1) Does the book grab you right away? If not, why? How can the writer improve their opening? Be specific, but avoid “rewriting” it for them.
2) Do you get a sense of place? Do the settings seem real? Is there too much description, too little? Some of this is personal preference, but say what you think. The writer will decide in the end, but let them know what is and isn’t working for you as a reader.
3) Does the plot progress in a well-paced way? Don’t be afraid to suggest changing scenes around or cutting stuff out.
4) Do the characters hold their own? Are they distinct? They don’t have to all be likeable, but they should feel real. It’s important to mention if you have trouble remembering who is who, or they seem too similar.
5) Is the dialogue believable? Do characters sound too much alike or have the same voice?
6) Are you being shown what is happening instead of told? This is one of the big ones people. I have a little trouble, I show and then tell what I just showed, so I’m working on that in my own writing.
7) Are all the technical bits there? Always be conscience of grammar, spelling and point of view inconsistencies. Always point out typos.
You can give a helpful critique to a story that you don’t like. Not everyone likes the same kinds of books or writing styles. The important thing is to focus on what the writer is trying to accomplish and help them succeed. Remember, it’s not your manuscript, it’s theirs.
Any things I missed? Suggestions?