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Monday, September 21, 2009

Critique Groups - to Join or Not Join?

Critiquing refers to getting together with others, reading some of your pages, and receiving plot suggestions, help with editing, etc. Some groups work well while others will fail.

There are lots of ways to critique that include face-to-face small groups that meet on a fixed schedule, larger groups (like a club/chapter) where you may be very limited page-wise in what you read, online groups (which require you to critique other members works in return), and limited partner online critiquing.

Club/chapter critiques have the writer reading aloud maybe three pages, depending on time/number of people participating (but not actually handing out copies to everyone to look over). Limited partner online critiquing involves a few people sharing pages. In the last three cases, pages are supplied to all members of the group. I'll discuss the fixed scheduled and online group experiences I've had.

The first thing to remember before entering into a critique group is to leave your feelings at the door. Two things to keep in mind:
1-The comments received are just suggestions and don't have to be utilized.
2- Not everyone views pages the same way...nor will they make comments on the same things.

I've always enjoyed the differing viewpoints that my critique partners mention. It's great to have someone note grammar and spelling mistakes, while someone else catches that break in a story's continuity. I once had a critique partner who read her pages only to have me question how the heroine could talk to her mother when she'd been declared dead in the first chapter.

Things to consider in critiquing:
1- Story flow. Are scenes disjointed? Seem logical in progression? Move the story along?

2- Conflict. Without conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart, there's no story. Is it consistent throughout the book? Enough to carry through the entire story? Heading toward an understandable resolution? What makes them want to solve their conflict, both internal and external conflict?

3- Grammar/spelling/point of view. Too many grammar and spelling mistakes can frustrate readers and they may lose interest. Some are simply typos (we all go through days where those happen), but other consistent mistakes may mean the writer needs additional help from other sources and may actually slow down a face-to-face group. Or, cause the writer to be less likely to receive online critique group help.
Point-of-view. Can a reader follow the story and catch those character POV changes? Too much head-hopping could confuse a reader.

4- How do those in your group relate to each other? I've been in at least five face-to-face critique groups. Some dissolved after people realized individual thoughts on how/what to critique didn't mesh with the others. People not open to criticism (suggestions) can cripple a group's effectiveness.
Keeping everyone on task can become an issue. Some consider it more of a social talk time rather than business. Doing more socializing that actual critiquing is not productive.
Not writing in the same genre doesn't necessarily create a problem for a critique group. While I don't know the correct terminology for regency romances, that doesn't stop me from checking spelling, story flow, etc.

5- Character development/appeal/actions/reactions. Readers have to like the hero and heroine and feel that connection with them. Do the characters grow and learn as they handle conflict and relationships? What about how they act/react in different situations? Logical? Believable for their patterns of behavior?

6- Physical location/movement/position. Setting and location for story. Can readers visualize what's in the writer's head and on paper? Have characters done the physical movements necessary to get them into a room, a car, in bed? Position? The heroine can't see the look of anger on the hero's face if he's standing with his back toward her.

My face-to-face groups have been the most helpful. Although we read only 10 pages at a time, I enjoyed the quality of comments I received from my last group. Sometimes we read query letters or a synopsis. But whatever I read, I was always eager to hear what they had to suggest.

The online group I participated in had pros and cons. While I could get a chapter critiqued, it usually took a month and I had to critique chapters for others. That wasn't a problem until I realized I did more critiquing than receiving critiques. I liked having a month to do a critique, but felt obligated to read all the stories so I wouldn't lose the story line/train of thought being presented. It made more work for me so I dropped out of the online group.

Advice for those ready to critique: Understand/set guidelines. Be firm on time in face-to-face groups. Don't let one person monopolize the time and shorten others' critique times at your meeting. Check for things listed above; notice what "jumps" out at you.

A critique group can help in polishing a manuscript/query/synopsis. Use the suggestions or don't. The choice is yours to make.

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7 comments:

  1. Thank you April for a great blog. Best wishes on "Sexy Games!"
    XXOO Kat

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  2. I love my crit partners. THEY SAVE ME from stupid mistakes--and enable me to write an almost technically perfect work. They save time for me and make me THINK about things I never did. Why? Cuz in one way, I am a PANTSER. I write the story, like Doctorow said recently on CHARLIE ROSE show: discovering the story as each new sentence appears. THAT's me, BABY! I know the central conflict and I def. know the setting but after that, wow, it my crit group I love. Who's in it?
    Desiree Holt!
    Emma Jay
    Layla Chase.
    Women of my heart!

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  3. Cerise, I write like you do. You are so fortunate to have a talented trusted group of critique partners. When a group works it's ideal.
    XXOO Kat

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  4. Wow. An amazing amount of information. I do not have a critique group, aside from my husband - he gives suggestions and my son - occasional edits.

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  5. Thanks for your comments. A great critique group can really help your writing. I dropped out of my last one because I just couldn't find the time. But, we were together for 3 years and I'm grateful for their support!

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  6. I am my own worst critic. While others say, "That's great", I say, "Good grief...did I really misspell "The"?" LOL! I take criticism too much to heart, and would most likely stop writing altogether if I had a member of a critique group tell me my work needed a lot of help. I am a wuss!

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