Critique Groups aren't for everyone, or for every writer, for that matter. But groups that meet regularly for encouragement, craft growth, and marketing exchange, not to mention the chance to talk shop with others of our ilk, has benefits to being a solitary author. Here are five backbones of effective groups.
Four E’s of Effective Critique Groups
Groups of people who come together for a common purpose such as critiquing each other’s writing but have different perspectives are surprisingly strong. Writers of non-fiction, poetry, historical fiction, romance, or thrillers, should be able to read and comment on work that is not a carbon copy of their own. Poets are experts at distilling language and creating rhythms and patterns that make any kind of writing sing. Non-fiction authors see facts in a way that fiction writers may sometimes gloss over too readily. While it’s good and important for all writers to step outside of his or her own box, there is also a good argument for writers of like material to be able to exchange ideas. Good writing is good writing no matter the style or type, and the same basic understanding of how language works, rules and when to break them, applies. Be wary of critique partners who continue to back away from discussion because they don’t care for or understand a genre.
Effective critique groups meet regularly, whether in person or online. Critique partners agree how to work with each other, and keep their commitment to the best of their ability. At some point, vacation or other appointments interrupt a schedule, but good groups commit to each other, at least for a season of time. Beware the writer who attends only to have his or her own work critiqued, or the opposite, the writer who only wants to critique others.
Authors have different gifts and abilities. A critique should not be confused with an edit, although there is some crossover. One author may have a good handle on mechanics such as punctuation, another may see the big picture or find the holes in the story. Another may be good at brainstorming when a member is stuck, or see repetitive or clichés to fix. Critique partners should listen and respect individual styles without resorting to rewriting for a group member.
Critique is not another word for criticism. In fact, one definition of critique is “to find the merit.” No matter how much work an author’s submission needs, the foundation of an effective critique is help each other grow in craft, a job which will never be finished. Groups should set common goals as well as individual member goals. One goal may be to help each other publish, so members would share information. Another may be to find marketing outlets, or to find an agent. The goal may be as simple as learn how to write better dialog, good cliffhangers, or finish a project. No matter the dynamics, good, effective critique groups encourage each other and never disparage another’s work, or make any issues personal. Remember, successful authors want thousands of strangers reading their work. One or two differing opinions on a small scale is merely good practice.
Below is a sheet of Guidelines, which may be copied and distributed to your individual group.
Clip art from Creative Commons
Suggested Guidelines for Effective Critique Groups
Critiques should be constructive in nature, not overtly negative, and never personal. A good discussion should not devolve into arguing or badgering or overly defensive behavior.
· If you have time, read the submission straight through before commenting
· Think about what you enjoyed about the submission and which parts gave you problems
· Comment on the portions that made you stop reading or confused you—was it the punctuation or word choice or point of view or research?
· Comment on areas you liked
· Remember, if you question a word or statement, it’s up to you to find the proof. Check spellings in a the dictionary, or do a quick Internet search if you are not sure the author is correct in facts. Give your supporting resource
· Offer suggestions for different usages but do not rewrite for the author
· If you are comfortable with mechanics, point out problems with punctuation or spelling or grammar or other problem areas such as overused words/phrases or proper tense; other formatting issues such as proper em dashes, quotation usage, paragraph and line spacing
· Point out style problems and offer suggestions if you are comfortable; style errors include stilted dialog or dialog that doesn’t seem to fit a character, telling vs. showing, overly long exposition, flabby or missing transitions, wordiness, head hopping amongst characters or for nonfiction, not answering a question or missing information
· Comment on story problems, offering suggestions on inconsistent story line, character development, character trait errors such as sudden name or eye color change, discrepancies in factual information with supporting resource, overuse of narrative or monologue, overuse of italics, dashes, ellipses; issues with clichés, stereotypes, unbelievable plot lines, pacing and flow of the story according to genre, proper length, and proper denouement; for poetry, articles, and other non-fiction, comment where you feel comfortable, such as did the end meet the need, were there proper attributions where needed, did the flow work for the subject
· Find something positive to contribute to the discussion, even if the submission is not the type of work you would normally read
· Authors should listen to/read the comments and consider the merits of each critique without resorting to an attempt to please every position or every reader’s taste
From Lisa J. Lickel, 2016