by Annette Dashofy
I’ve discovered that critique groups are largely a matter of personal choice. Should you belong to one or shouldn’t you? And if you do, should it be genre specific or a mix? Online or face-to-face? The answers depend on the individual writer, as well as what’s available to them.
As for me, I think my critique groups have been indispensable. Notice the “s” on the end of groups. Plural. Yes, I belong to more than one, and they cover all the bases mentioned above.
I belong to a small face-to-face group. We come from various backgrounds and write all different styles and genres. We meet once or twice a month as schedules permit. These gals are usually the first to see my work, so they tend to get it at its roughest stage.
I also belong to an online group, strictly mystery. That still leaves a lot of leeway. We have paranormal, cozy, romantic suspense, high-adventure, traditional, thriller… You name it, we have members writing it.
What I’ve discovered is that not only do writing styles vary, critiquing styles vary even more. Someone who is a born-natural writer is not necessarily a born-natural critiquer. Writers can take classes and workshops on craft. They can study characterization, motivation, plotting, conflict, pacing, and all other aspects of “How-to,” but how often do you see a workshop or a seminar on “How to Critique”?
Conference and workshop planners out there, take note.
Perhaps one of us struggling authors should contemplate Critiquing for Dummies.
remember my first critique group experience. The work I submitted was pretty bad. My attempts at offering feedback to the other members was even worse. What the heck did I know? What made me think I could do better than they?
I picked out a few typos. Maybe pointed out a misplaced modifier or two. Ms. Grabski, my high school English teacher, would be proud.
It was only through observing the others in the group and the comments they made that I caught on.
Let’s face it, critiquing is tough. Different writers want and need different types of feedback. Some don’t want to hear about the typos and grammatical errors. They only want to know what works and what doesn’t. Some are polishing up a draft nearing completion and want something more like a line edit.
As for me, I don’t mind having typos pointed out even early on. Sure, a scene in the first draft may never make it to the second or third, so correcting typos might seem pointless. However, I never know what’s going to stay in. My final first reader returned my just-about-ready-to-submit manuscript…the one that had gone through over a half a dozen critiquers and just as many first readers (a critiquer reads a chapter or two at a time. A first reader reads the entire manuscript after it’s been through the critique process)…having found NINE typos everyone else had missed.
Some writers can deal with tough critiques better than others. Basically, if you’re new to critiquing and you’re only submitting your work to be told how wonderful your writing is, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening. In those cases, the recipient tends to only hear the negative stuff and is completely deaf to the positive comments.
Which is painful, especially since some of the best critiquers I’ve experienced don’t offer a lot of praise. They only mark what doesn’t work for them. If it’s good, they don’t stop to indicate it. I’ve caught myself doing that, too. And if I don’t know the writer all that well, and fear they may be one of the ones I mentioned in the paragraph above, I might even read through a second time just to point out good stuff.
Some days, even the thickest skinned among us need to have pointed out what we’ve done right.
There are all kinds of writers with all kinds of needs. And there are all kinds of critiquers with all kinds of critiquing styles. I can usually learn something from any of them.
HOWEVER, there are two kinds of critiques I personally find worthless.
First, someone who says only “I really liked it” or “It didn’t work for me.” Try to be a little more specific. WHY did you like it? Did you relate to the characters? Did you find the dialogue to be realistic or funny or heart rendering? Were you sucked into the story and want to read more? Also, even if you really REALLY liked it, please feel free to point out the misspelled words or incorrect punctuation.
Second, the critiquer who tries to “correct” another writer’s style. Some things that are technically grammatical errors may be a stylistic choice or a matter of voice. Just because you think YOUR way of saying something is better than the writer’s way of saying it, doesn’t mean it should be included in a critique.
I’ve had chapters come back so completely rewritten that it no longer sounded like I was the author. That is not helpful.
I’m not referring to a critiquer who suggests rewording a sentence. Maybe switch it around or use a different/stronger word here and there. THAT is GOOD critiquing. But don’t rewrite the entire chapter for me. If it needs that much revising, it might better to simply state why you think it doesn’t work and then let the writer decide how to fix it.
Maybe the reason no one teaches classes on how to critique is because there are so many ways to do it. What works for one person doesn’t help another at all.
So what do you think? What makes a good critique for you? What do find helpful in feedback and what do you find useless? And if you were to write Critiquing for Dummies, what tip or tips would you include?
(A personal note to all my beloved current critique group members—who might also be a tad paranoid—NONE of this bad stuff applies to any of you. I adore you all.)