A Fantasy Author's Adventures in Fiction & Life

Category: Craft & Critical Readers

Editing a Novel: Scene & Line Edit Tips

Before delving into specific novel editing tips, I’ll state clearly for anyone who stumbled across this blog in search of a fiction editing start point, DON’T start here. This blog assumes all of your characters are fully developed (including your antagonist, whether its a person or an internal or external force). So if there’s any chance they’re not, I suggest reading my Character Development Checklists. If your characters and overall story structure are good to go, its time to check your writing is clear and engaging in each scene and line. Read on for a list of the main scene and line edit tips I’ve given fellow writers feedback on, as their critical reader.

Novel Scene Level Edit Tips

Orient the reader first

Yes, adjectives, similes, imagery, metaphors etc can enrich your setting and help your writing pull a reader into a scene. But before you throw lots of scenic details at the reader, give them a chance to get orientated. Show them who is where, show a bit of that character via what that person is doing, then drip feed in some scenic details. Be wary of obscuring your main character and the role they’re playing in the opening scene by bombarding the reader with too much scenic detail.

Count Your Cast

On the same note, don’t have your office worker greet every co-worker by name as they enter the office. (And if you have a party in the first few chapters, limit who your main character interacts with to significant characters only, not half the guest list). Naming, let alone describing too many characters before they start playing an active role in the story can jumble people together in the reader’s head. If the reader doesn’t have a clear sense of who’s who, it can be extremely difficult to follow what’s happening in the opening scene (or what the book is about when successive chapters are overcrowded with named characters).

Try to give the reader time with the first point of view character you introduce, and bring other cast members on set gradually, preferably as each does something typical of themself and or contributes to the plot. That will make your characters easier to remember, and your main story easier to follow.

And literally keep a count of how many characters you name. In epic fantasy in particular, with multiple pov characters who have family, friends etc, its easy to create a named cast in the hundreds, even though Susan the maid’s only role is to open the curtains in scene three. Don’t name Susan. Just call her ‘the maid.’ If you’ve got minor characters who don’t appear often but do perform necessary on-screen roles, refer to them by role, or relationship to a more important character. Eg. ‘Barry’s cousin.’

Description and Action or Pacy Scenes

If you’re writing an action scene, or a tense or otherwise fast pace —drop the scenic details. Omit them entirely. In first or close third-person narration, the pov character is unlikely to note the type of metal, decorative style and likely national origins of the sword slashing at their face —they’re too busy trying not to get their head split open. And writing that way isn’t just about plausibly narrating a character’s view point. Detailed scenic descriptions can obscure rapid events or key conversations the reader is trying to follow.

Action Scenes

They happen fast. So write short sentences. Think powerful verbs, not adverbs. Narrate action at the speed it unfolds. And remember: your character doesn’t have time to notice much. So don’t wax poetic.

Point of View Consistency

Is every sentence in that character’s pov chapter really from their point of view? Or is Tim noticing things about Geoff that only Geoff would notice (or even know)? Or did we open the scene through Sarah’s eyes, then end up floating vaguely over her head, seeing everyone and everything?

Did you write mostly in close third person, but write the occasional sentence in which you as the narrator pass moral judgement on the scene (suddenly switch to third person omniscient)? Any one of these things can make a scene jarring for a reader, or even pull them out of your story.

Telling Feelings, Instead of Showing them

When you see Tom hunch over, his hands protectively clasping a newly forged sword, as if shielding it and himself from his master screaming: Can’t you get anything right?” you feel more for Tom than if I said: his master’s relentless criticisms made Tom feel small.
Yes ‘show don’t tell’ may have been pushed too indiscriminately as writer advice, but showing character feelings makes invites readers to connect with and emotionally invest in your characters. Its part of what persuades readers to stick with characters, seeing them through their challenges (or to see a villain get their comeuppance). A popular resource to help you choose physical reactions or internal sensations to describe to show your character’s emotions is The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

Hands typing on a silver keyboard, a put plant, glasses, a phone and two pencils artfully arranged on one side of the round white table.
 Photo by Corinne Kutz 

Line Edit Tips

Before we zoom in on line level, try to resist perfecting the dialogue, dialogue tags and scenic descriptions of chapter four. Because when you get to chapter five, you’re going to realise that most of chapter four is info dumping and you’ll delete most of it, and merge its remnants with chapter five.
If you’re a pantser or plantser like myself, you may re-read and do some edits while drafting, to keep the story on track and ensure it does arrive at its ending. You may quickly fix typos that hurt your eyes, or the odd sentence so mangled you simply can’t leave it. But try not to get bogged down about how this sentence is phrased, or how the word choices in that bit of dialogue don’t quite match that character’s personality. First, judge whether or not that scene is purposeful, is worthy of remaining in your novel, well paced, and that the only thing you now need to do with it is refine it at word level.

Personal Pronoun Clarity

My golden rule with pronouns, especially if you’re writing a nonbinary character using they/ them/ their or other pronouns is: the most recently named character is the character the personal pronouns belong to.

Eg. It’s not: She didn’t want to clean her room. She said, ‘Clean it now!’ because this sounds like the same woman arguing with herself. You need to state clearly that it was Sarah who didn’t want to clean her room, and Mum who said, “Clean it now!”

This is even more important if sometimes “they” means those men and women, and sometimes “they” means that nonbinary person. If your nonbinary character and their friend of whatever gender are doing something together, I sometimes say ‘the pair did x,’ after naming both. You could also use collective nouns instead of ‘they’. Eg. ‘the students,’ ‘the workers’ ‘the friends’ etc. Another option is ze/zir or other personal pronouns for the nonbinary character, so ‘they’ as a group of people can’t be confused with ‘they’ the individual nonbinary person.


Have you used the same noun ten words apart? Eg. She slung her bag over her shoulder. She stuffed the potion ingredients into the bag. Is the bag important, is the potion important, is packing the bag important, or is it the fact she’s delivering a mind-reading potion to the Prime Minister that matters?
Keep an eye out for when you’ve accidentally repeated words that don’t matter. Those can jar the reader, and prompt them to focus on unimportant things. Similarly, don’t repeat adjectives with nouns unless its really important to the story that the reader remembers that, for example, its a ‘high window’ instead of just a ‘window.’

He clutched at the retreating horse. How would he ever escape now? There was nothing he could do. He was so angry. He was so worried. He was so sick of the author saying ‘he’ repeatedly😉.
My personal preference for changing it up here is to alternate between starting a sentence with or using the character’s name in one sentence, and their pronouns in the next. However, when the character is nonbinary and ‘they’ could be plural or singular, I make sure ‘they’ singular always comes after the nonbinary characters’ name, so its clear ‘they’ is my nonbinary main character Ruarnon, as opposed to ‘they’ being Ruarnon AND Ruarnon’s friends.

Dialogue Tags

When its: Earasin says, “Did you get the package?”

And Merador replies, “No.”

Then Erasin says, “What if someone intercepted it?”

And Merador replies, “Then we’re in deep shit”

—there are more dialogue tags than necessary. If this conversation continued between only these two characters, you could break it up with character actions. Example, having Earasin rake his hands through his hair and Merador pace restlessly, instead of relentless ‘said whoever’ or ‘replied the other.’ Or you could drop dialogue tags altogether, because we know who both speakers are and that Erasin speaks first while Merador responds. Ideally, each character significant character has their own style of speech, favourite words etc which remind the reader who is saying which bit of the conversation. (And later in the book we will ideally know that character well enough to have a good idea what they are likely to feel or think in response to story events and that will also help us know who is speaking.)

Dialogue Spacing

As an English teacher (in Australia, England and New Zealand) the rule I’m familiar with is: new speaker =new paragraph. You might have a sentence narrating an action, thought or feeling applied to that speaker afterwards, and perhaps the same speaker speaks again. But if it’s: “Then we’re in deep shit,” Merador replied. Erasin slumped. I’d write it:

“We’re in deep shit,” Merador replied.

Erasin slumped.

With the above paragraphing, its super clear to the reader who said what and who did what. And if your story has a lot going on (especially if there’s lots of characters doing it), paragraphing (or phrasing) events as clearly as possible makes it easier for the reader to not get confused.


Yes, you want to avoid using fancy synonyms for ‘said’ that may pull a reader out of the story, eg. ‘He pontificated.’ So if you’re worried about how many times you’ve said ‘said,’ try substituting it for neutral-sounding words. Eg. ‘asked, suggested, objected.’

Word Choices

Have you used powerful verbs instead of adverbs? Eg. instead of ‘They walked swiftly’ try ‘They rushed/ hurried/ raced.’ This is particularly useful in action scenes when you want fast-paced sentences. It can also help your sentences flow better.

Excess words

There are phrases that require more words to get meaning across, which don’t add any value to sentences. I suggest doing a search and replace for the phrases below and any others your critical readers spot.

Eg. ‘In order to’ =’to.’ ‘Was able to’ =’could.’

Filler words

On the same note, filler words are single words that add to your word count without telling the reader anything they don’t already know and without adding value to a sentence.

Eg. Just, even, turned, only, that (NB. sometimes ‘that’ is necessary for meaning and sometimes it’s merely a filler word, so be mindful of that before you auto-cull it).

Again, do a search for filler words and see how many unnecessary words that removes from your novel. For a list of these, see the second link below.

Filter Words

These are words that remind the reader they are looking through someone else’s eyes, which can make the story feel more distant, or even pull the reader out of the story.

Eg. Sarah looked at Tom who was… vs. Tom was…

‘Felt’ can also remind the reader, ‘this is how character x is feeling,’ ie. ‘you’re not there, you’re not feeling it’. Reminding the reader that they are merely reading can push them away from the character, emotionally distancing them from your writing. This can make the reading experience less emotionally powerful, and less satisfying.

‘Looked’ and ‘felt’ are some good ones to do a search and replace for.

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Further Reading

Character Development Checklists, by me.

9 Tips for the First 5 Pages, by me.

Filter Words and Phrases to Avoid in Fiction, by Anne R. Allen, which categorises filter word lists, and offers suggestions on alternative phrasings.

Editing a Novel: Character Development Checklists

You’ve just finished the first draft of your novel; what now? First, I’d check the big picture of your story. Does your main character and the antagonist develop and do the stakes increase throughout your story? Do you have a fully rounded antagonist and fully developed secondary characters, or is your main character facing a stereotypical villain with the aid of allies who exist solely to help them achieve their goals? Do you have realistic tension in relationships between key characters? Does each chapter actually need to be in your story? And once all of the above is looking good, is the tone (relatively) consistent throughout?
This checklist will unpack all of these things to help you evaluate character development, character arcs and story tension throughout your novel.

Main Character & Antagonist

First things first: what drives your main character and antagonist? If both are human, why do they believe they are right? How do they believe what they want will make things better? And for who?
Have you made their motivations clear throughout the story (when relevant)?

Main Character Considerations

To check your character arc is on track and that each chapter contributes to the development of your MC (main character) or point of view (POV) character’s arc, here’s a few questions.

Youthful heir Ruarnon in bronze full body armour, holding a bronze helmet and leaning on a spear.
Whom else would I illustrate characters with than my nonbinary main character, Heir Ruarnon?
Art by GlintofMischief.

What does your main MC want? What do they think is in their way? What’s actually in their way? Does their goal change as they learn and grow throughout the story? How?

Which is the sequence of steps your pov characters take to achieve their goals?

What obstacles do they face along the way?

When do internal demons, doubtful or worried allies or ‘friends’ with conflicting interests hold them back?

At which point do the characters learn or discover things which aid their ultimate success?

When do they hit roadblocks, and does overcoming roadblocks help them grow and lead to success later on? 

Is there a lie they believe and if so, what helps them begin to see and ultimately brings them to accept the truth?

Does every chapter do at least one of the above? (ie. does every chapter pull the character’s arc forwards?) If it doesn’t, how is that chapter pulling its weight? Has it earned its right to remain in your novel?

Antagonist Considerations

Whether your antagonist (antag) is a human, an internal force like self-doubt or an external force, here are some questions to check their development, and to check human antagonists are fully rounded characters.

What steps does the antagonist take towards achieving their goal? If the antagonist is a force of nature or inner demons of the main character, how do they obstruct the MC and at which points?

What obstacles does the antag face? If your antag is a force of nature or internal demons, approaching it this way may help deepen your awareness of and how you portray your protagonist(s), who are likely obstacles to your antag.

Does a human antag have revelations that prompt them to progress along a negative character arc? Possibly as they resort to increasingly harsh/ immoral means of obtaining good ends?

How does the antag respond to roadblocks? If they’re human, are they resilient, or able to charm and win over people who oppose them, or do they throw tantrums and become more aggressive —do roadblocks drive their negative arc? 

Even if the human antag has a distorted worldview, does the narration from their point of view show how, to them, what they believe is rational and right?

If the antag is inner demons, does it counter the MC’s success with irrational reasoning, guilt or other powerful emotional reactions to story obstacles?

If the antag is a virus/ monster/ climate change —does it keep evolving in a way that threatens humanity, as humanity learns to adapt to/ combat it?

Is there a lie the antagonist believes and what in the story confirms and strengthens their belief in the lie?

Does each chapter in which the antagonist/ antagonistic force appears move the story’s conflict forwards?

Later Structural Edits

If you’ve achieved the above, but would like to kick your story up a notch, here’s two suggestions for doing that.

1. Make it harder for the MC. Use contagonists, insecurities or roadblocks to make the MC’s struggle greater.

2. Up the stakes. Now the reader knows what the story’s all about and everyone involved, threaten more people or increase the severity of the threat.

Secondary Characters

A trap with secondary characters is making them subservient to the main character’s goals —the faithful friend stereotype. That may mean you write secondary characters who don’t seem to have lives of their own, or whose goals perfectly align with the MC’s. So your MC and secondary character may co-exist in harmonious unity —not very likely, or realistic, or good for story tension.

Who supports the MC? Who is officially onside but disagrees with the MC’s supporters or challenges the MCs methods?

What are the secondary characters goals and how do they align or compete with the MC’s goals?

Are characters sometimes helpful but sometimes arguing? For example, do your secondary characters have any conflicting interests with the MC? Does this lead to rising relationship/ story tension throughout?

Do you have secondary characters who are very similar or playing a very similar role in the story? Can you merge these characters, so there’s a smaller cast the reader gets to know better and connect more deeply with?

All Characters

Are character actions and logic believable and does backstory indicate why they are predisposed to be that way? (This is a good question to ask your beta readers).

As characters speak, act and pursue goals, are the biases, knowledge, prejudices, sympathies or passions that guide (or misguide) them clear? How do these things influence character actions?

Does each character speak with their own voice? (In dialogue and especially if you have multiple point of view characters).
Possible voice influences: socioeconomic status, education, are they speaking from a position of authority or servitude? Publicly or privately? To a friend, family member or stranger?

If all of the above is going well, I’d do an edit focusing on the internal consistency of character beliefs, opinions, actions, dialogue and voice.

Focus on Chapters

How does each chapter reveal what drives a point of view character in the story?

Does each chapter bring point of view characters closer to or push them further away from achieving their goals?

How do relationships or revelations prompt the MC to reevaluate their goal? 

How often do chapters raise the stakes of the story goal?

Story Tone

Now we know who’s in this story, what journey they’re on and what they’re up against: What is the overall tone of your story? Serious and heavy? Light? Playful? Casual? A mix of deep, possibly dark themes and comic relief?

As you edit —how do scenes and character interactions fit with the overall tone? Do some scenes clash with the overall tone? Ie. are some scenes too light and funny, or too dark compared to the tone of the rest of the book?
This may not be an issue in chapter 10 (especially if it’s a grim story with comic relief), but if the tone and events of chapter one hilariously silly and innocent and then chapter two gets violent and nasty —the reader won’t know what kind of story this is. So I’d check your events and character interactions in the early chapters set the tone for the book.

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Further Reading

Chapter Checklist by K.M Allan.

Chapter One Checklist by me.

Act 1 Checklist by me.

Act 2 Checklist by me.

Act 3 Checklist by me.

Critical Reader Checklist: Act 3

Photo by Yuri Efremov

Your book has covered a lot of ground to reach Act 3. Now its time for reader payoff. If you’re a writer, this critical reader checklist of questions will help you ensure Act 3 is clear and rewarding for readers. If you’re a critical reader, responding to these questions will help you provide invaluable feedback to the writer. (Missed my previous checklists? You may like to start with Chapter 1 or Act 1.)

Story Progression and Reader Engagement

Does each scene build your anticipation of the final resolution of the conflict?

Does each character realisation build towards the character’s Moment of Truth?
(Or even foreshadow their final state, particularly if the character is an antagonist with a positive arc, who changes sides at the end)?

Does the tension of Act 3 pull you in and hold you in from start to finish?

Scene Level Considerations

Do scenes give you enough time to absorb events and information, especially character deaths?

Are there thematic or scene-level elements (too many things going on) which distract you from the resolution or which make it harder to follow?

Climactic Moment

Are you with the main character, whose at the heart of the action during the climatic moment?

Or does narration flit between point of view characters scattered between conflict locations too often?

Or does the main character observe others actions too much, making this scene feel emotionally distant?

Does anything else distract you, or make you impatient for the scene to get a move on or reduce its tension?

Has the writer positioned you to scream encouragement at the main character through the climactic moment? Are you excited, thrilled or really happy when they triumph? Or shattered if they don’t?
Or did you not connect emotionally to them well enough throughout the novel to care much either way?

The Resolution

Is each aspect of the conflict, and each step of how it needs to be resolved and why clear to you?

Do particular skills or abilities of each pov and secondary character play a relevant and fulfilling role in the resolution of the conflict?

Does the resolution deliver on thematic promises, e.g. character lessons, framing key themes of the story and showing the role they play in the resolution?
Or was it mentioned that Tom needed to learn to make friends, and that subplot was forgotten? Did it play no role in the resolution, breaking that promise to you as a reader?

A Satisfying Ending?

Are you feeling satisfied by the way characters resolve their differences?

By how supporting characters being their typical self helped resolve the story problem?

Are you satisfied with how the story is wrapped up, and with the state in which you depart the story world and its characters?

If not, is this because the ending feels rushed? Or did the story stop too soon, leaving things unresolved that you wanted to know about and which would have made the ending more satisfying for you?
Or does an epic conflict leave the world in a state of devastation, instead of fast forwarding to a scene showing that the world does in fact recover?

Not the Last Book in a Series?

If this book marks the end of one stage in an epic conflict (as opposed to a stand alone novel), do you still feel there was a clear beginning, significant plot development and that it took you on a journey? Is Act 3 leaving you satisfied with the ground covered in this book?

Are you satisfied with how much characters have grown in this book, or did they feel flat or their growth stagnate at any point?

Does this book’s final state scene show which things pov characters are still grappling with, foreshadowing what their character development may involve in the next book?

Is it clear how, despite this book’s main conflict being resolved, a significant element of conflict is still out there? and are you left with some idea of who it still threatens and how?
Does this suggested continuance of conflict feel like an organic continuance of story, or like its been tacked on? Does it feel like another great instalment in a saga, or a prequel movie designed to make it producers money?

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Related Reading

Chapter One Checklist by me.

Act 1 Checklist by me.

Act 2 Checklist by me.

Chapter Checklist by K.M. Allan.

Critical Reader Checklist: Act 2

Photo by Seven Shooter

Some writers dread the middle of a novel. Its an easy place for characters, themes, plots and subplots to get stuck, lost, or to go on unnecessary tangents. The critical reader questions in this post are designed to help reader feedback to support the writer in keeping Act 2 on track, and ensuring it gives the reader a good experience. (I developed them while working with and as a beta reader, and they have companion blogs for Chapter One and an Act 1).

Are the Characters Engaging?

Are you seeing enough character actions, and hearing enough dialogue and internal thoughts to feel tensions between characters?

Have you seen enough of character’s personalities to understand why certain characters are drawn to or inclined to be in conflict with each other?

Do you react to some character actions with ‘of course he/ she/ they did!” because you feel you are getting to know them?

Do you know any characters well enough to guess what they may do next? Does this make the story more engaging?

Is the Story Engaging?

Does each chapter end by doing at least one of the following:

-adding tension between key players?

-providing another clue in the overall mystery?

-affirming or challenging the lie the pov character believes?

-adding another complication the pov character must overcome to resolve the main conflict? Eg. the character gets something wrong and makes their own life harder.

-moved the pov character nearer to getting what they want, what they need or (if it differs from both) does each chapter take them a step closer to resolving the main story conflict?

Character Development & Plausibility

Can you follow the character’s logic as they persist in believing a lie, or begin to realise the truth?

Do you see and are you convinced by why the character still clings to the lie?

Are you convinced by how characters experiences are changing them?


Are you being shown or reminded of things you’ve already seen (especially when it seems unnecessary?) Or is each scene making you feel like the story is moving forward and drawing you on to its next stage?

If you don’t feel the story is moving, and you’re starting to lose interest -which bits aren’t appealing to you? Do you know why or what the writer could change to resolve this?

Are relationship dynamics between characters -positive or negative- being tested and changing? Or is everyone getting along perfectly? And is the supporting cast solely focused on helping the MC achieve their goal (instead of characters having their own goals? And are character relationships too idealistic and or flat?

Story Tone

Occasionally, I’ve beta read books with an Act One mixing serious themes, humour and playfulness, then in Act 2 -boom! The story turns a corner and is suddenly twice as dark or twice as violent as Act 1’s tone led me to think it would be. So are you jolted by how light or heavy, how serious or playful, how gentle or violent later chapters are, compared to earlier ones?

Story Focus

Does the story home in on particular themes, particular relationships and particular character goals?

Does it focus on too many things for you to follow or appreciate?

Or does it focus only on one or two main things, when there’s room and other things you’d like to see further developed to give you a real sense of payoff?


If the characters went to that place, or the MC was given that thing, or we know a secondary character loves x, does the middle of the story start referring back to and building on these?


Does the secondary character’s knowledge because of an interest you’ve already read about, or skills from a hobby mentioned earlier start helping the MC tackle aspects of the story problem?

Does the location where we met key players later yield clues in solving the murder? Or is it a place about which we know family secrets are kept or where other allies are now being sought?

If there something about a character, a place, a device etc that got your interest, but hasn’t been developed and that you would like to see more of?

Action Scenes

Can you picture who is where, doing what? Or are there so many details that you lose sight of the main actions in a scene?

Are you hanging on the edge of your seat, reading short, sharp sentences which narrate at the speed the scene unfolds? Or is some of the suspense and tension killed by long winded sentences?

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Total Page Visits: 3095

Related Reading

Chapter One Checklist by me.

Act 1 Checklist by me.

Act 3 Checklist by me.

Chapter Checklist by K.M. Allan.

12 Critical Reader Partnership Tips

Two women looking at a computer.
Photo by CoWomen

You’ve found a critical reader or a story to read! How can you ensure that working with the reader or the writer is a positive, productive experience? I’d like to say the hard part is finding each other and from now on it will all be sunshine and rainbows, but I’ve heard stories of critical reader feedback such as, “This is wrong” or “That was poorly done” and even “You’re such a bad writer.” Or maybe you agreed to read a novel, you get it and… it’s not your cup of tea, or so raw that just re-reading to figure out what’s happening will take more time than you want to give it. To help you create effective partnerships (and pull out of ineffective or negative ones), here’s 6 critical reader tips for positive partnerships, and 6 tips for productive partnerships.

6 Tips for Positive Partnerships

1. Ensure feedback is given with the aim of improving the quality of the writing

Ideally, feedback will indicate where the writing can be clearer, easier to follow and a more engaging read. It will spell out when the reader gets confused, when they start to lose interest, what they want more of and what they really enjoy. It won’t be, “This is wrong/ rubbish/ you should never…” Aside from being negative, all that really says is, “I think something here doesn’t work.” That’s of limited help. Whereas feedback like, “This scene was a bit slow for me,” suggests the problem and a solution -editing to accelerate pace and keep the reader engaged.

General positive statements can also help with editing. Its easy to lose sight of whether your writing is any good when you edit, so as a reader, commenting on things you find effective, entertaining or which really impact on you can help writers identify what’s working –and to not lose sight of and accidentally edit it out.

2. Ensure Feedback accounts for the reader’s personal bias.

If you want to make a suggestion but can’t cite an objective reason, its good to let the writer know, “This might just be my preference but…. ” Objective statements like “This should…” can make the writer feel that ‘everyone’ sees it that way and they ‘must’ change something, when reading can be very subjective and it may only be some readers who find it that way.

3. Feedback Is Honest.

Holding back to ‘spare the writer’s feelings’ does not improve the quality of the writing. Yes, feedback can be painful, especially if the writer in question sees every observation or suggestion as something they ‘did wrong’, as opposed to something they ‘can do more effectively.’ But the writer is asking for feedback because they believe comments about how a reader sees their story can help them tell their story more effectively, so denying them feedback isn’t helpful. If you’re inclined to hold back because of prior experience with giving a writer feedback, no. 4 might be the problem.

4. The Writer Must Be Receptive to Feedback.

No, I don’t mean ‘the writer has to edit everything the critical reader says.’ A critical reader may love that character and want to know more about their backstory, or for the book to delve deeper into theme x. They may suggest the writer do so and the writer may disregard that feedback, because it doesn’t fit with what they’re trying to do with their story.

I’m talking about writers who are consistently defensive or argumentative in the face of feedback. Writers who seem unwilling to receive constructive feedback, let alone act upon it. I’m also talking about writers I’ve seen tweets about, who appear to think a critical reader’s job is to shower them with praise, not to indicate that they have work to do. If either description matches the writer you’re reading for -your time may be wasted on them.

Writers, I’m not saying you can’t wince or flinch when you get feedback, especially on your first book (and you’re more likely to do so if you see suggestions as ‘I did something wrong,’ as opposed to, ‘here’s a potential opportunity to make my writing more effective for readers’). Nor am I saying the reader won’t make occasional comments about your story that are incorrect. What I’m saying is if your standard reaction to feedback is to defend yourself -you’re not being attacked, the reader is trying to help you improve your writing- or to argue -yes, a reader may make mistakes, but arguing with most things they say is essentially sticking your fingers in your ears- then you need to step back, and figure out why you respond this way to constructive criticism before seeking more of it.

Is Feedback Positively Phrased?

Is it “This is poorly done” and “Why are you doing that?” Or is it, “This word is repeated 5 times in 2 lines”? Or “I’m not convinced by the character doing x because y”. There is a line between being honest and direct and being arrogant, talking down to people or constantly telling them they’re doing it wrong. It can be hard to spot, and different people may perceive it as lying at different points. But if you’re finding feedback stressful, if it’s eroding your confidence or negatively impacting on your wellbeing or writing, it may be that you need to part with your critical reader because their feedback is too negative. (It may also be that you’re not in the right frame of mind to work with critical readers at that point, because life is negatively impacting how you respond to constructive, as opposed to negative feedback -especially during covid times.)

If you still find negative feedback helpful, bear in mind that constant negativity can wear anyone out -so try to phrase your feedback in terms of how the writing impacted on you as a reader- not ‘objectively’ judging what’s ‘wrong’ with the writing. If you’d like 10 Phrases for Giving Positive, Effective Feedback, I’m attaching a pdf of them to my next newsletter (and to my welcome email in future).

6. Does Feedback speak to the writer or reader as an equal, or lecture them?

Have you ever asked someone a question about a particular topic, and they assume you know nothing and start explaining everything about it? Don’t be the writer who assumes the reader has completely misunderstood your character and begins explaining things the reader’s other comments tell you they already know. Don’t be the writer who spots a potential gap in your critique partner’s craft and starts lecturing them in crafting that aspect 101, when -as is likely- you’ve just found one of their many author bias blindspots, or they thought that was a problem but they didn’t realise how big a problem it was.

If you aren’t sure what was unclear to the reader, ask a clarifying question. Eg. “Were you unsure how Barry’s relationship with Fred impacted on Barry’s decision, or why Barry made the choice he made or about something else?” Don’t lecture your critique partner about pacing, just say, “I’m wanting the story to move on now.” Or, “I think you could cut this paragraph without the story losing anything.” Starting a conversation with a reader or writer this way gives them a chance to respond and show you what they know or what they’re thinking, as well as being clear and effective communication. (As a primary school teacher by trade, I’m very conscious of this, because its how I make a living.)

6 Tips for Productive Partnerships

Man and woman high fiving over laptop.
Photo by krakenimages

1. Only agree to read (or swap) the first 1-3 chapters initially.

As a Reader You may find that the book isn’t your cup of tea. That you don’t want to read the whole thing. Or perhaps you find it interesting, but so much isn’t working for you, and or commenting on this novel would be a bigger time commitment than you’re prepared to make.

As a Writer You may find critical reader feedback unhelpful. If you’ve asked the reader to comment on character and plot development and how they find the overall story, and they mostly comment on your punctuation, I’d be saying, “Sorry, I don’t think we’re well-matched.” If this happens, here’s some places to find more critical readers.

2. Talk about how much you can read/ edit and over what time period upfront.

How many chapters are you aiming to read a day/ week/ fortnight? Don’t assume you have a similar balance of day job, family life, reading/ writing etc as your reader/ critique partner. Some of my initial CPs finished editing their whole books with other CPs while we were only up to commenting on each other’s chapter 6-9. Knowing what your goal is helps you have realistic expectations about what to expect from each other, and when.

3. Tell the reader what you’d like them to focus on, or tell the writer what you’re likely to notice and comment on.

As a Reader: the writer may be grateful for any and all feedback, but they may also want feedback on particular things. If, for example, you’re passionate about world building and the writer is desperate for feedback on their characters -you may identify from the outset that you’re not the right match. Or (as is probably more likely) -knowing that world building is your thing- the writer may also seek another beta reader who’s passionate about characters.

As a Writer: if you don’t ask your critical readers to comment on anything in particular, they may not happen to comment on things your editing focused on, leaving you no idea whether those edits did enough to support or engage the reader. You may also find that your critical reader comments only on what they like, or don’t like, or -if they’re also a writer- on aspects of craft which happen to be their personal strengths. This can leave you without an overall impression of how readers see your character, plot or tone and can mean missed editing opportunities. Yes, these impressions are subjective, but I recently noticed that one of my battle scenes may be far darker than I intended for a YA Fantasy, and that kind of overall impression is useful for a writer to know.

For ideas on what to ask your critical readers to look for, see my Act 1 Critical Reader Checklist.

4. Critique Partners: Allow for Stylistic Differences

I was conscious of this from the first as a critique partner, because one of the writers I was reading for favoured longer phrasing and descriptive writing, while my style is more concise. I had to think carefully about whether his style was slowing the pace and losing story tension at a chapter level, or whether I was getting hung up on his sentences because I didn’t like their style. As a CP -style isn’t your concern- but things like losing interest because of drawn out sentences slowing the pace is. So if your CP’s writing style is different -respect it- and try to only comment on it when it poses problems for you as a reader.

5. When you’ve Given/ Received Feedback 

As a reader if you’ve given feedback, eg. you can’t visualise the scene, and you see from the writer’s reply, revised chapters or Google docs that the writer has ignored that feedback, I suggest just commenting on what they are editing at that time, as they may only focus on certain things during each edit. However, if the writer appears to be editing hardly anything -again you may have a writer unwilling to take on feedback, best parted with.

As a Writer Don’t hesitate to ask the reader if they could comment a bit less or a bit more about certain things. I have a tendency to get hung up on sentence structure, but some of my CPs have been more interested in my thoughts and feelings on characters and how engaged I am in the story. So if you want less feedback of one kind or more of another: ask for it. 

If you get feedback you think is helpful, but you’d like to know more -ask a follow up question. When I interviewed Halla William’s recently (I’ll publish the interview in March), she said that when she got feedback on her query letter, “I really interrogated it.” She asked follow up questions based on reader comments, then revised certain things and asked if people could take another look. As one of her critical readers, I saw how much her drafts developed and how much stronger her query letter became from one revision to the next, which asking follow up questions clearly helped with.

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6. Be Flexible

Even if a critical reader wants to read the whole book, or both critique partners are invested in commenting on each other’s books till the end, life happens. Circumstances can differ and vary across time. During my country’s second lock down, I had a few restless days where I wanted to escape and I smashed through half my CP’s novel. Then I reached a point where I was so emotionally drained and exhausted that I couldn’t write comments which made sense, and I had to stop reading for her for 3 months. During covid times more than ever, I’d see timeframes you agree on as aspirational.

As a writer, you can have critical readers or CPs pull out for one reason or other at any time. During covid times, this is more likely. So don’t rely on one or two critical readers. Have at least three and ideally more. If someone can only comment on your first 3 chapters when you’d really like feedback on the entire book -take them up on the offer for three. It all helps.

Further Reading

Finding Critical Readers (or mentoring programs) + When is my Editing Finished?

Chapter One Critical Reader Checklist

Act One Critical Reader Checklist

Critical Reader Checklist: Act 1

Women reading on window ledge in early dawn light.
Photo by Yuri Efremov 

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, let alone provide a critical reader checklist, their feedback may exclude clues about which aspects of your craft -or a particular novel- may need developing.

This beta reader checklist asks 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 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?

Oasis bellow sand dunes in Egypt.
Photo by yours truly.

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?

Are point of view characters having 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?

Are you staying 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?

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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?

Further Reading

Beta Reader Checklist: Chapter One

Beta Reader Checklist: Act 2

12 Critical Reader Partnership Tips

Finding Critical Readers (or mentoring programs to help you develop any of the above aspects of your craft) + When is my Editing Finished?

9 Tips For The First 5 Pages

Open old book
Photo by John-Mark Smith

With many literary agents wanting only the first 5-10 pages with a query, those opening pages are crucial to readers and traditional publishing alike. Yet as a critical reader, the main advice I’ve given is to delete or rewrite whole paragraphs. With so much to set up, it’s easy to focus on “have I covered this bit yet”? in chapter one, as opposed to, am I presenting my main character as relatable, or interesting and about to embark upon a journey on which the reader wishes to accompany them? And do I foreshadow intriguing story problems to come, without distancing my readers with chunks of telling, boring them with info dumps or confusing them with time jumps? To help you reflect upon and edit, or plan and write your opening pages in a clear and engaging way, I’ll unpack 9 reflective questions giving first five pages tips.

What do I Want the Reader to Know About my Setting?

Let’s orient the reader. Let’s show them that the main character is on another planet or it’s the year 1492. I’d try to get at least one clear thing about location and which point in time the story is taking place on the first page. I’d consider doing it while introducing the MC, by thinking about things such as: what technology is your MC using? What clothes are they wearing? If they’re traveling, what is transport like in your era/ world?

Eg. In my second trilogy, my main character has to go through a checkpoint in the stone walls of a city which, until that point, sounds like anywhere in the modern world. Until my MC gazes out the window at the massive, magically shielded fence lining a deserted highway, and expresses his hope to see the monsters it’s designed to keep off the road flying overhead. Having established that my contemporary-sounding novel actually takes place in a fantasy setting, my story moves on, elaborating on world specific details and history bit by bit, later on.

Where is the Best Location to Introduce My MC?

You’ll also want to consider: what’s most important for a reader to know about my main character at the outset? Which personal factors or relationships will impact on my character’s arc? Which factors in my world/ planet, country, government or society’s beliefs impact on my MC’s life or the lives of people they love? In other words, which location is most appropriate to show the deepest desires of my MC’s heart? To show their want or goal, the lie they believe and to hint at the truth and personal flaws they may address along the way? If your external conflict extends beyond your character, I’d consider where can I place my MC to show these things and show the external conflict?

As your MC moves through the opening scene, I’d slip in casual references to what they see, here and do to show your reader the time and place your character is living in.

What Do I Have My MC Do in the Opening Scene?

That depends on what you want to show about them and their world. For example, instead of explaining that Geoff works on a planet being mined for star fuel which powers the galactic empire’s space travel and is under constant threat of meteor strikes, you could have him stub his toe on a large rock, and comment, “Haven’t they finished clearing the meteor strike yet? If the empire doesn’t staff this mine properly soon, we’re going to get buried and they can kiss their precious star fuel goodbye.”

Whatever you have your MC doing -choose a location, action and or dialogue which shows the reader who and where they are. For example, I open my prologue with Prince Ruarnon strolling through the palace of his people’s long-time enemies. As heir to the throne, he wears a mask of calm, posing to enemy servants, officials and enemy guards he’s walking past as the grave-faced ruler he believes he needs to be. He conceals his inner tension -an act and a lie tested by his character arc. He walks, not with friends or family, but with adult body guards, showing that this teen moves in the adult world and struggles with the isolation of it.

What can I have my MC doing to show through their organic reactions in thought, feeling and behaviour, what guides their beliefs? And to foreshadow their role in my story’s external conflict?

Whatever you decide, try not to begin with logistics. If you start with an MC waking up, reader me would quickly lose interest, unless your character’s first move is to insert a re-charged power source into their arm, or let pet bats in to eat giant insects, which have swarmed around the inside ceiling overnight. Have your MC doing something interesting. If you open with them driving somewhere, have them sweating and cursing as they rehearse the conversation in which they will soon try to persuade their spouse to move somewhere the spouse hates, because your MC has a fantastic job opportunity there.

Start with character action or conversation hinting at underlying tensions (in personal relationships or the entire SFF world), or at something being wrong -hint at an interesting story to come.

What can I show through dialogue?

Who are the key people and what are the key relationships in your MC’s life? What is the nature of those relationships? Are they under strain/ impacted by past events or will they undergo change during the MC’s journey? If so, how can you use dialogue, gestures and other actions to indicate the current state of your MC’s key relationship/ relationships in an early scene? You might also like to consider how you can use dialogue to show what’s relatable to readers, or unique and interesting about your MC’s relationships. Is there tension, suspicion or lack of trust beneath the surface? Banter? Do your MC and their significant other anticipate each other’s thoughts and wishes?

What other details do I Want My Reader to Know?

Answers which may leap to mind include showing off the MC’s personality, indicating their background, life experience, education, knowledge and skills or prior learning which will help them tackle the story problem. But before you put ALL of this at once, consider: What is the minimum the reader needs to know at any one point for this scene to make sense?

If page one opens with your main character being yelled at by her office boss and thinking it’s time for a career change, do we need to know right then that she was raised by a single mother? If she meets her mother for coffee after work on page two, and this conversation is the inciting event which inspires her to turn a love of deep sea diving into a career assisting marine archaeologists -maybe. But, if any of the things you want to introduce aren’t relevant to what your MC sees, hears, thinks or feels about whatever they’re responding to in the present scene -now is not the time to mention other stuff -and a paragraph or more about other things is most likely an info dump.

How Much Info Do I Show At Once?

Ideally, as little as possible. Your character comments on a strange crack in the wall, which later turns out (like Dr Who series 6) to be a crack in the universe. Then the scene moves on. Your thieves gather after a heist, one comments that someone is missing, the others decide there’s no time to waste and get out of there. Only later do they learn of the missing member’s body being found and that they have rivals -probably the same people stalking them on their next heist.

Ice cavern in Iceland
An ice cavern in Iceland, 2016. If your MC is walking through here, give an impression of this space, but don’t try to cram the MC’s backstory or the history of the city in the heart of the ice cavern by the time your MC has walked to the far end of this space.

Each time you introduce a little piece of world building via dialogue or what your character observes in the present scene, I would move your character further into the scene or through a location. Have them take in scenery or do the next action, before slipping another piece of world building or backstory in.

Give your reader time to ingest new information.

This is especially true for bringing new characters onto the scene. If possible, stagger their arrivals. Give time and show a unique thing or two the reader can remember them by before bringing the next character/ pairing etc on stage. And don’t have multiple character names starting with the same letter, or similar sounding names- that’s highly likely to position readers to confuse characters.

What does the Reader Need to Know about Backstory?

There’s a reason this question isn’t, “what do I want the reader to know?” The answer could be “all of it” and the likely result is info-dumping -slabs of telling which become disembodied from the main character and disconnected from the present scene. That makes it very hard for a reader to get into your story or know what’s going on, let alone want to keep reading. So, I would ask, what must my reader know about my character’s past to understand my character’s actions in the present scene?

The question I asked to write my first prologue was, “how do I give the reader an idea of the state of affairs between the empire and the small kingdom it has always wanted to conquer, but never been able to hold?” I did it by getting my MC to wander through the enemy palace on a diplomatic visit. Ruarnon’s thoughts and their reactions to the presence of their long-time enemies standing all around them tell the reader a lot about how Ruarnon feels about their enemies, and gives present story context for snippets of backstory. I hope its just enough for the reader to understand the present state of uneasy peace my story begins with. Then an assassin tries to kill my MC, and my book continues to reveal more about past conflict in the context of my MC grappling with signs war will break out again -soon.

As your opening scene unfolds, continue asking: how does what my MC is seeing, doing and thinking relate to backstory?

Is it essential to the reader understanding that I tie in backstory every time it relates to my character’s thoughts? Which bits of backstory can wait until the reader is better oriented in the present story?

How often across the first 5 pages (and whole first chapter) have I slipped in references to backstory? Is there too much information across those pages for a reader to easily take in information AND follow present events?

Is the backstory ‘backstory’ -or does my present story start in the wrong place?

If the narration of your first chapter wanders back to specific past events the reader needs to know about -and narrates these in past tense- you risk confusing the reader with a past and a present story, neither of which they can properly grasp. You also risk the reader getting bored with what reads as an interruption to the present story and so skipping over the backstory. (Because if the backstory mattered, surely it would be the present scene? As a reader, I find a past event narrated in past tense has no immediacy or tension, so to be blunt, I have no interest in persevering with reading about it.

If you keep writing full paragraphs about a key event prior to the current story -that prior event might need to be your opening scene, narrated as the present story, so it neither bores, nor confuses the reader as they try to get orientated in the present story.

Are Your Characters Moving in the First Five Pages?

Elise and a friend running through snow past pines in Canada.
A memorable run in Canada 2015. There’s no movement quite like sprinting on snow 😉

If your character is on the move, going somewhere and doing something, that gives the feel that your story is also going somewhere. Slip some clues in that something isn’t quite right, hinting at tension and or conflict to come, and you have an engaging first five pages. Having everyone sitting around talking may make the reader may wonder where the story is going and if it is in fact going somewhere.

It’s hard to show a character has agency if they’re sitting and chatting with friends in scene one. The first five pages need to prove your MC is an active character, who’s going to do interesting things a reader wants to read about. ‘Active’ doesn’t have to mean taking control of their life or achieving milestones -that might not be possible for them at present. If it isn’t possible, I’d show your MC’s aspirations and small steps your MC can and is taking to meet those aspirations.


One of my novels has my MC sit at a table with his mother and father on page 3. Mum has baked a cake to celebrate my 15 yo MC’s achievements and is trying to play proud mum (if not happy wife.) Dad is being rude, ungrateful, self-centred and domineering, while my MC’s internal monologue about his father is overtly aggressive and he’s sitting with fists clenched under the table. The characters are still because stillness amplifies the tension of the family dynamics and my MC’s inner tension.

So consider, is having my characters remain stationary at any point in the first five pages a necessary or effective way to show something about my MC, their relationships, world etc? If you don’t have a particular reason for keeping your characters immobile early on -get them moving!


🔸 Orient the reader in space and time.

🔸 Consider: Where can I place my main character and what can I have them doing to show, through their organic reactions in thought, feeling and behaviour, what guides their beliefs and thinking?

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How can I foreshadow their role in my story’s external conflict?

🔸 Start with character action or conversation hinting at underlying tensions (in personal relationships or the entire SFF world), or at something being wrong -hint at an interesting story to come.

🔸 Introduce world building and backstory in small snippets, with character movement or action in between, to give the reader time to digest information about your story and character’s world.

🔸 Consider: what must my reader know about my character’s past to understand my character’s actions in the present scene?

🔸 Make sure narration focuses on the present scene, with no more than a sentence or two of backstory or world building, to let the reader get oriented in the present story.

To get help your critical readers comment on how effectively you’ve done all of the above, see my Chapter 1 and Act 1 Critical Reader Checklists.

Critical Reader Checklist: Chapter 1

Woman reading on a couch before a bookshelf.
Photo by Seven Shooter

Critique partner and beta reader feedback can be gold, but as editing is a complex task, it can be difficult to decide what exactly you’d like critical readers to comment on, especially in the crucial first chapter. The reflective questions in this beta reader checklist will help guide critical reader feedback (and in some cases self-editing), giving you insight into how engaging, well paced and easy or difficult to follow unfamiliar readers found your opening chapter.

Does the story start in the right place?


Does ‘chapter one’ narrate whole paragraphs or more of events which happened before chapter 1 began? (If the reader really needs to know such events, those events might need to become chapter 1).            


Does chapter one begin with the present story, or with info dumping or backstory? Or does it slowly show the reader the character’s life, with chapters and chapters of narration before the inciting event indicates the character’s life is about to change and the story actually moves forwards? (If it takes ten chapters to reach the inciting event, I suspect the story starts six to nine chapters earlier than necessary).      

Character Action

Is the main character (or chapter one’s point of view character) doing something interesting to read on page 1? (Or lead up actions like a long, dull drive, instead of opening with characters reacting to their destination as they climb out of the car on arrival?)

What is your impression of the MC? -this can help a writer check that they have portrayed their MC consistently throughout the novel, and that they haven’t over or underdone their MC’s nature/ situation etc in the opening chapters.

Can You Get to Know and Care About Characters?             

Main Character

Does the main character’s dialogue and actions give you a good sense of who the MC is and what they’re about? Can you relate to the MC or their personal situation/ relationships in some way?

Supporting Characters 

Are there too many named characters for you to keep track of?

Or are any character names too similar to each other to easily tell apart?

All Characters

Can you spot any discrepancies in character actions or dialogue?

Do you understand the characters actions, and can you follow the character’s logic -or do character actions confuse you or seem implausible?

Do you get bored or does your interest wane at any point? (How do you find the pace?)

Letting a writer know you’ve lost interest at a certain point in a chapter and want to start skimming is helpful -because it suggests a problem with pacing. If you can give feedback about why you think you started to lose interest -that’s even more helpful. It might be because; you feel the narration is getting bogged down with details or descriptions which slow the story. Or because there’s info dumping or chunks of telling which isn’t part of dialogue, character internal monologue or reaction to the present scene, ie. without context, possibly pulling you out of the story.


Are you catching neat little peeks of what’s already happened in characters’ lives or the world in general as the character interacts with other characters and their world? Or does a character stand still so the writer can tell you five paragraphs about an event they’ve already experienced (but you missed)?

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World Building/ Scene Setting 

Have you got a clear enough sense of where and when the story is taking place?

Do you have a sense of character roles within their world? Of their jobs, status, what they can and can’t do? (For SFF this will go right into how clearly magic systems, alternate political systems, tech etc are shown).

Is it clear to you what is magically/ politically/ scientifically/ militarily etc possible and likely within the story?

Information -Showing V.S. Telling

Where possible, do you get to ‘see’ things by what the character sees, hears, says, smells, thinks and how they physically, verbally or emotionally react to their world and story? Or does the writer tell you, ‘the city has x and that character felt impatient because he had a headache.’

(NB. Bear in mind that the point of ‘showing’ is to make the story more interesting to readers and it isn’t practical to ‘show’ everything. Eg. Things like creation myths may need to be told.)

Further Reading

Beta Reader Checklist Act 1

Beta Reader Checklist Act 2

12 Critical Reader Partnership Tips

Finding Critical Readers + When is Editing Finished?

Beta Readers & Critique Partners, Mentors & Editors

Woman on sand dunes searching
Photo by Katerina Kerdi 

You’ve written your novel. You’ve revised and edited it multiple times. Now you know it so well that you can’t see the forest for the trees. You need critical reader feedback. Ideally it’ll be from observant beta readers and critique partners with different strengths to you. And help hone your craft, while readying your novel for querying or self publishing. So where can you find effective critical readers? And do you need a sensitivity reader or an editor? Once you’ve had feedback and used it to edit your novel, how will you know when you’ve finished editing?

Five Free Feedback Options

1 Scribophile

My search for critical readers began with Scribophile. This is an online community where writers earn karma points for critiquing each other’s chapters and where gaining enough points lets you post your own chapter for feedback. The free version involves posting one chapter at a time, so its a good space to seek line edit or within-chapter feedback.

However, if you work at a different pace to other writers, you may critique their chapter 1, then find their chapter 4 is ready (my experience). As a reader, you can end up reading single chapters many novels, without reading whole stories. As a writer, it can be difficult to get feedback on plot and character development across chapters and feedback from the same readers on multiple chapters. I received some good feedback on Scribophile, but there were issues across my opening chapters its readers didn’t get the chance to spot. So if you’re seeking feedback on plot and character arcs, you may need a paid membership for autonomy over who reads your chapters and when.

2. Critique Circle is similar, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t say how it compares.

3. Twitter Or Instagram’s Writing Community

If you don’t have writer contacts, its well worth joining Twitter’s or Instagram’s writing community. (For advice on getting started, see this post.) Whether you’ve made writer friends, or are new to social media, you can post asking who’s willing to trade feedback (or just asking for beta readers, but you’re more likely to get a critical reader if you’re willing to be one).

I’d share a brief blurb of your work (use a paragraph long pitch for Insta or as a graphic on Twitter, if you’ve written one). I’d also mention if you’re willing to trade just opening chapters, even if you’d ideally like feedback on the whole novel. My last round of chapter swaps was going to be opening chapters only, but it became the opening third of the novel, so you never know. I’d also mention any genres you prefer to read or prefer your critique partner to write. You’ll need relevant hashtags too, but don’t use as many as I have on the right. A hashtag for CP’s, one for beta readers and one for your genre should be enough on Twitter.

On Twitter I suggest including #CritiquePartner and or #BetaReaders in your tweet. Also try searching both tags in the search bar, to see who else is looking for critical readers and reply to likely critique partners.

Hosted Critical Reader Meet Ups on Twitter

#BetaBash by @Madeline_Pine is a quarterly event to help writers and beta readers get to know each other. Its a series of hosted prompts findable on the hashtag. You can tweet your reply (on the tag), including your blurb, audience age and genre for potential beta readers to see.

#CPMatch by @Megan_Lally is another quarterly tag. This one is for tweeting your blurb, genre and audience age to fellow writers willing to trade MS’s with each other.

On Instagram the most popular tags are #Beta Reader and #BetaReaders, but you’ll find some posts on #CritiquePartner and #CritiquePartners. Again, I suggest posting about finding critical readers AND searching the above tags on Insta to see posts seeking critique partners and replying to them.

Two of my critique partners from Twitter edited much faster than I did, so we only traded the first 6 and 9 chapters respectively. But the feedback they gave was useful in addressing issues with character logic and pacing beyond my chapters they read. One beta reader read up to halfway through my Act 2, while the third critique partner (a twitter friend) and I critiqued each other’s whole novel. Depending on many circumstances, a critique partner or beta reader may not make it to the end of your novel, but they’re my favourite way to get feedback on all aspects of it.

4. Facebook Groups

There are a LOT of critical reader groups on Facebook. This one is for finding Fantasy Beta and ARC readers (the latter providing reviews of the finished draft before the book is released). I’m a member of it and have seen writers posting and getting a few offers to read, though I haven’t sought readers there myself. I suggest searching your genre and ‘critical readers’ on Facebook, to find a relevant group for your writing. You may like to search your sub-genre and ‘critical readers’ too, as there are several sub-genre critical reader groups for romance, and there may be for other genres.

5. Discord

If you haven’t heard of it, Discord began with gamers, but there are a growing number of writer groups on it. A Discord server can have as many channels (each acting as a communal feed), covering as many topics as its admins like. A lot of writer Discord groups have channels for seeking critical readers, where you can write a blurb of your book and see if anyone’s interested.

To find Discord group descriptions and invitations to on Twitter, type ‘Discord’ and ‘#WritingCommunity’ into the Twitter search bar. Or tweet to your ask followers if they can recommend one. If you’d like an invite to the server myself and @LeiaTalon are co-admins of, you’re welcome to reply to the the tweet on the right or DM me and I’ll DM you the link. Alternatively, contact me using my contact page.

Further Reading

For more options to find critical readers and advice on working with them, see @LombardEmma‘s Finding & Using Beta Readers.  

For specific questions to guide critical reader feedback (or to guide your feedback as a critical reader), see my Chapter One Checklist and Act 1 Checklist.

Three Mentoring Programs to Apply For

If you’ve had feedback from critical readers, but would like more, from more experienced writers than yourself, there are mentoring programs. You’d need to work in close partnership, and be lucky, as there are many writers seeking mentors in the below programs.

For #AuthorMentorMatch and #Pitchwars, the mentors are authors. For #Revpit they are editors. #Pitchwars mentors also give editorial feedback on your query package.

1 #AuthorMentorMatch, is run by @AuthorMentorMatch and occurs in January. For more details, visit the Author Mentor Match website. For the prompts/ chats leading up to submissions, see the #AMM hashtag on twitter.

2 #Revpit is Revision & Editor Mentoring for MG, YA & Adult Fiction, which begins with pitching on Twitter in April (10th). For more details, visit the Revpit Website.

3 #Pitchwars mentors profiles can be viewed and the submission window for writers to submit to four potential mentors via email opens in September. For more details visit the Pitchwars Website.

Paid Editing Feedback

Woman writing in notebook.
Photo by Thought Catalog

Paid Critiques

If you can afford a ($45 US) fee for your opening chapters to be marked on a rubric covering the works, by editors or writers with degrees -I recommend entering Ink & Insights (March to June). I entered 2 different manuscripts on 3 occasions. I received 4 pages of helpful comments (one from each judge) each time, with a detailed rubric. In this competition, you are numerically scored by all 4 judges. One loved both my manuscripts and scored them highly, one wasn’t fussed and gave them a low score, and the other two scored my manuscript in the middle, but the feedback from all four was consistent. That feedback and the rubric were helpful in pinpointing specific aspects for my next rounds of edits to focus on.

Sensitivity Readers

If your wip features point of view characters from marginalised groups to which you do not belong and or touches on issues affecting those groups, it may be appropriate for you to hire a sensitivity reader. Ideally, you have done your homework on the marginalised group(s) in question, but a sensitivity reader may pick up on issues neither your lived experience nor Google can tell you. If you’d like to know more about sensitivity readers and whether or not you may need to hire one, this article may help.

Am I Finished? & Do I Need an Editor?

Woman typing on computer
Photo by Andrew Neel

Identifying when you have finished editing can be a huge challenge, especially with a first novel. Despite how helpful my Ink & Insights comments and feedback from four critical readers were, my revisions only targeted the symptoms of some underlying problems. I sent my novel to another beta reader and edited again, but my final solutions to story tension and fully developing point of view characters came from my editor Amelia Wiens. After two manuscript critiques with her, I am finally confident I’m ready to query.

Deciding whether hiring an editor is worth your while depends on your personal circumstances and goals. In my case, I could afford a developmental edit. I saw it as a personal crash course in developing characters and story tension. And I learned lessons I can apply to all future novels from it. So for me, it was worth the money.

As there’s only so much time and energy unpaid beta readers and critique partners can put into feedback, if your plot, characters or story structure may be lacking, a manuscript critique/ structural report may be a good fix.

Considering Hiring an Editor?

Get a sample edit! Check if they understand what you’re trying to do with your novel. See if there’s indications that working with them will be a valuable learning experience, as well as making your novel a more engaging read.

Self Publishing your First Book?

If you’re on a tight budget, here’s some well reasoned advice by editor Derek Murphy on why hiring an editor may not be the best idea. (He describes his services in this post, but he does so in the context of giving ball park figures for developmental and copy editing and proof reading costs.)

Editor Resources

For Definitions of developmental & Copy Editing and Proof Reading Services, with clear examples and advice on which order its best to use these services in, see Hiring an Editor, Should I Spend the Money? by Maryleee MacDonald.

5 Things Author’s Need To Know Before Hiring an editor (an interview with editor Staci Frenes by Mixtus Media) is also a good read. It details the benefits of hiring an editor and giving advice on finding a professional, reliable editor who’s likely to be a good fit for your book.

Tips to Tell if Your Editing is Finished

Have you rectified issues which could get you rejected by a literary agent?

Even if you intend to self publish, looking at resources where literary agents state reasons they tend to pass on submissions can improve the quality of your work. In this video 7 agents give 3 reasons for rejecting an MS. While in this one Meg Latore talks about why literary agents may reject the first five pages. Both videos can act as partial “have I finished editing yet?” checklists.

A Final Test of Editing Being Finished

Can you pitch your novel? Can you, in Query Sharks ‘sweet spot’ of 250-350 words;
Introduce your Main Character (+ their want/ goal if you like)
Introduce their inciting event, the central conflict & stakes
Mention a major complication to MC ability to resolve conflict, including increased stakes (if applicable)
Mention character growth that must occur for the MC to resolve the conflict and avoid the stakes/ the impossible choice the MC must make?

When I pitched in my first two Pitmad’s, I had trouble defining my MC’s goal and character growth they needed to undertake to reconcile the external conflict. There were still gaps and ambiguity in my main character’s arc (the one’s my editor later helped with). Everyone finds writing a pitch difficult. It takes ages. But if, after reading pitch crafting advice like the articles I’ve linked here and receiving feedback, you still struggle to nail any pitch ingredients, there may be a hole in your character or external plot arc. In that case, I suggest using resources on plot and character development like this one by Susan Dennard) to help identify the hole and plan another structural edit.

Whichever stage of the editing process you’re at -good luck!

Total Page Visits: 3245

Further Reading (Resources Linked Above)

Critical Reader Sites

Scribophile & Critique Circle

Fantasy Arc & Beta Readers FB Group

Paid Critique: Ink & Insights 

Critical Reader Resources

@LombardEmma‘s Finding & Using Beta Readers

My Chapter One Checklist and Act 1 Checklist of questions to help guide critical reader feedback.

12 Critical Reader Partnership Tips

Twitter Hashtags

#CritiquePartner #BetaReaders #CPMatch

Editing Resources

Do I Need A Sensitivity Reader?

Do you really need a book editor by editor Derek Murphy.

Hiring an Editor, Should I Spend the Money? by Maryleee MacDonald.

5 Things Author’s Need To Know Before Hiring an editor (an interview with editor Staci Frenes by Mixtus Media)

Instagram Hashtags

#Beta Reader #BetaReaders some posts on #CritiquePartner & #CritiquePartners

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