Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Making the Most of a Critique Group

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. Last week I shared the intro to the chapter and advice on getting feedback from family and friends. Today, let's look at getting feedback from other writers.

Critiquing with Other Writers

Joining a critique group is often a great way to get feedback as well as emotional support for your journey as a writer. Reach out through local writing groups, writers’ discussion boards, or Goodreads author groups. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) “Blueboard” discussion boards have a section specifically for arranging manuscript critique exchanges. This section is available to SCBWI members only. You can also try putting up notices in libraries, bookstores, and cafes. (Be careful about listing personal information, and make sure you meet strangers in a public place.)

When you critique each other, try to keep in mind the “sandwich” method of giving feedback. You start by saying something you like about the manuscript. Then you offer some suggestions or ask questions. Finally, you end with more praise. When the more critical comments are sandwiched between compliments, it’s easier to accept the advice. Note also that you should be offering advice, not criticism. What’s the difference?

Your story is boring. – Criticism

I didn’t notice a lot of conflict. Maybe if she had a stronger goal, with higher stakes, the story would be more dramatic. – Advice

Your character is a brat. I hated her. – Criticism

I couldn’t really identify with your character. I wonder what about her appealed to you? Maybe if the reader understood her better, she’d be more likable. – Advice

Conferences are a way to meet other writers
Criticism points out a problem, often in a mean way. That tends to leave the writer discouraged and not wanting to write anymore. Advice points out problems in a gentler way, ideally with ideas for fixing the problem. Suggestions should be presented as options, not absolute truth. Advice acknowledges that this is only one reader’s opinion; others may have a different reaction, and ultimately it’s the writer’s goal that matters. Good advice leaves the writer enthusiastic about working on the story.

Have you struggled to find a good critique group, or do you have a success story to share?

Over the next few weeks, I'll be discussing critique group challenges and characters, and then offering advice on taking classes and hiring a professional editor.

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.

Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Sign up for Chris’s Workshop Newsletter for classes and critique offers.

1 comment:

  1. I had a critique group back in Albuquerque for a while - all different genres. Which became a problem. I was heavy into writing horror at the time, and nobody wanted to read my stuff because it was "gross." I've tried unsuccessfully three times to get a group going here in Minot, ND. I think, for now anyway, my best bet is online, with pals. I put my poetry collection out to four trusted beta readers and got loads of very helpful feedback - I'm working on incorporating some of that feedback into the collection. Yes, good critique uses specifics about WHY you don't like certain aspects, not just "I don't like it."