Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mystery, Romance, and a Proper Manuscript Critique

The Sisters In Crime (SinC) Hawaii writers gathered with the Romance Writers of America Hawaii in the Laulima Room of the Hale Koa in Waikiki for a holiday luncheon. Our colorful meal consisted of creamy-broth vegetable soup; chicken breast salad with radish medallions and endive topped with a lemony-flavored dressing; and generous, wedges of cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries.

After gifts were exchanged, we collaborated in . . . what else . . . writing a group story. One person started the project by writing the first lines of a story, the next person added a few thoughts, and each writer along the way offered another segment to the tale of a girl in black-stockings and her encounter with a beer-bellied Santa. Things turned a bit risqué for a moment but got back on track to end with a touch of humor and the desired twist of a romantic mystery, or a mysterious romance novel.

A prop demonstration was next on the agenda. Each participant presented an item representing an author or famous character in a novel. A quill, protest sign, dagger, and a spray of orchids kept everyone guessing and laughing. The hands-down winning prop was a basket containing a puppy-dog named Toto.

Our guest speaker was Patricia Wood, the author of the novel, LOTTERY. With humor and the voice of experience, she entertained and educated us with accounts of her journey to publication. Of special benefit to every writer present, was her description of what is, and is not, a proper manuscript critique.

Copy editing, which includes pointing out errors in grammar, spelling, or sentence structure, has no place in a critique. Patricia stated that, so often before even beginning to read a manuscript, the person grabs a pencil with the intention of marking errors. But a critique is meant for the big picture, she said, a total read-through without any marks!

Prescribing is not part of a good critique either. Suggestions such as, “Give that secondary character more dialogue,” or “Change the direction of the story,” or “Make the protagonist a redhead with a lisp,” are passive-aggressive criticisms couched in the form of helpful critiques, ideas suggesting the writer change the story to what that particular person wants to read, not what the writer wants to write.

A proper critique, Patricia said, addresses such questions as: Does the story hold together? Does the narrative flow properly? And are all the story/plot lines tied up in the end?

Patricia also shared a few tips about how she revises her manuscripts. She begins by reading the first chapter and then the final chapter to see if the story forms a complete arc. She does the same with the second chapter, then the third, to the end, comparing each chapter to the denouement to ensure that everything comes together as planned and nothing gets lost along the way.

Patricia Wood’s novel, LOTTERY, opens with the sentence: “My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded.” The novel is hailed by author Jacqueline Mitchard as “solid gold.” You will find LOTTERY at

LOTTERY by author Patricia Wood on Amazon


  1. Since I make a lot of grammar errors, I appreciate it when a critiquer points them out though.

  2. Lottery sounds very intriguing. Another addition to my ever-expanding To Buy list. :) I love my crit group and could not get along without them.

    Patricia has a very good way of reading for revision. I'll have to try it.

  3. Patricia has some good ideas about manuscript revision. My spouse, the Education Tipster, will appreciate this informative post.

  4. My computer has been out of commission since Friday. I am so far behind, I think I'm ahead!

    The suggestions Patricia offered are well worth considering but, ultimately, we have to use the method that works best for us. I've learned as much, if not more, from bad critiques/suggestions as from good ones.

    If you have a good critique group (always worth its weight in gold) you are fortunate.


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