I have learned quite a few things, but here are the top three things I have learned so far from critiquing, beta reading and editing other people’s manuscripts.
I have read a lot about characters and how they need to drive a story. They need motivation. Foibles. Secrets. Whatever.
Here’s something else. I need to like the protagonist. Or at least sympathize with them. I need to want them to reach their goal. Otherwise, I’m putting the book away.
This might not be true for every genre, but I write, read and critique romance. If the hero is a jerk or the heroine unlikable… Well, you just lost me as an audience.
This also applies to secondary and tertiary characters, but to a lesser extent. I’d still like to know if the heroine’s “friend” really is. When characters are written a certain way, it has ramifications. And I’m going to want to see a nasty “friend” get her comeuppance by the end. If she doesn’t, I’m going to feel as if there’s loose ends not tied off.
There are rules to dialogue. They really do need to be followed to make work understandable.
Also, I find it ideal to take a moment to read dialogue out loud. Not all of it, but at least a few conversations. If it doesn’t read easily, if it doesn’t sound like real people talking, it probably needs some work. If one area needs work or sounds stilted, other areas probably do, too.
In my world, people don’t make a snarky comment and get their reply 5 minutes later after everyone in the room has contemplated its meaning.
I have read a lot of advice telling writers not to give a lot of exposition about the world, even if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Let the world take shape around the characters.
I get it. I hate exposition and tend to skim it. But, I still need to know where we are and if this is a fictional world, our world, or some hybrid. I’ve finished entire first chapters and still have not known. That’s an issue. I should feel like I am there with the character, and part of that, is knowing where I am.