When critiquing literature, I've found that I have to go into the project with a set list of objective points, otherwise I end up getting lost in noting every minute detail like I do with my own works until I end up editing rather than giving in-depth feedback. Websites like deviantART give you some basic groups to rate, such as vision, originality, technique, and impact, but I feel that the literature category (as opposed to the visual art forms) needs more specification in how it's broken down for reviewing. However, I haven't been able to find a layout that covers all the areas I want and that I feel good about in general, so I ended up creating one of my own to share with others.
This rubric applies specifically to fiction writing, so it may not conform as well for use with, say, poetry, as it would with short stories or chaptered works like novels. It is also intended to be versatile, so it can be simplified or extended to the user's preferences or situation, and/or based on how complex/thorough one wants to be with his critique. A Printable/Downloadable Document Version is also available.
a. What are the set standards for the genre and category?
i. Compare the piece to these standards. Make note of elements that align correctly, and what elements stand out as being out of place for the genre and category.
b. Based on the tone, genre, and general story, what audience and age group is the piece focused at?
i. Knowing this, ask: is the piece appropriate for the audience or has it missed the mark?
a. Working in conjunction with the previous area, for the genre, how original is the story and characters?
i. Is it repetitive in comparison to others of its type or does it offer something new for its genre?
ii. Are characters fresh and interesting, or just flat and stereotypical of said category?
III. Imagery/Vividness/Visual Impact
a. Setting (Time and Place)
i. Do you get a sense of the surroundings and era easily or do you have to struggle to pick up details of the surroundings/to visualize the scene?
i. How does the mood help set up the story, if at all?
1. Does the atmosphere help or harm the events happening in the story?
i. What is the author’s attitude in telling the story and how does it affect the reader’s impression of details in events, scene, and character, if at all?
1. What stance does it take (neg., pos., neu.)?
2. Does it interfere with the story’s flow?
a. Does the author have the basics covered (capitalization, punctuation, etc.)?
b. Coherency: do the errors in this area, if any, impede the reader’s understanding of the piece?
c. Overall impression: based on the types and amounts of errors (if any), keeping in mind factors such as age and skill level of the writer, how much effort does the author appear to have put into the piece.
i. If very little, does it reflect in the overall piece? Check factors such as mood and tone.
V. Technique/Effectiveness/Overall Impact
a. Reader/Character Connection
i. Through point-of-view
1. From which point of view is the story narrated? Does it successfully connect the reader with the narrator/protagonist or would a different perspective work better?
a. Take note of any techniques applied (POV switches between sections, chapters, etc.).
ii. Through word choice.
1. Draw on specific examples from the text that either make or break a moment. If the latter, identify if it is a spelling/grammatical error or if it is simply the phrasing that makes it stick out. Offer suggestive corrections and/or ways to reinforce weaker links.
2. Take note of important connections between the reader and the main character or narrator—both ones that are there and missing ones that need be established.
b. Setting the scene (in conjunction with Section III.)
i. Through mood
1. Cite examples of how mood sets up the scene, if any.
ii. Through tone
1. Cite examples of how tone aids in creating an atmosphere, if at all.
iii. Through Setting—what is the setting? Is it genre-specific?
VI. Cultivating a Response
a. Form a general opinion of the writer’s prediction reaction to a critique, based upon his/her age, skill level, and personal comments that may accompany the piece, or be left in correspondence.
i. Do they genuinely want advice/want to improve their skills and/or piece?
ii. Are they asking for help solely because their desire for praise?
iii. For their age and amount of time they’ve been in this practice, are their writing skills below average, average, or above average? Do they need to revisit basic writing skills?
b. Balance your feedback around these elements to form a critique that:
i. Addresses the problems.
ii. Highlights the successes.
iii. Uses specific examples
iv. Is clear and concise, not confusing and difficult to understand.
v. Is helpful, not hurtful, without solely sugar-coating.
vi. Is not overwhelming for a younger, beginning writer; is not demeaning to an older, experienced writer.
Have your own steps for critique that you'd like to see here? Comment below!
Another helpful resource: A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette