If someone had asked me to read their manuscript two years ago, I would have sucked at it. BIG TIME. But I've grown as a writer, and as a reader.
I think it happens naturally. The more you write (and read), the better you become.
And the better you are at spotting when something is askew. In other's writing. Not necessarily your own (my critique group can attest to that).
Here's where I've improved. I can spot and assess:
*The use of stronger verbs to replace adverbs/adjectives.
He put the piece of paper in his pocket forcefully.
OR, He stuffed the paper in his pocket.
*Does the story flow?
Did the author follow-up on what they said in another chapter?
Does the story drag b/c the MC does nothing to further the plot--he wakes up, stares out the window, eats breakfast (with no internal or external dialogue related to the story)?
*Is the speech and voice age-appropriate?
A fine line exists there (in YA and MG) and it's sometimes hard to know where to land.
For example (from my own first draft mess), would a teen boy say, "With time and persistence I started feeling something..."
OR, "After awhile I sorta started feeling something...I guess."
Show, don't tell?
Another tough one. I still struggle with this (until someone points it out).
I was disappointed.
OR, My shoulders sagged. OR, My face fell.
*Are there cliff hangers ( or provocative sentences) at chapter endings?
This makes the reader want to turn the page.
For example, one of my chapters ends with a question: Can ghosts flatten tires? Hopefully the reader will want to read on, to see if they in fact, can.
*The book's opening sentence/paragraph/page:
Is it provocative enough that the reader will want to continue?
Did the author make a compelling-enough promise to the reader (about the story's conflict/message) that they want to see it fulfilled?
This is by far, the hardest task a writer has, and I struggle with it myself.
Beth Revis's book ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (to be released in 2011) had the best first page (and chapter) I've ever read. Man, I cannot WAIT to read that book.
Daddy said, “Let Mom go first.”
Mom wanted me to go first. I think it was because she was afraid that
after they were contained and frozen, I’d walk away, return to life rather
than consign myself to that cold, clear box.
But Daddy insisted.
You can read the rest of her first chapter, HERE!
How are you at BETAing?