Act 1 is crucial in guiding readers into your character’s world and maintaining reader engagement. Critical readers can help evaluate how your Act 1 impacts on readers, but in my experience, they may be inclined to comment only on what annoys them, what they love and if they’re writers -their personal strengths in writing craft. If you don’t ask your critical readers to comment on anything in particular, their feedback may exclude clues about which aspects of your craft -or a particular novel- may need developing.
This is a list of reflective questions to help guide well rounded critical reader feedback throughout Act 1 (and in some cases beyond). As a writer, you may like to select or adapt some of these questions to give your readers. As a reader, you may consider where the strengths and weaknesses of the story you are reading lie and which questions you’ll give feedback on. If you missed it, you’ll find my Chapter One Critical Reader Checklist here.
Do You Understand The Point of View Characters?
Do you have a clear sense of point of view character goals?
Do you understand what drives these characters?
Do character actions make sense to you? And do characters emotional, physical & verbal reactions match what you’ve read about them so far?
If you feel jarred by a character’s actions or reactions, telling the writer so can help focus their edits.
If the pov character thinks in italics, do you read the italics and do you find them effective or annoying?
Do you get a good sense of who a character is and what they’re thinking and feeling through their dialog, actions and internal thoughts, or do they seem distant or unknowable?
What is your overall impression of point of view characters?
Telling the writer can help them reflect on whether they have accurately and consistently represented their characters throughout their story.
Do you get a Good Feel For Character Relationships?
Can you see why new friends/ love interests are drawn to each other?
Do you get a feel for the dynamics of the main characters key relationships?
If these draw you into the story, it can help the writer to know this. If you can’t get into the story because characters or their relationships feel flat, stereotypical or underdeveloped, knowing they don’t engage you also helps inform the writer’s edits.
How Do You Find the Setting/ World Building?
Does what the MC sees, hears, smells, thinks and feels about their world draw you into the setting?
Are you getting a sense of the setting through the characters experience, or through chunks of disembodied narration? Either way, does it engage you?
If there is a magic system, or an alternate political or class system, do you understand how the system impacts on characters lives and the story? Is this made clear to you, or are there details you need to understand to follow the story which seem murky?
How Do You Feel About the Antagonist?
Do you feel like you’ve ‘met’ the antagonist early enough? Or are the characters wandering around having a lovely time, and you don’t feel drawn into the story because there doesn’t seem to be any tension or signs of conflict?
Do you understand the nature of the threat the antagonist poses? Is the worst they (or it) can do at any given point in the story made clear to you?
If the antagonist is a person, do you understand what drives them and what their goal is?
Is the Story Engaging?
Are you meeting interesting people, seeing interesting places & learning interesting things about characters and their world?
Do you feel like the story is going somewhere? Are there signs of things being not quite right, growing tensions between characters or within the world or signs of danger or trouble to come?
Do point of view characters have overlong internal monologues where you’re dying for someone to do or say something?
Do any details of narration bog you down, overwhelm or confuse you? Or do you want to skip ahead at any point?
Do you stay engaged throughout scenes? If your engagement drops, I suggest commenting when it does and if you think you know why, saying so.
Larger Casts, and Characters acting in groups
Does each character speak with their own distinct voice? (Ie. in speech patterns which reflect their personality, age, background, education, class, culture etc.)
Can you see that the characters have different personalities?
Do they show their emotions with different gestures and behaviours or do multiple characters act like they’re the same person emotionally?
Can you remember which character is which within a scene and across chapters, or do you feel like there’s too many characters to keep track of?
Or are some characters so similar that you get them mixed up?
Letting the writer know this may indicate that they need to differentiate characters more or to amalgamate similar characters (who don’t need to be separate people), so the reader can keep track of and get to know the remaining characters properly.
If the characters are working in a group, do they have their own ideas about how to precede? Is there tension and different opinions on how the group should respond to story problems? Or does everyone agree with each other to an unrealistic extent?