Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Critique Groups: What Works For You?

Many writers belong to a critique group that allows them to share the fruits of a creative, personal, and many times lonely process.

Each critique group is different. There are groups of a particular genre (fantasy, mystery, non-fiction) or groups with multiple genres. There may be three, eight, twelve, twenty or thousands of members (online writers groups.) They might meet in person or online, one day a quarter or more frequently. One thing is for certain, there are things that work well, that keep the groups working properly, and things that don’t work well.

The last Tuesday morning Northern Colorado Writer’s coffee time a question came up about Critique groups. A writer wanted to know, “What works for you and what do you like?” There were many interesting points, so I thought I would write them down and compile them here in this post for everyone to read.

HERE IS WHAT THEY SAID:

Be as Blunt as Possible: Tell me straight up what is not working. The less vague you are the better chance I have of understanding what did not work for you. (However, don’t bash-for bashing sake.)

Brainstorming: Help with ideas to change the part that isn’t working for you. What do you recommend, give ideas and examples.

Be Honest & Specific: This goes with the first two. Why did it now work for you and how would you change it?

Reader Interest: The writing piece may not be in your genre, but did it connect on some level? If it was in your genre, did it grab your attention?

Use the Sandwich Technique: Sandwich any negative comment with good, on both sides. When giving a critique this method works really well. Start off with the positive aspect of the piece, give the not so positive, and then end on a positive again.

Character Likeability: Did you like my character? Were you empathetic to his/her situation? Did you hate the character? Sometimes the critique group reactions are exactly what the writer was intending. However, it is good to know what you think about the character, to see if the right response was created.

Word Choice: Some writers want help with word choice. When it comes to word choice, sometimes there is that one word or phrase that is just out of place and does not fit—bring it up. Other times there is that word that is repeated and repeated, over and over, again and again.

Reader Reactions: The opposite of word choice is the reader’s reaction to the piece. Don’t critique on the mechanics, but the story. (Example: the plot, theme, character development, action etc.)

A Confused Reader: Don’t just say that you are confused, explain what is not clear. Was the description fuzzy? Was the character facing West and two lines from now facing East without moving? What exactly are you confused about.

Give Clear, Objective Specifics: With your specifics be respectful. Just because the other member may have made a harsh, but truthful comment does not mean you have to get even. Be specific, without being revengeful.

Say Something Nice: If all you give is negative, say something nice for a change. (See the sandwich technique above.) Remember writers deal with enough rejection and critique. Sometimes we need to hear something positive.

Focus on the Work/Piece Submitted: If a piece is a part of a larger project, remember there might be other explanations that happen prior to the piece submitted. Don’t focus too much on the before and after, concentrate your comments on the work in hand. Or, don’t focus your comments on a prior piece submitted.

Point out “Show” vs. “Telling”: This is an important piece to the critique group. Tell me when I am showing vs. telling in my writing. Give me examples so I can fix it.

Too Technical: This is not just for the non-fiction critique groups. Sometimes the writing is too technical, or is clinical. Point out the areas where it is too sterile, boring, or is talking down to the reader.

LAST OF ALL BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY:

Keep in mind that a critique is just a person’s opinion of your writing. Take the best of what is said, and forget the rest. It is your work, use your judgment on what you think should be changed. However, if many people say the same thing, then you might want to listen.

SET SOME EXPECTATIONS AND GUIDELINES:

Your critique group may be set up with some rules and guidelines. If not, you may want to put some of these above into practice. When you start a group or join a group make sure that you state clearly what you want the group to focus on, and what you need from the critique so you can make the best out of your time. Give quality back to the others in the group.

HAPPY WRITING - HAPPY CRITIQUING!