Thursday, October 9, 2014

Critique Groups

I love, and that is not an exaggeration, my critique group. Having a group of people to read what I write and then help me make it better is almost as important to me as my thesaurus. I have no idea who is following my blog at this point, but if you are a writer, I highly recommend you either join an existing critique group or create one of your own.

If you haven't been in a critique group before, my writing group, Central Oregon Writer's Guild, has developed the following guidelines.

HOW TO GET THE MOST FROM CRITIQUE GROUPS

Asking for Feedback
  • Identify your needs clearly: "Do you feel my character's emotion?" "Is my dialogue realistic?" "I'm sending this to an agent. Please review line by line for a final polish."
  • Ask open-ended questions: "What do you think of the ending?" "What is confusing?"
  • Listen to the entire critique without interrupting: If you've heard the same feedback before, be patient. If you disagree, make notes to reflect upon later. Refrain from defending or explaining what you meant. Remain as objective as possible; try not to take comments personally. Be discerning about conflicting advice. Learn to take the best and leave the rest.
  • Ask for clarification if you don't understand a comment.
  • Remember that all work can be improved; all art is unfinished.
Critiquing the work of others: critique the work, never the writer
  • Use the session for content and story development. Note mechanical issues (grammar, punctuation, spelling) for later review/editing.
  • Respect other styles of writing; refrain from rewriting something the way you would.
  • Give praise first.
  • Give specific examples of both what works and what doesn't.
  • Present feedback as part of a continuing process. "Working, almost working" is better than "good, bad."
  • Phrase suggestions as what ifs: "What if you added some dialogue to that scene?" "What if you showed your character is angry instead of saying he's angry?"
  • Offer comments objectively, not personally: Rather than, "I don't like this scene," say, "This scene stopped the momentum."
  • Refrain from comparing work to other stories or poems you've read.
  • Remember that you may only be reading part of the story and comment accordingly.
  • Let the writer reveal if the manuscript is based on his own life story.
  • Is there a hook that pulls the reader in?
  • How are character motivations revealed? Do the characters have distinctive voices?
  • Does the dialogue sound natural? Is there a difference between narrative and dialogue?
  • Is there continuity in the story line?
  • Does the story keep readers' attention? Is there tension? Successful transitions?
  • Are internal and external conflicts developed?
  • Is point of view clearly established and maintained?
  • What themes are emerging?
  • Are plot and subplots clear, and is there a satisfying conclusion?
  • Is the backstory woven in or is there an information dump?
  • When does the real story begin?
  • Is present tense or past tense consistently maintained?
  • If there is a real problem with the manuscript, offer to meet privately.
  • Give others a chance to comment.
  • After receiving feedback, remember to say thank you.

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