By Thonie Hevron
Critique group partners walk a tightrope. You’re charged to be honest on one end—to expose errors and inconsistencies. On the other, you must allow for the writer’s style. Having basic rules to guide can help in this mission. Actually, rules are vital. They should foster writing skills and creativity. Knowing when to say what are crucial when you’re giving feedback on another author’s work. You want to suggest points that will encourage imaginative changes, not stifle another’s storytelling.
Where would I be without my critique group?
Back in 2009, my goal was to finish my first book. I’d (artistically) wandered with it since 1997 or so. I needed something to help push me through my obstacles. That year, I found Redwood Writers (aka RW, a chapter of the California Writers Club, founded by Jack London). RW came to my rescue with craft workshops, speakers on goal setting, and classes to develop a platform/social media. Then, at a monthly meeting, someone announced they were starting up a mystery/suspense/thriller critique group.
Now, I wasn’t all that excited about critique groups in general as I’d had a bad experience in ’97 with an open genre group. (Imagine poets critiquing a police procedural. It wasn’t pretty.) But a gathering of same genre writers might be what I needed. Under the guidance of an experienced writing teacher, we began what we call, “Thrillerz” with 4-5 authors. Our first meeting was to establish ground rules: where, how often and when do we meet? What is the standard submission? Behavior rules were basic (no punching out your critiquer) but clear. We decided what we were going to look at: line edits, content, all the above.
What Thrillerz has done for me?
Over the years, the faces have changed—except for Billie Payton-Settles. She and I are original members. On July 20th, you’ll be hearing how Thrillerz keeps her writing. Right now, I believe Thrillerz has the perfect blend of authors. Our sub-genres vary but we all speak the same language. We listen to each other, taking or discarding criticisms as each feel will work for their piece. We never argue. And, contrary to some writing experts, we do offer suggestions to each other—thankfully! I say this because of every set of pages I submit, I get great ideas back. Sometimes, the story has taken off in different direction because of their ideas. They’ve made me a better writer and a better critiquer. I hope I provide them with positive possibilities for their works as they do for me. Another huge benefit for being in a critique group is that I keep writing. I work because I must turn in pages. Sometimes, it’s the only reason to get a word down.
Some references for rules
In this post from Writers’ Digest (January 2010), Jane Friedman discussed a book by a colleague, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine. Her summary sounds terrific, but I haven’t read it, so I can’t recommend it.
There isn’t that much information out there about critique groups. This could be for a variety of reasons: Groups are outgrown as an author rises the ladder of success. And each group must set their own rules. In doing research for this post, I found an article by an expert who offered 9 mistakes that make you look like an amateur. Five of her “mistakes” were regular practice in our group.
No grammar corrections? Tell the retired teacher not to.
Next week, mystery author Mary Feliz offers “Critiquing for Success” on July 13th and Deborah Taylor-French on July 27th. Join us on Writer’s Notes every Friday and Just the Facts, Ma’am every Sunday.
Thonie Hevron, a retired 911 dispatcher, resides in Northern California. Her work has appeared in Beyond Borders: 2014 Redwood Writers Anthology and Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides: Public Safety Writers 2013 Anthology. She is the author of three mystery novels, By Force or Fear, Intent to Hold and With Malice Aforethought, currently available on Amazon but will be re-published by Aakenbaaken & Kent in 2018. Her fourth mystery/thriller, Felon with a Firearm is forthcoming in late 2018.
WITH MALICE AFORETHOUGHT: What if you’re a deputy investigating a homicide in an isolated countryside and you discover a sinister paramilitary group gearing up for an assault very soon? What if your sergeant is your former partner who keeps you at a distance? And don’t bother calling for back up because there’s no radio communications in the remote Northern California hills.
What do you do?
To purchase With Malice Aforethought, click here
Love, love my critique group. I consider them to be my first editor. No, I don’ t always agree–but I never argue, just look to see if there is a problem how I can fix it.
You’re SO right, Marilyn. I don’t always agree, also. But their comments make me look at my words differently. Maybe their interpretation isn’t what I intended to convey. There’s real value in these opinions.
I’ve been a member of a critique group for nearly 20 years. Of the seven members, five are published, only one was when we began. We all write different genres. We have two members with excellent listening skills and great memories; their input has help many of us keep on track, whether it is romance, contemporary, political or mystery/suspense. They are a God sent for me
I agree. I know my progress would be stymied without them.
Thanks for this. I just moved to Fort Collins Colorado from Houston and thus lost my critique group. Though we have a writer’s group here, a conference and a retreat, the critique group aspect is up to you to organize. I’m struggling with getting the courage to put a notice on the writing group website looking for partners. Not to mention with what to say in the notice!
Thanks for your comment, Susan. The good news about getting the courage to put up a notice is that you get to call the shots–initially, anyway. Do you want this to be genre specific or all genres? To hold the group at a small number or let it grow? To meet twice a month or ? Online or in person? All these can be negotiable but if you put out your “must haves,” chances are you’ll find a more like-minded group of people. Good luck!
Thanks for your encouragement. You are right if I make the request I can set it up the way I want to. And that is worth a lot. I guess I will start drafting a want ad. 🙂