It is very difficult to obtain an independent opinion of one's own stories by asking friends and relatives their views. Generally they do not like to be critical and rarely are they themselves experienced writers who can make pertinent comments on how to improve a story.
All our critiques are written by experienced, prize winning authors who give their own personal review of the story. As a way of improving writing technique there are few better methods than such an independant critique.
The feedback we get from those who have a critique of their story shows they are highly appreciated. So do consider purchasing a critique when you enter our competitions.
Below is some of the feedback we have received-
Please pass on my heartfelt thanks to whoever wrote the critique for So Long, Sweetheart (longlisted in your December competition). I found the comments detailed and very helpful, rewrote the second half bearing them in mind and submitted the story to Writers Forum.
I have just heard that the story has been placed third and will be published in the June edition - along with the glory comes a nice cheque for £100. I am delighted with my success and, again, many thanks for a really effective critique, I learned a lot from it.
Thanks for the critique, your comments are always constructive and very helpful. This particular story was actually quite difficult to write as there as still a few vets around would I am sure will find fault with the details. But as it's the 100th year of the RAF, just felt it apt to tell the tale.
Thank you for your helpful critique. In fact this tale started life as a short story, then the creative writing group I was in, wanted to know what happened next and the story became the first of four chapters of a novel. Life took over at that time and it remains on the back burner. I then resurrected the first chapter and entered it in the competition. From the judges' comments, I can see that it no longer works as a short story. Yes, Terry is a criminal, having syphoned off funds from the company for whom he was working and Miranda is the mistress he plans to join in the Cayman Islands. Thank you also for the tip about POV.
Thank you for the critique of my short story Faithless. Having someone outside family and friends taking a look has been extremely useful to me and given a fresh perspective. It's been really useful and I learned a lot from it.
Please extend my many thanks to the Judge(s) who underwent my critique. It was really detailed, informative and quite positive, cushioning the blow of the things I hadn’t got right!
Thank you very much for valuable feedback, happy to get so many positive comments!
Thank you for the positive critique. I found your comments extremely helpful and so pleased you enjoyed my story.
Although disappointed not to have won, I was delighted to discover I had been long listed to one of eleven, especially as the news arrived on my birthday. One of the best gifts ever.
As a new writer I often doubt myself and your critique has given my confidence a huge boost.
Thank you so much for your feedback, I really appreciated it. It's given me lots to think about and will help me learn and grow into a better writer.
It offered a concise and insightful response to my story, with pertinent headings, highlighting specific examples of sections that could be improved upon, and offering a variety of helpful suggestions. More importantly, it gives the positive elements of the story, which is encouraging. Also, the critique demonstrated that my story had been properly read and analysed rather than offering general feedback after a cursory reading. Overall, it reflects a pleasing balance between constructive criticism and positivity, not to mention the level of detail included which, for me, represents very good value for money.
I received very detailed and painstaking critiques on two stories I submitted, both running to two full pages of A4. They pointed out everything from plot structure issues to typos. The tone was generally positive but set out clearly the flaws in my work, using extensive quotes to illustrate the criticisms. In both cases the critiques provided very useful pointers as to how the stories could be improved and I will definitely use them when I come to revise the stories in a few weeks.
I liked that the feedback was broken down into sections, as this made it easy to follow and showed that all areas had been well considered. Having a 'Story Idea' section is really good because, even though I as the writer (should, in theory) know what my story is about, this let me see what the reader understood my story to be about. It was very helpful to see this through fresh eyes!
The feedback itself is incredibly encouraging whilst also giving good critical points that I need to work on. Instead of leaving me feeling bad about my work (as negative feedback can sometimes do), it is has left me going "oh! So that's what I need to do to make this story great!" It has left me ready and eager to re-write, so I can make my little story the best it can be. Similarly, the amount and depth of the feedback given is excellent. It really feels like the critic cared about my story and really wanted to help me improve it.
I genuinely believe that this feedback will help me improve my short story, whilst also helping me improve as a writer in general the next time I try to tackle a short story.
I'm really impressed by this critique and its level of detail, and very pleasantly surprised by the amount of thought and time that the critic has clearly invested. There is plenty of useful, practical feedback - most of which I recognise and agree with - that I can apply not only to improve this story, but my fiction writing more widely. I also appreciate the fact that the critic has balanced their constructive criticism with some very kind and encouraging words. This critique compares very favourably with those I have received elsewhere.
Thank you so much for the detailed, intelligent feedback. To have such an in-depth critique for the modest fee of £10 is absolutely fantastic. I've been doubting myself (and my writing!) a lot lately and found this feedback extremely encouraging; it has helped me to re-define my weaknesses and areas of improvement. I look forward to entering again next year!
I worked on the story again with your suggestions in mind, and it made the shortlist (last 9) in the Fiction Desk's 2018 Newcomer Short Story award. That doesn't mean it's been published, but that it is publishable and certainly contributes to the CV.
I shall have a think about what else I can send Henshaw - a very useful and positive process, even if one doesn't make it onto a Henshaw page.
Thank you for the very helpful feedback I received for my short story submission. I was impressed with both its length and depth. I will certainly read the story again with new eyes taking into account these comments and revise.
A grateful writer
I was fortunate enough to win a free critique of my entry into a recent Henshaw Short Story competition. Rather than simply leave a few lines of feedback, I thought it might be more useful to leave a more structured view of the critique so that other writers can decide if they wish to use this service in future.
1 Length and Detail
The critique was certainly thorough. My story was 1850 words. The critique was 1250 words. It was broken down by the following sub-headings:
I found this structured approach helpful as it allowed for very specific comment on particular scenes, e.g. slow down at this point, or expand the description at this point. This was much more useful than generic ‘dialogue could be better’ type comments I have received elsewhere.
The tone was overwhelmingly positive. The writer pointed to a number of specific sections which he/she felt were well written and made a point of not just praising them but explaining why he/she thought they were well written. This made it much easier to accept the views on the areas which he/she did not think worked as well. Generally, the reviewer treated the story as a work in progress and almost all the comments were focused on how it could be improved.
My entry was a ghost story and it was clear that the reviewer had a good knowledge of this genre as many of the comments referred to elements which were genre specific and which could be transferred to other stories.
4 What I didn’t like
The main area I struggled with was related to the practicalities of short story competitions. I have found this in nearly all the critiques I have received from various competitions. My story was 1850 words. The competition limit was 2000. If I had incorporated all the reviewer’s suggestions, my story would have run to at least 2500 words and been ineligible for this competition. In fact when I looked back at my first draft of the story a lot of the reviewer’s suggestions were in there and I had cut them to fit in with the competition limit. But maybe that’s the point. The reviewer was saying this could be good story for another competition.
This was an extremely helpful critique. I have been lucky enough to have won a few competitions in the past and had a few stories published. I have received a number of critiques and this was far and away the most helpful. I was lucky enough to get this for free, but £10 for a detailed 1200 word review seems decent value. Whilst I might not want to get a critique for every story, I would be particularly tempted to invest in it for a story which I thought had real potential. I will certainly take these comments on board and will enter the story in another competition in the future.
Thank you so much for this. I am absolutely delighted with the quality of the feedback- and just amazed that for £15 the reviewer goes into so much detail. I am now retired from work, and have never written a short story before. Or indeed anything but a school report. I accept everything the reviewer says and feel that the critique is really most generous. There is certainly enough here for me to have another try. In all, this has been a most worthwhile undertaking. I request, please, that you pass on my thanks to the reviewer for taking such care over the feedback. It was certainly interesting and informative.
Many thanks. This feedback is really useful. Much of it confirms my own suspicions. I am pleased at what the critic liked and grateful for the pointers as to how to improve the structure.
Thanks for this detailed, thoughtful and useful critique
It was certainly a good investment. I showed it to a friend who said, “Yeah, you sure got your money’s worth on that one!"
The reviewer has read the story carefully, then written an intelligent critique which balances encouragement and helpful advice to perfection. Especially useful for those aspects I was uncertain about but couldn’t pinpoint why, even after the 99th draft! I got the feeling that he/she (?) was working beside me to make the story the best it could be, and the insights will help me with this story and my writing overall.
Thank you very much for your critique. It is always appreciated to receive feedback, and hopefully I can use this to improve my skills as a writer.
I would like to thank you for your critique of my story 'The Children of the Dreaming.' You made some insightful observations and comments about the story which I have found thought provoking and worthy of detailed consideration. I will certainly consider the comments you made with the goal of making some changes to the piece.
To be honest I have had critiques before about other stories and I have submitted to other short story competitions. Some of these critiques have been constructive but others have been rather poor not because of any negative comments they have made but because I felt the person doing the critique had not really read the story closely enough. Your critique however is I feel exceptional. It is very detailed and you clearly thought closely about the story before outlining the positive and negative aspects of tthe piece. It is always useful for someone outside to look at a story afresh so that any points of ambiguity can be identified and you certainly raised a number of points concerning the story which I had not fully considered.
Your critique has given me food for thought and I thank you for your detailed feedback. It has been very useful and I will certainly take the opportunity to invite you to critique any future story I will submit to the Henshaw Writing competition.
Iain D Chalmers
Below is an example of our critiques
The critique is of a story told by a scribe to whom Richard 111 is dictating his memoirs as his army marches to Bosworth for the final battle with Henry Tudor. After the battle the scribe is left with the memoirs. He knows Henry will seek him out, kill him, destroy the memoirs and write his own version of Richard’s life. Write a different truth for it is the winners who write the truth.
Henshaw Writing Critique
Thank you for sending your story to us. The Judges views are as follows:
Story Idea: Interesting - letting us hear ' Richard, the child murderer's' story from his own lips.
Structure, pace & plotting: You open with the narrator, (un-named), and for the first page this appears to be his story. You then introduce King Richard III and rather out of nowhere the narrator is appointed as his scribe, at which point the focus shifts to Richard. Richard then lays out his rather unconvincing 'truth' and goes off to a battle we know he will lose.
The key issue is that change of focus. We invest in the narrator's struggles, only to find that he all but disappears halfway through the story. My suggestion is that you need to decide whose story this is.
If it is Richard's story, (told by the narrator), Richard needs to come in earlier. Keep the focus on Richard and his internalisations as he dictates.
There is also a weakness in that the central revelations of the story are related, rather than actively shown. One way round this could be flashbacks - though you would then need to switch to Richard's POV.
If this is the narrator's story, then okay, fill in his essential back story, but more importantly, have him actively involved with plenty of internalised thoughts about what Richard is telling him as he writes. Have him running from the battle, struggling to safeguard these scrolls, and thereby heighten the tension and the sense of hopeless futility in the ending.
In either case, perhaps open right in the action, with Richard and the scribe already in the tent?
POV / Voice: The narrator's first person voice gives us the potential for intimacy which isn't really exploited. There is little sense of strong emotion from him. The voice is clear, but distant. I want him to feel more.
Characters / Character development: Even if this is not the narrator's story, he's certainly significant. We know all about his childhood, but don't know his name. This makes it much harder to relate to him. Please, give him a name.
We follow his journey from failing blacksmith to King's scribe. To that extent there is a character arc, but it is rather unsatisfying, primarily because everything happens to him. Generally, we relate more easily to 'active' characters. It would perhaps be better if he sought out Father Swale's and Richard's attention, if he played some part in his own destiny. It would also add pathos to the ultimate futility of his finest work?
Richard comes across as what we already know he is, a brave soldier and child murderer. There is no real arc. Nothing that surprises me. Perhaps he could tell an utterly convincing heartfelt tale of how, despite his best efforts, the Princes died of fever. Use the narrator's internalisations to help me believe him. Make his death a tragedy, (and by extension, the rejection of his truth).
Writing Technique / Dialogue / Language: You lay out the story clearly, which is harder than people think. Your language is appropriate to the setting and you don't waste words with unnecessary purple prose. Also, I can see your scenes, although as mentioned, I don't really relate to your narrator.
Your dialogue is mixed.
'Sit buffoon...' is rather good, and brings Richard to life. Often though your dialogue feels as though it's simply there to serve the plot, (of course it is, but it shouldn't feel like that).
'We will feed you clothe you...' the narrator's response, and that whole section of opening dialogue is very flat. Dialogue is an opportunity to develop character, (as well as move the story). In order to write good dialogue you need to know your character. This particularly applies to the narrator. Would he ask for the job? Would he shock them by speaking out of turn? Would he reject the initial offer, and for example demand to learn his letters now?
Summary: This is a well laid out story, with a strong closing line, and I feel that if you can decide whose story this is, everything else will flow from there.
As well as providing short story critiques for competition entrants we also provide a respoke service for all writing, longer stories, books, articles..... If you wish to discuss a bespoke critique please contact us directly at :-
Feedback on our bespoke critiques
Thank you very much for your highly detailed critique. Not only did it give me confidence that certain aspects of my story worked (and those that didn't) but it also provided me with suggests and ideas to push it into different directions. I'm sure I will be using your service again in the future.