Manuscript evaluations can help you understand your writing strengths and weaknesses and show you how you can make your manuscript more engaging and enjoyable for your readers.
Your manuscript will be assessed for structure, plot, pacing, effectiveness of message delivery, characterization, character arcs, worldbuilding, dialogue, narrative, scene construction, repetitive use of words and phrases, grammar, and punctuation.
Your editorial letter for an evaluation will be detailed, with specific examples from your novel used, so you see how aspects of your work are great and those that could be elevated. The editor will give you advice and ideas shoring up your novel as well as what elements of your writing and storytelling are solid and what you may want to concentrate on strengthening.
This feedback is invaluable and not just helpful for new authors, but for authors anywhere in their writing journey.
Here are some examples of the kind of feedback I give during an evaluation.
Characters are the key in fiction and effective storytelling. While you have some great characters with depth and unique personalities, a few characters could be more developed.
XX character has the right amount of backstory, but their dialogue doesn’t match their background. They grew up in just outside of London, lived in Manchester, and only recently moved to Nantucket, but they don’t use any terms or language that are commonly used in the areas where they lived before they came to the United States. Consider adding a few phrases or words people use in the areas where they lived to create authenticity.
Writing authentic dialogue is a challenge for many authors. It’s better to give the reader occasional cues to reveal how a character sounds and show differences in how they speak. One way to do this is to vary their speech patterns and word choices.
For instance, XX character is well-educated and from an affluent family from the 1800s. They could speak formally, using fewer contractions, correct grammar, and higher vocabulary.
XX character is from the deep, southern US and could say things like ‘y’all,’ or use phrases like ‘I done did that,’ or ‘I’m fixin’ to.’ However, be careful not to overuse these, as readers may find too much of this device interruptive.
While fantasy fiction stretches the boundaries of believability, at times, a character’s actions stretch it too far. Your characters are humans in a world similar to Earth, but on page XX, XX character jumps, without assistance, over a river that was described as being twenty feet wide. A possible solution for this could be to make the river narrower at the point where they jump across.
The overall pacing of your novel is strong. The pace of the action scenes is perfect, but there are places where the story is too slow. This usually happens when a character’s backstory is being revealed to the reader.
On page XX, there are four paragraphs of backstory before the story picks back up. The reader may become impatient, wanting to get to the action that advances the plot. Consider giving the reader only a few sentences of backstory at a time, but make sure what is being revealed fits with the situation the character is in at that moment. For this example, the important information is what they did when they were in XX, which is a similar circumstance.
Setting is an important literary tool. It anchors the characters and the reader in the scene, so they are immersed in the novel.
The setting description on page XX of XX character’s home is perfect. The reader will picture the house easily, and you showed only what is different from a typical Georgian mansion. However, when describing the forest on page XX, the setting is too detailed, and it’s described all before the actual scene begins. Instead of laying out the entire wooded area at the beginning, consider stating it’s a pine forest and when the character enters, use sound to describe the dry needles on the forest floor as she walks and highlight the few oak trees present when she reaches the cabin.
There should be a natural flow into and out of the character's head, which is done well throughout most of the novel. But there are instances where characters’ internal thoughts feel disruptive, which can push the reader out of the scene.
To smooth out some of these transitions, think about getting closer to the character before getting into their heads and pull out slowly or shock them out of their thoughts.
For example, on page XX, the narrator is relaying the scene from, judging by the description, about thirty or so feet away, but then they jump to reveal XX’s internal dialogue. This change in narrative distance is too harsh. Think about moving the narrator, and therefore the reader, closer to him by describing his actions before getting into his mind.
There are a lot of other aspects of writing and storytelling that are assessed during a manuscript evaluation. But I hope you got a sense of the value in this important part of the writing and revision processes.
Evaluations can help you revise with a new perspective, enhance your writing skills, and increase your readers’ enjoyment of your novel.