I’ve released a new book on the craft of writing, called You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. To celebrate the release, I’m sharing a excerpt from the chapter on Critiques. First I shared the intro to the chapter and advice on getting feedback from family and friends. Then I discussed some basics about critique groups. Last week I shared some challenges to watch out for in a critiquegroup. Now here are some specific character types to watch out for in your critique group.
Critique Group Characters
Watch out for the following personality types in a critique group:
- The Cheerleader. She loves everything you do! This is gratifying, especially when you are doubting your talent, but it’s not particularly helpful in improving your work.
- The Grammarian. He doesn’t have a lot to say about the content of your work, but he’ll circle every typo in red pen and may insist you follow strict grammar rules that have gone out of date. (By the way, I never use red pen on critiques – blue, purple, or green ink stands out from the black text, without that negative association of graded English papers.)
- The Mouse. You can’t tell whether or not she likes your work, because she never voices an opinion. She might hide behind the excuse that she’s not experienced enough to offer feedback. She’ll do this for years.
|Me? An opinion?|
- The Perpetual Beginner. He truly isn’t experienced enough to offer feedback, and he never seems to improve. This type can be divided into The Rut, who brings in the same manuscript over and over without ever making substantial changes (despite all your thoughtful advice) and The Hummingbird, who throws away a manuscript as soon as it’s gotten one negative comment, preferring to work on something new.
- The Chatterbox. She wants to talk about anything and everything – other than the manuscripts you’re supposed to be critiquing. This person sees a writing group as a social occasion, not a way to improve your craft.
- Father Knows Best. He always has an opinion, which he voices clearly and often. He prefers to discuss how he would write the story if it were his own, ignoring the author’s vision.
|That's not how I'd do it.|
- The Bully. She enjoys tearing apart your manuscript. No suggestions, just criticisms bordering on insults.
All these characters have one thing in common. They don’t help you improve your work. Having one Cheerleader in the group can be nice, as it means you’ll hear some praise. The Grammarian may be useful, although often those comments are unnecessary and time-consuming when you are still developing a story and focusing on the big picture, not proofreading.
The Mouse and the Perpetual Beginner don’t do a lot of harm, but they waste your time. Why should you spend hours doing thoughtful critiques when you’re not getting anything in return? (Note, sometimes these people can learn over time. Ask for the specific feedback you want or encourage them to use one of the lists of critiques provided in this chapter. But if they won’t make an effort to be better critique partners, it may be time to end the relationship.)
|Some people hate everything|
The Chatterbox is an even bigger time waster. Sometimes that person can be controlled by having a set time for visiting, perhaps the first or last half hour of each meeting. Including some social time is a way for the group to bond. Some critique groups like to start or end with a nice potluck meal. You could also have one or two meetings a year that are purely social. If there’s a way to get Father Knows Best or the Bully to change their behavior, I don’t know it. They should be avoided.
A good critique is kind and supportive, pointing out both good qualities and weak spots in your manuscript, and giving you ideas for how to improve it. The best critiques leave you fired up and ready to get to work on revisions, even if you know you have a lot of work ahead. Look for people who can provide that.
If you've run into these characters, do you have advice on dealing with them? Are there other character types to watch out for?
You can get this whole essay, and a lot more – including a chapter on Advanced Critique Questions – in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.
Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach that audience, you need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing rhymed picture books, middle grade mysteries, edgy teen novels, nonfiction, or something else.
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Cat emoticons by Lois Bradley.