There are different types of critique groups and it’s important to try several different types until you find the one you think fits you best and is most helpful to you in your writing.
I have been involved in two different critique groups and will begin my journey with another critique group this week. The two that I have been a part of seem to have the same basic rules: start by saying something positive, offer your thoughts on what works and doesn’t work in the writing or where things tend to drag, and end with something positive. Also, be specific! Saying something like, “This is nice. I like it,” is not really helpful at all to the writer.
Of the two critique groups I’ve been involved with so far, I do prefer one over the other because one group has difficulty critiquing the piece you bring to share. Because you may be working on a novel and you have brought early chapters in the past and now you’ve brought middle or later chapters, and this group may or may not consist of people who read the earlier chapters, it seems to be quite difficult for them to simply critique what is before them.
I understand that it can be difficult as far as knowing how things began and why what’s happening is happening now, but I don’t find it difficult to be able to focus on the words before me and give advice on what is happening on these pages. Whatever I am reading to critique, I simply, ask myself several questions as I read: 1) Does the story flow? 2) Does the dialogue move the story forward and is the dialogue relevant to the story? 3) Are the goals of the main character clear from the action, the decisions and choices the character makes? 4) Are there any places that cause the story to lose momentum, slow down and seem to drag? 5) Are there any places that confuse the reader? 6) Are the writer’s word choices fitting for the time the story is set in or are there word choices that are too modern or too outdated? 7) Does the story capture and hold my attention and make me want to keep reading? 8) Do I care about the main character? 9) Does the plot line keep my interest and does it keep the story moving? 10) Is the story unique compared to other stories in the same genre?
There may be more questions that pop into my head as I read that I look for answers too as well, but the ten I listed in the previous paragraph are some of the most important, so if you can keep those questions in your head while reading someone’s work, it shouldn’t matter whether you are reading a piece of writing from the beginning, middle or end of the story, in order to give the writer good quality, helpful feedback.
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Now, just a bit about the critique group I will be getting involved with this week. It is the online critique group offered through the ACFW website for ACFW members. I am really excited about this because it sounds like it may be the most helpful critique group yet. In order to become involved in the critique group, I have to take a three day orientation, where I will receive three email assignments each day of those three days to complete, in order to learn the rules and how their critique group works. It’s a very large group and it has smaller branch groups as well, from what I understand. I am really looking forward to it! I’ll let you know what I think, once I am able to receive and offer some critiquing.
What about you? Are you part of a critique group? How do you benefit from your critique group?