Last week we talked about some of the differences between macro and micro edits. Today, I want to go all-in on macro edits, and what you might look for when you’re doing a critique of someone else’s work.
The easiest way to do a macro edit is to just read the story and make notes of anything that stands out to you. Look for inconsistencies, questions that go unanswered, scenes that feel like they’re moving too slow or too fast, and anything that seems over or under explained. Then try to think about why these things are issues.
Once you’ve identified the problems, and potentially the causes, make a note for the author. It’s not your job to come up with a solution or try and fix it for them, although you can make suggestions if you want.
Plot and Structure
Some of this is going to depend on whether you’re reading a short story or a novel. Short stories can get away with having fewer story beats, but the writing needs to be much tighter. There isn’t room for long, slow scenes or puffy language.
Plot Holes and Inconsistencies
A story’s plot is what takes a character from Point A to Point Z, and everywhere in between. A plot hole is when a character goes from, say, Point A to Point D, or from Point E all the way to Point L, without any transition or explanation of what happened in between.
Inconsistencies happen when the author loses track of what’s going on. A great example of this happened in a book I read a long time ago: The protagonist wrecked her car on her way home one night. The next morning, she got up and drove herself to a job interview, and then had to ask for a ride home because her car had been wrecked the night before. The author forgot about the totaled car for a minute, and accidentally had the character drive somewhere even though she didn’t have a vehicle.
This was an actual, NYT-bestselling book, that no doubt passed through the hands of several people before it went to print. I don’t know how they all missed this mistake, but somehow they did. I think they fixed it in a reprint, but I don’t have my original copy anymore so I can’t check. I don’t remember the title, unfortunately.
The story’s pace is how fast the plot feels like it’s moving. Intense action events move pretty fast. Emotional events can feel heavy and slow. You need to balance them out so the story doesn’t rush or drag, but moves steadily toward the climax and resolution.
If the story’s pace is too slow, you’ll probably feel bored while you’re reading it. Pacing that’s too fast skips over details and can be confusing. It might also feel like a string of events that happen one after the other, without giving you time to process what’s going on or catch your breath. Either way, make a note for the author so they’ll know they need to look over it.
Motivation and change
Dynamic characters naturally change over the course of a story. What’s important here is making sure that the changes are consistent and don’t come out of nowhere. Most scenes should have events that push characters to question or examine their viewpoints and correct course as needed. Characters also need something that motivates them to keep going, and that motivation can change as well.
Writers can get away with characters who don’t change as long as they reveal more of the character’s personality to readers over the course of the story. This is not my favorite thing to write or read, but I’m not going to make a big deal about it if I feel like the writer has done it well.
If you feel like characters are too static, or their choices don’t make sense, point it out.
Narration and voice
This could also fall into micro edits since it deals with word choice. Basically, the narration needs to be consistent and smooth. It also needs to feel like it suits the character that’s narrating the piece. Once again, if you notice anything that seems off, point it out. Maybe they’re using words that are too complex or too simple, maybe their accent changes, really anything that just seems awkward needs to be brought to the author’s attention so they can fix it.
A lot of this comes down to inconsistencies. Like if you say a character lives in a one-story house, and then they go upstairs for something. Or a character who’s a total jerk is suddenly kindhearted out of nowhere with no ulterior motive. Really it’s just anything that makes you stop reading and start looking for an explanation. Some people like to focus on the theme of a story; I usually don’t get that technical. Same with symbolism and foreshadowing–some people are really into that sort of thing, but I don’t find them as appealing. If I notice an issue, I’ll point it out, but it isn’t something that I look for.
I’m sure I’ll write posts later that deal with more specifically and in-depth with some of these issues, but I feel like this should be enough to get you started. So check out today’s exercise below.
Find a story to critique. Read over it with an eye for some of the issues that we discussed today. If you have concerns, bring them up so the author knows what they need to address.
Image Credit: Hutomo Abrianto, Unsplash