All writers should belong to a local critique group that will “tell it like it is.” Nothing will improve your writing better than having objective criticism, both positive and negative, from a group of peers.
As promised, I’ve included the guidelines for you to follow if you plan to start your own group. Please feel free to copy and use at your own discretion:
Critique Group Guidelines
1. Pick one person to be the leader of your group or rotate by having a different leader every time you meet. Choose a central location to meet. Our group meets at a local coffee house where the owner allows us to rearrange a few tables in the corner of the place where we can sip coffee and discuss.
2. Several days before the meeting, the leader should email or call everyone to find out whos bringing something to critique. The leader then plans how much time will be allotted to each writer at the meeting. Example: we have a two-hour meeting once a month. If five of us bring something to be critiqued, we each get about 20-25 minutes total time for the critique. Its best for the leader to have a timer. We usually limit our pages to about five typed double-spaced pages. But that depends on how many writers want to be critiqued.
3. At the meeting, open with the sharing of news, i.e. someone has been accepted for publication, someone is speaking somewhere or having a book signing, etc.
4. Each person who has something to critique should bring copies for all members. The author has a choice to have his/her work read aloud by another member while the group critiques with pen or to have it read silently while the critiquing is being done.
5. After the reading, each person, other than the writer, discusses the manuscript read. The leader should control the input by giving each person at the table a turn to speak, going clockwise or counterclockwise. The author is encouraged to offer his/her input. Also, the leader should prevent discussions and personal trivia that chase rabbit trails and have nothing to do with critiquing the manuscript. Then the manuscript copies are handed back to the writer. Fellowship and sharing can take place before or after the entire critiquing session is over.
6. Before dismissing, the next date for the critique meeting should be set.
7. Alternative critique plan:
If everyone in the group has email and knows how to send and receive attachments, the group can decide to send work ahead of time (at least a few days to a week) to each member of the critique group via email attachment. Then the writer critiquing the work prints it and brings the copy to the meeting where the suggestions and edits are discussed.
THE ART OF CRITIQUE:
1. It offers a chance to communicate with each other. First, tell the writer what you enjoyed about the story and its strengths. Be positive about something.
2. Then review what you think needs work. Sticky opening, weak characters, weak plot, unnatural dialogue, etc.
3. Be careful not to over-critique. Each writer has his own individual voice or style of writing. Other than correcting obvious punctuation, word usage, grammar and punctuation, try not to rewrite the work. It will then not be the original authors work. It will be yours.
4. As the author of the work, you should process the critique comments. Decide if the critique really hit home. Some writers dont change anything unless they get at least two or three comments about the same area of work. Try not to be offended. Critiquing is a valuable tool to make you a better writer.
5. Remember, you are the final judge of your work.
HAPPY WRITING AND CRITIQUING!