Friday, December 12, 2008

More on Critiquing...

Following on Donna’s excellent critique partner post, I’d like to write about the actual experience of ‘critting.’

So you don’t think you have enough experience to be a critique partner?

Can you read?

I know. It sounds simplistic. But critique partners don’t develop overnight. And when you’re first starting to realize you need one, you can be sure that Nora Roberts is probably too busy to look over your work. (She writes 8-9 books a year). Needing a critique partner usually means the person expects you to critique their work, too.

I know it sounds strange to put two people together who’ve never done this task before. Or to put an experienced critiquer with an inexperienced one. But you’d be surprised at how well it can work.

So, how do you develop YOUR skill as a critique partner if you’ve never been one?

Read, read, read.

Once you’ve stepped off the cliff and offered to read another person’s work, there are a few rules for a newbie ‘critter.”

Be polite.

Grammatical errors are usually the easiest to find. Note them.

Look for instances in which you do not understand what is happening. Ask for clarification. Even if it is something as simple as “Who’s talking here?”

Read passages out loud. If it sounds odd, uneven, choppy or awkward, make a note of it.

Do not be afraid to insert a comment, sentence or paragraph that might clarify – such as “This doesn’t sound like how a little kid would lick an ice cream cone. Kids are messy and usually need bibs, napkins and a bath...perhaps this can be a little more realistic?”

When something makes you smile, sigh, get angry or sad, say so.

Start slow, read carefully, and most of all, enjoy your friend’s story. You’re job isn’t to take a hatchet to it, but to read it as a reader and note the areas you enjoy and the areas that need improvement.

Feed back is important. There is nothing worse to a writer than to have someone go through their manuscript, write “Good!” and “Wow!” in 8-10 places and that’s it. On the surface, that sounds great, but authors are really looking for a gut reaction. Authors want recognition for telling a story that reaches out to the soul in some way. They want to know if they touched the reader, if they elicited emotions that can be treasured, examined and mulled over.

Authors are like engineers. They construct the story, putting the right words here to support the theme, and the best words there to frame their masterpiece. The reward is a reader who steps into that world and finds something that speaks to them.

Read your partner’s work. Give them value for their construction. If a theme is weak, or a framework unsupported, it will fall. But if you can assist in strengthening the book, the reward is a gift that many people can enjoy.


Skhye said...


Roni said...

I have to jump in here and say that sometimes when you become a critique partner for someone you have no idea what the future will hold. RJ and I met when we became on-line critique partners. I rest my case (hmm was this a good thing or a bad thing?)


Loretta C. Rogers said...

Rhonda--love your sense of humor. I've had both good and bad experiences. My first critique group almost discouraged me from ever writing another word. Then I met up with the lady who is now my crit partner. She is worth her weight in gold. She and I have both become multi-published since working together. The first critique group disbanded and none of them have ever published. Great article. Enjoyed reading it.

Mary Ricksen said...

It's hard to do without hurting their feelings.
I too have had good and bad experiences. You never know till you try.

Donna Basinow said...

It took me 3 tries before I lined up with a critique partner that really worked. We understand what we are each looking for and we are both learning as we go. We've added a couple more and I think we're all in the right place.

Thanks for adding to mine. I coulnd't have said it better myself.


Hope Wilbanks said...

Excellent advice! I was so nervous when I joined my first critique group. I was afraid I wouldn't measure up to everyone else. But the great thing about critting is that no matter what level of writer you are, you can *always* glean great insight from others reading your work. :)