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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Critique Groups...part one...

I've always loved critique groups. After all, without them many writers would likely never have been published. Think of Tolkien and the Inklings. Would Tolkien have published The Hobbit and ultimately The Lord of the Rings? You could argue that he would have without being part of the Inklings, but then you could also argue that the friendships he developed with those men and those in groups he was a part of before compelled him to write LOTR.
I'm also a fan of online critique groups. Critique Circle has one of the best crit systems I have ever seen. They have several forms, but I am quite fond of the "In-line" form, which allows you to click on each paragraph that you want to comment on to make commments, and when you send the critique the author sees those comments below said paragraphs. It makes online critting so easy because you can actually do something constructive without a lot of clicking and fiddling. Let's face it, critiquing via MS Word or whatever program you use is no easy picnic, even with that handy highlight feature--and honestly I haven't a clue how to highlight and don't intend to learn.There are a lot of other critique groups out there, obviously, some free, some not. There is Critters Writers' Workshop, which I found to be rather interesting as it puts its focus in SF/F/H work--seeing how the former vice president of SFWA--Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer's of America, Inc.--runs it. I personally cannot say whether Critters is any good as I am not a part of it. I am a part of Critique Circle, and would definitely recommend that. If anyone is a part of Critters, please leave a comment. Tell us what it's like to be a part of it.
And what about all your critique groups out there? Or do you not have one? Granted, sites like Critters or Critique Circle aren't really critique groups in the traditional sense. Unless you develop a relationship with certain individuals on there you'll likely only receive comments from the same person on rare occasion. But, you do tend to get valuable feedback nonetheless. Here are some things I've learned about being involved in face to face, online, and other (the other being some critiques I received from editors on short story submissions):

1. Remember that any feedback you give should be constructive. Never bat down a writer by telling them their work is dreadfully horrible and that they will never amount to anything. There are only two outcomes in that situation: the writer will be severely hurt, hate you, and maybe stop writing altogether or flame you unmercifully or cease to be a good constructive critter for you, or they will break away from you entirely and end up being published while you're not. You don't want either of those. Well, that's not entirely true. The idea behind critique groups is to help each other become published, but still, nobody likes a 'revenge publishing'.
2. Don't do anything to the writers work that they didn't ask for. If they don't want red pen, or they don't want you to judge the grammar, then don't. Unless the writing is so abysmally bad that you can't help but make a few grammatical changes then don't do anything at all. Actually, if the writing is so bad that you can't help yourself then maybe that person needs to pick up Strunk & White's book The Elements of Style, a sort of mini-Bible for any writer. And suggesting taking some basic english classes at a community college would help...
3. Make yourself as clear as possible. Don't say something that is so vague. Saying "something about this felt wrong" doesn't give the writer anything to go on. What was wrong about it? Did it seem grammatically weak, or what? I've given my fair share of vague comments, and I try my best not to give them. It's hard, I know. But you have to be strong my young padawan's. Strong...
4. You don't know everything. Even if you think you do, you don't. Sorry, plain and simple. Not even the most successful writers know everything. It's best to be humble. Sure, give your opinion, thoughts, etc., but don't pretend like you know it all. This is especially bad when someone who has not been published yet tries to give you worldly advice on getting published. Anyone else see a problem with such advice?

I'm sure I've learned some other things, but I can't quite put my finger on them right now. For a later post of course. The same goes for much of the other things I wanted to discuss on such groups. So, next week or later there will be a part two. Anything you might have learned?

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  1. I actually think commenting on MS Word is very easy. Once I was taught how to, that is. ;) I even use it to make notes to myself on rough draft.

    Insert cursor where you wish the comment to apply, then click on Insert, then comments. Your comments will appear to the right in a bubble box with a line directed to where you place the cursor. (Or you can highlight and do the same.)

  2. Anonymous9:40 PM

    This post was really interesting to me. I've always wanted to start a crit group in my hometown, but I don't know enough writers I don't think. I guess I'll have to see if we have one I can join.

    About the Inklings, one of the things I found really interesting was that not only was J.R.R. Tolkien a memeber, but so was C.S. Lewis. What a group, eh?

    I'll have to remember the tip about vague comments, though. I've never been a part of a crit group, but if I do join one I want to be helpful, not a pain. Thanks, S.M.D!

  3. I've seen it done in word, I just find doing things by hand or via the in-line method in CC (which takes one click on the paragraph you want to comment on) are just easier. I prefer to do things by hand though. I dunno, something about a paper covered in red corrections makes me...feel something that isn't happy but is good nonetheless. I don't know what you call it. Accomplished perhaps?

    As for Inklings, don't forget that Charles Williams--the other member who never gets any credit--was an accomplished author as well. He published seven novels between 1930 and 1945 and even had a special 'reader' made of his work. You know, like those texts they use in college classes that focus on an author, etc. Literature books :P.

    My recommendation for getting into a crit group is this. If you can find one in your home town, find one that will be useful to your style of writing. Don't join a romance writing group if you don't write romance fiction. Same goes for a literary fiction group and any other form of writing. You need to get into a group that is capable of reading your work with the correct 'eye'. Now, you can find fiction groups filled with writers that love SF/F/H or whatever other genre, and that works too, but if the group is entirely focused in one direction, you probably don't belong there.
    This is why I like CC. When you put something up you select the genre category and you tend to get readers of that genre, which I find to be valuable. Nobody knows the genre like the people who read and love it. Is someone who is a die-hard literary fiction fan going to be capable of giving you what you need critique wise?

    Also, look for the second part of this. I've got a great idea for a critique group that nobody will go for cause it's sort of odd, but at the same time I would love to do it.

    Take care!

  4. Okay, I am loving the writing aspects that I am learning from your blog entries since honestly I'm a journal writer - craziness' about my life. Anyhow, it is very worth while & knowledgeable to know more. Thanks :)

    And as for crit techniques, it seems to me to relate about life in general. Golden Rule, "Do onto others as you would want done unto you." Constructive criticism is best & you outlined it well.

    Looking forward to the the 2nd part. Take Care!

  5. Anonymous6:48 PM

    I'm a member of Critters (though I'm on hiatus at the moment) and I find it

    fantastic. The best freature is that you can put an entire novel through

    really quickly as an RFDR and get several people commenting on it in a

    variety of styles. I put Nikara through back in May and by the end of July

    four people had read it, including someone doing a line-by-line edit of all

    the picky things. It's a simple system to use, once you've read the

    documentation, and there are several options for receiving/sending stories

    for critting. The Critter Captain (his name escapes me right now ...) is very

    helpful and will answer any queried quickly (assuming he isn't away)--His

    automatic foul language checker picked up a word within a word in my

    manuscript--thus putting up a warning. I dropped ihm a line asking if he

    could remove the warning, as I didn't want to put off the younger readers,

    and he had it done within the day. I've had nothing but good experiences from


  6. Anonymous9:00 PM

    Are you a member of too? My username there is Fantasy9. Maybe we could crit each other's stuff if you are! I enjoy the in-line critiques as well.

    And this is a good post that sums up everything people should keep in mind about critiquing. I've seen everything from really unhelpful critiques, offensive ones, overly demanding ones, and then the really good ones. I think the best critiques not only find possible things to fix, but also suggest one or more ways to fix them.

  7. Yup, I'm a part of CC. I've not been on in a while due to basically having nothing really 'new' to put up there. But I've been active in the past and done my fair share of critiques.

    Honestly, part of my second part of Crit Groups is going to be a talk about starting a crit group, but I'll leave that to next week. So stay tuned cause yes I am very interested in a crit group :).