Critiquing Tips – How to Start and Run Your Critique Group

Nicky A contacted me recently asking for tips about how to set up and run a critique group.
Thanks, Nicky.  Really happy to blog about this because critique groups are amazing. Mine have been so helpful to me in developing my craft. I love my critique groups. Shout out to The Secret Scribblers, The Snorkers and The Killer Rabbits.
A critique group should be a nurturing, secure and inspiring environment so here are my tips on how you can achieve this.

My Australian critique groups helped me get this book to publication.

My Tips on Running a Group

  1. Don’t have too many people. I personally think up to about four works best, although one of my groups is larger. Think about this. If there are ten people in the group and each one has a piece to critique, that’s a lot of time you spend reading other people’s work and not writing. Smaller groups can be more flexible because there are fewer people to please in terms of meeting times etc. Also, too much advice from too many people can get very confusing. Don’t be afraid to split a large group into smaller ones.
  2. If you’re looking for members to start a group … be specific about what you are looking for in terms of experience, genre, and commitment to their writing. You want sharers in your group. People who will share publishing opportunities they hear about, and who will be there for you during the highs and lows of your writing career.
  3. Generally, it’s helpful if your critique group comprises people of similar levels of experience. Otherwise, the more experienced writers become more like mentors/teachers and will eventually leave because they are not getting the feedback they want on their own work. The least experienced writers can become overwhelmed and daunted by the experienced writers. However, some groups of mixed experience work really well. It depends on the people and their commitment. And a critique group can be a great learning environment for everyone.
  4. You don’t all have to be writing the same genre (sometimes it helps to have fresh eyes look at your work), but it’s good to have at least one other person in the group writing the same genre as you. That way you have someone who can give you feedback on whether you have met the conventions of your genre. The main thing is that all members have the same level of enthusiasm and commitment to the group.
  5. Set guidelines for your group. For example, you might take it in turns with giving people the opportunity to submit their work to the group. That way nobody monopolises the critique time, and nobody is left out.
  6. Critiquing works best if the person asking for the critique knows what they are looking for and can be specific in the sort of feedback they are looking for. For example, “I’m not sure if my main character is believable’ or “Is my ending too predictable.” Thinking about the kind of feedback you are looking for, makes you think deeper about your work. It also means that nobody’s time is wasted on giving or receiving unnecessary feedback. For example, if this is your first draft and you just want to know if people can engage with your main character, then having people read your work for typos or setting description can waste everybody’s time.
  7. You can belong to more than one critique group. Different writers bring different things to the table.
  8. If you’re writing for an international market it can help to be in an international critique group.
  9. Establish at the start the times and methods of running the group. For example, one of my groups meets every fortnight. Another of my groups does most of our work online and we only meet about four times a year in person. It doesn’t matter if you never meet. With Skype, emails and other electronic means, it’s possible to do critiquing at a time and in a way that suits everyone’s lifestyle.
  10. Critique groups need to be flexible. For example, you might decide to meet once a month. But what if one of your members has just received a FULL manuscript request from an agent? You may want to call an impromptu meeting to celebrate this, show support and perhaps critique aspects of the manuscript before it goes to the agent.

Everyone has different reasons for wanting their work critiqued. As I mentioned before, if you are specific with the aspects you want the group to look at, you will receive higher quality feedback.

Above all … have fun! Your group can have outings, retreats, get togethers … whatever it takes to help and inspire each other.

My U.S. critique group helped me get this book to publication.

WORKSHOPPING AND CRITIQUING TIPS

  1. Be positive.
  2. Be constructive.
  3. Sandwich a negative in between two positives.
  4. If you see a problem try to suggest a solution – don’t just say, “I didn’t like this.”
  5. Don’t talk while your critiquer is having their say – if they didn’t ‘get’ what you are trying to say, you might need to get your message across more clearly and they might be giving you tips on how to do this.
  6. Constructive feedback is critical to becoming a better writer.

OPENING

  • Does it hook you in?
  • Does it make you want to keep reading?
  • Does it give indications of what is to come?

PLOT/STRUCTURE

  • Is plot believable?
  • Was there a clear conflict/focus?
  • Did story follow plot arc/structure?
  • Did story start at right place?
  • Were there any scenes, paragraphs, characters etc that didn’t need to be there?

SETTING

  • Could you picture it?
  • Too much/too little detail?
  • Did places seem real?
  • Was setting consistent?

CHARACTER

  • Were character’s believable?
  • Did characters have depth?
  • Could reader relate to/feel empathy with characters?
  • Were character’s motives and conflicts clear?
  • Did characters change and grow as story progressed?
  • Was there enough contrast to differentiate characters?

DIALOGUE

  • Did dialogue seem authentic?
  • Did dialogue have purpose in the story – eg, show character or move plot along?
  • Were there too many dialogue tags?

ENDING

  • Was the ending believable and satisfying (had the loose ends been tied up)?

POINT OF VIEW

  • Did it work?
  • Was it consistent?
  • Was tense consistent?
Some other information
If you’re looking for a writing/critque buddy, you may find one here.
Below are some links to articles on my blog that might help you in the editing/workshopping process. You can find other articles if you search for ‘editing’ on my blog.

https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/tuesday-writing-tips-fixing-the-holes/

Nicky, I hope you and your group find this helpful. Please let me know if you have questions or there’s anything else you need to know.

If you’re in a critique group and you have tips or experiences to share, feel free to include them in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

How Critiquing Can Help You Write Better – Tuesday Writing Tip

I’m lucky to have a wonderful writer’s network full of supportive crit buddies/beta readers.

They are all fantastic so I hate to single anyone out, but there is one person in particular, Alison Reynolds (Co-author of the popular Ranger In Danger series and writer of many other great books) who doesn’t let me get away with anything. I don’t consider any manuscript to be ‘submission ready’ until Alison has cast her critical eye over it.

The critiquing is a mutual thing and we often laugh about the fact that we make the same mistakes and that we pick them up in each other’s work but find it very hard to identify them in our own writing. I wonder if it’s a subconscious thing – that we know the mistakes we make so we see them in others.

I guess that’s one of the reasons why critiquing other people’s work can help you become a better writer. It can help you identify the things you could improve about your own writing.

These are the things I look for when I’m critiquing someone else’s work. They’re also steps I use in my own self-editing process. They are the questions I ask myself.

Setting

  • Does the setting information allow the reader to step into the world of the main character?
  • Is the setting detail relevant, appropriate, adequate?
  • Is the setting detail overdone?
  • If setting is important to the story, is it like another character – does it have a life and presence in the story?

Dialogue

  • Is the dialogue relevant and appropriate?
  • Does dialogue reveal character?
  • Does dialogue move the story along?
  • Does dialogue flow?

Constructive criticism can't hurt you *

Characters

  • Is there enough variation between the characters? For example, for balance, you need mean characters and nice characters. You can’t have all nice or all nasty.
  • Do the characters have their own strong, unique voice?
  • Do I care what happens to the main character?
  • Is it clear who the main character is in the story?
  • Are the characters developed enough?
  • Do all the characters need to be in the story?
  • Do character behave in a consistent way throughout the story? Is their behaviour credible?
  • Is there enough differentiation between characters in the story?

Plot

  • Does the plot hook the reader in straight away?
  • Does the plot have a series of events leading up to a climax or high point in the story?
  • If the plot doesn’t follow the straight narrative ark, does the format work?
  • Does the plot keep the reader hooked right to the end?
  • Are there any plot inconsistencies?
  • Is the plot credible within the setting and context of the story?
  • Are there page turners leading to the next chapter?
  • Is the sequence of events logical? Could they be restructured to strengthen the story?
  • If the book is going to have a sequel, has this been adequately set up?

Language

  • Is the language appropriate for the readership?
  • Does the piece have any repetitive words or phrases?
  • Look for inconsistencies in names of people and places (this is where a style sheet is handy)
  • Could the language be stronger?
  • Is the sentence length and structure varied enough?
  • Could the author have used language like similes and metaphors to make the piece more visual for the reader?
  • Could the language be tightened? Has the author used too many words – eliminating words ending in ‘ing’ and ‘there was’ type phrases can tighten a story. Also check for qualifiers like ‘really’ and ‘so’. These slow pacing down too.

Choose your own path when it comes to accepting other's critiques

If you can recognise all these elements in someone else’s story, you’ll have a better chance of recognising them in your own.

By the same token, critiquing is a subjective thing. You don’t have to take everything someone else says and they are not obliged to take your comments on board either.

That’s one of the great things about being a writer – you’re the one who controls the words on the page. Be open-minded, but don’t feel you have to change something that matters to you – perhaps you just need to clarify its place in the story.

I’d love to hear how your crit buddies or beta readers have helped you to write better. Also, feel free to share any critiquing tips or methods you have.

Happy writing and critiquing:)

Dee

P.S. I’m on school camp this week with no internet access so if your comments and my responses don’t appear straight away, don’t worry. I’ll be back on Friday and all will be sorted then:)

*  Couldn’t resist using more pics from our ‘Around Australia Trip’. The crocodile is one we ‘met’ in Queensland. The road pic is from the Oodnadatta Track.