Sunday, December 16, 2012

Critique Group: Da Rulez

Last time I mentioned critique groups. Let's run with that for a bit. I'm in one that works pretty well, mainly because we are all published writers who know the process and because we established a few simple rules early on. Here they are:

  1. Give us time. If we're going to critique a novel chapter or a short story, we need time to read it and think about it. We distribute our material by email, so it's fairly easy. Get the material to the others about a week ahead of your meeting.
  2. No hunting. This means no cheap shots. Once at a college writers' festival I was horrified to hear the guest writer, a big name, condescendingly tell a student who had submitted a story, "I could write a good story about this. You can't. This is crap." That's a cheap shot; it in no way helps the writer and is merely a put-down. No fair.
  3. Don't bring just a crowbar. Bring a hammer and nails. In other words, you're not there just to tear down, but to suggest ways of rebuilding, making the story workable and more readable. Offer constructive suggestions.
  4. But don't take my word for it. If one of us has a brilliant idea for improving a story, and the writer of the story says, "" then that is that. No one is obligated to take your advice. Don't get your feelings hurt.
  5. We read your words, not your mind. If five members of your writers' group all ask the same question or stumble over the same plot point, you're at fault. It's no use complaining, "But that's not what I meant." Your job is to find out how to write what you meant so you don't mislead your readers unintentionally.
  6. Don't pet a bad dog. Never lie; if you don't like a story, say so, if you can then explain what would have made you like it. "I really loved this" is not good criticism, though writers eat it up. Sure, praise good writing, but suggest ways that the whole piece can excel.
  7. What happens in Vegas.... Trust the other writers. Be friends with them. Don't hold grudges and don't be quick to get your feelings hurt. Once the stories are out of the way, socialize and have a good time.
  8. It's not you, it's not me, it's the story. I've collaborated before, and that was our prime rule: get rid of the egos. It's what's best for the story that counts. Think critically, think analytically, and give and take criticism honestly and without hurt feelings on either side. That's key.
There may be more...but I think these are the most important.

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