition to her looks is well done. You lightly paint the others, like Jack, with just the right amount of detail for the moment in the book. Aaron is taking an observer view at this time which actually seems accurate per the info in the synopsis. However, I think this would be stronger with a few more hints about Aaron. Make me want to root for him/care for him because right now everyone else is more interesting.

  2. Aaron is a complex figure, as is Hattie. You draw multidimensional characters nicely. Aaron’s motivation is a bit vague, as is the conflict, but you have created a compelling cast of characters who become real. Aaron will be even better when you show the reader more of his reactions to and analysis of his story as it moves along.

Narrative/Dialogue: Is there a balance between the narrative and the dialogue? Is the dialogue natural; does it flow? Does the dialogue move the story and relationships forward?
  1. Very well balanced and dialogue is not just a placeholder but truly key. During Hattie’s story of her childhood, it would have been nice to break it up with her patting her hair, pouring tea—something to remind the reader where and when they are.

  2. Dialogue is natural and flows well. It will be stronger when you add a few more indications of the speakers’ demeanor, reactions, and states of mind. For example, Aron’s character and his budding relationship with Hattie will come into focus more when (on page 7 for example) you sneak in a few words about how Aaron responds internally to her remarks about being named “Mad Aunt Hattie.”

Setting/Description: Is the setting clear at the start and carried throughout? Are the five senses used effectively? Is there effective use of imagery?
  1. The passage where Aaron wonders if the nursing home causes the odor is particularly charming. The description of the scene in Hattie’s room for tea is excellent; I could see it. I’m not sure what the temp is outside, what time of year it is.

  2. Yes, and when you describe the nursing home settings the reader can be there hearing, smelling, even tasting.

Writing Technique: Does the tone of the story fit the subject matter? Do scene transitions work? Is the style fresh or unique? Is the pacing effective? Did the humorous or emotional scenes evoke the desired response?
  1. Yes, yes, yes—all of the above. Author clearly knows how to write and tell a story at a comfortable pace.

  2. The tone works well.

Mechanics: Is the manuscript neat and are margins consistent? Is the spelling accurate? Is the manuscript free of grammatical errors? Did the submission comply with the rules of entry?
  1. Formatting slightly incorrect, but clear. A few proofing errors (words not capitalized, quote marks missing.) Paper a little long.

  2. The manuscript is neat, spelled correctly, and is free from most grammatical errors. There are too many spaces between each section of dialogue; double spacing is sufficient. Also, the paper is an odd size. It seems to be about 12" or more rather than the 11½" required.

Additional Comments may be written on the back of the form or use an additional sheet.
  1. This is an excellent beginning and I look forward to reading the rest!

  2. This is a good start to an interesting novel. Keep it up!

By the way, the opening sentence of my synopsis was the same one that I used as the one-sentence description while I was writing last November: "If they look like us, talk like us, act like us, and feel like us, who cares if there are aliens among us?"


That's wonderful! What a great critique :)
That is a great opening sentence!