Anatomy of a Greenleaf Critique

I designed my critique format with two goals in mind: (1) help the author bring his or her manuscript up to publishable standards, and (2) use the manuscript as a teaching tool to help the author improve his or her writing skills.

I was an instructor in the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Workshop and Advanced Workshop for many years, and in my opinion no writing class or book about writing is as valuable to a newer writer as a manuscript critique that provides honest feedback, thorough analysis, practical suggestions, and detailed guidance.

Honest feedback

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your book. You deserve to hear the truth about it, even if it stings a little.

When I critique your manuscript, I’ll doubtless have some nice things to say about it. After all, if your manuscript has no redeeming qualities, I won’t be critiquing it in the first place. Plus, as a writer attempting to break into this tough business, you need to know what you’re doing right so you can use those strengths to your advantage as you continue to grow as a writer

I’ll also be giving you feedback about problems with your manuscript, and I know that can be a little daunting. If the plot of your novel needs an overhaul, or if your nonfiction book needs reorganization, that’s something I’ll cover in as much detail as necessary. And I’ll be as gentle as possible. You need to hear the truth, but you don’t need to be punched in the face with it.

Thorough analysis

My first step in the critique process will be to read your manuscript from first page to last in order to get an overview of the story and to begin forming my ideas about issues that need to be addressed. Then I’ll read it again, and this time I’ll take copious notes. Depending on the nature of the story and the kinds of problems I’m seeing, I may read it a third time.

Why do I feel the need to read through your manuscript so many times before I even start putting together the critique?

Because I don’t want to begin writing the critique until I have an understanding of how all of the story elements fit together. If I’m going to make substantive suggestions about your novel’s plot, I want to know how incorporating those suggestions will affect the entire story. If I’m going to suggest major structural changes to your nonfiction book, I’ll need to be intimately familiar with how all the pieces fit together.

Practical suggestions

A few years ago, a writer sent me a critique of his manuscript that had been provided by another editor. It consisted of six pages of generic advice, of which two pages were devoted to the font the author used when printing his manuscript. The editor had a point: the writer had used purple script typeface. I guess you could say that gives new meaning to the term “purple prose.” But a third of the critique devoted to the font? Really?

I’ll be making lots of suggestions about things you can do to bring your novel or nonfiction book up to publishable standards. But I’ll use the page space to give you substantive guidance in clear, to-the-point text targeting every part of your writing effort. And yes, I’ll give you whatever instruction you need concerning manuscript mechanics and format. If you’ve used purple script, I’ll encourage you to switch to a more standard font such as Times New Roman. But I won’t sacrifice a third of the critique to do it.

Practicality extends to the post-critique as well. I won’t just send you the critique and then abandon you. I’ll be available via email or phone to answer questions as you incorporate the critique into your rewrite. If you want me to take a look at a scene or chapter to give you feedback on how you’re doing, I’ll be glad to do that. If you’re struggling with a particular element in the rewrite, I’ll work further with you on that element until you’ve got it. When you’ve finished all the revisions, I’ll take another look at the manuscript. There’s no charge for the work-in-progress consultation or follow-up review.

Detailed guidance

The critique of your manuscript will consist of two parts: a big picture examination and a detailed analysis.

The first part will be laid out in a question-and-answer format. If you’ve written a novel, I’ll use this space to discuss plot, characters, scene development, background, viewpoint, and other major elements of the story. If you’ve written a nonfiction book, this section will cover elements such as introductory material, organization, effectiveness of anecdotes, narrative style, and reader engagement. I’ll devote as much page space as needed to thoroughly cover each element.

I’ll also cover the types of mechanical errors (punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, paragraph structure, etc.) that can have such a harmful effect on readability. This section will include a lot of before-and-after examples to show you how to correct the errors and improve narrative flow.

The second part of the critique, which I refer to as the Detailed Analysis, will consist of dozens of numbered comments throughout the manuscript. This is where I’ll talk about specific scenes or passages that need work, and I’ll point out examples to illustrate points I’ve made in the big picture examination. Here, too, I’ll likely include a lot of before-and-after examples.

The end result of all this will be a critique running from thirty to sixty pages, depending on the nature and length of your manuscript. The critique will be very detailed and will serve as a guide for you in the rewrite of your novel or nonfiction book.

I also should point out that I’m not a literary autocrat. You may agree with me that a particular scene or story element needs to be strengthened, but you may have a different idea about how to do it. I’ll be glad to give you my thoughts about that. If I still feel strongly that my idea will work best, I’ll explain why. If I think your idea will work better than the one I had, I’ll say so.

Questions about how a manuscript critique will help you bring out the full potential of your book? Call me at 505-401-1021 or send me an email at william@wgreenleaf.com.