Tip #23: Critiquing Your Novel

Self-criticism is an important part of any creative process. For authors this often means proofreading and editing a draft manuscript. If the process goes further than that, it’s usually a simple “That was brilliant.” or “Not my best work.”

But this isn’t enough. To become a better author, you need to gain a real understanding of where you went wrong in your previous work. I’m not talking about spelling, grammar or any other issues which come up in editing. You need to approach your novel as a critic.

Critiquing your own work as a book reviewer seems to be a bit of a taboo for authors, but it can be helpful. You should look back at your novel from the perspective of someone who may have paid money for it and produce a review which is balanced enough to be useful to readers.

Here’s my attempt at breaking the taboo. Many of you will know that a book review has three parts: description of the book, what you liked, what you didn’t like. In this review, what I liked gets one sentence. It’s the novel’s failings that you really care about as a reader or author.

Vikingr by J. S. Malpas

Cover 2

A brief introduction and one line saying where you think it was most successful:

Vikingr is a historical novel set at the beginning of the Viking Era. It follows the protagonist, Erikr, in his coming-of-age voyage into the Lands of the Rus’ (present-day Russia and Ukraine). Dark themes, combat and death are present throughout. The reader will be immersed in an incredibly brutal and gritty period of human history.

Expand to discuss the failings of the novel:

The narrative is frequently interrupted by a skald (Norse poet) telling stories to an older Erikr at some point in the future. This can be frustrating as it breaks the flow of the novel, when it’s really young Erikr the reader cares about.

This parallel narrative is tied into the main narrative at the end, but this also leads to frustration. In some ways it’s an adaptation of the “And they woke up to discover it was all just a dream.” ending, but with a Norse twist. Any reader might find such a finale unsatisfying.

There is also the problem of Erikr’s reliability. Throughout the novel it gradually becomes apparent that his version of events (which forms the backbone of the narrative) cannot be entirely trusted. This is a further frustrating element, as many readers aren’t interested in a tale which may or may not be true from the protagonist’s perspective.

Some characters are flat. They sit firmly in the category of stereotypical Viking marauding-types. While this adds to the sense of era and social setting, it doesn’t do much for their character development or the protagonist’s relationships with them.

Setting: it’s all too easy for a reader to get lost in the twisting waterways of Rus’. There is an abundance of rivers, green forest and marsh. Give me hills, mountains and valleys to break up the monotony.

Let me know in the comments if this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?

Previously:

My books:

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9 thoughts on “Tip #23: Critiquing Your Novel

      1. No, it wasn’t a dream. It’s just the sort of ending where you find out certain parts of the story were happening in a different reality (Valhalla). I can’t explain it well… People die at the end.

        Liked by 1 person

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