Apr 9, 2008

Critique Group Etiquette

My favorite class at the LDStorymakers conference was the class on Critique groups. It was taught by Annette Lyon, Heather Moore, James Dashner, Jeff Savage, Luann Staheli, and Michelle Holmes. The content they taught was very helpful and informative, but the way they taught it was what gave class members great insight into how a critique group is really supposed to work.

You know the famous writing adage—show, don’t tell? Rather than standing at the front of the room and telling us how a critique group can be successful, they showed us. They sat around a table and took turns reading from their manuscripts, and then listening to critiques from the other members.

The instructors have been together in a critique group for several years, and you could tell. They had it down to a science. I’ve been trying to decipher my scribbled notes so I can share them with you. Here are the main points of their class:

1) Group size: 7-8 people. Ideally, writers on similar writing levels. Some variation is okay, but try to avoid a huge disparity.
2) Bring a scene 6-8 pages long. Bring enough copies so each person has their own.
3) Each writer is allowed six minutes to read the manuscript they brought.
4) Each participant is then given three minutes to critique. Rotate to the left around the room, starting with the person to the left of the reader. This is so each person can comment, but the quiet person in the group (that’s me) isn’t always last.
5) Write your name on the top of each manuscript you critique so the author can contact you with any questions they may have later.
6) Remember, critiquing is not only about pointing out the bad things. Put smiley faces by the things you like too and be sure to mention them.
7) Things to look for when critiquing: motivation, feel, dialogue, grammar, punctuation, voice, etc.

That’s a quick run-down of the process. It was amazing to watch the critique group and see how well they function.

I’ve recently started going to a critique group. We use some of the above suggestions and have implemented a few of our own. I’m the baby of our writing group. All the other writers have more experience than I do. I’m studying hard to learn as much as humanly possible, so I can offer valuable insights and help them as much as they are helping me.


Queen of Chaos said...

I didn't go to this class so this was very insightful for me. I haven't been to a critique group yet- though I have joined ANWA {American Night Writers Association} for LDS Women Writers. So I have a group to go to once month but have missed both of the meetings so far. grrrrrr Bummer.

How did you find your critique group? Who is in it? Do you find it helpful?

Kim Thompson said...

I thought about joining ANWA, but I'm not sure who's in the chapter here in Utah. It seems like most of the people are in AZ.

I'm loving the group. It is very helpful to have people with different opinions read your work. I've received some very valuable feedback so far.

I was invited to the group from a writer friend of mine. (Thanks Keith!)

Rachelle said...

Hey great post--thanks so much for sharing. I wanted to go to this class too, but there were too many good choices. Critique groups are so helpful!

Weston Elliott said...

I agree with Queenie- thanks for the notes since I missed that one. I have a group that I meet with, and all our members are great - we just have very different, very challenging schedules. It makes it really hard to get us all together at once. (hint, hint, ladies!)

Karen Hoover said...

I wanted to get to that class, but couldn't squeeze it in. It would have been interesting. I'm afraid I enjoy going to critique group more for the friendshiop and association with other strange writing people more than the critique part. Oh wait . . . did I just say that out loud??? ;)

I enjoyed hearing your writing at Boot Camp, Kim. If you ever need an extra reader, I'm volunteering!

Heather B. Moore said...

Thanks for posting about this, Kim! Now I'm going to take notes from your notes since I have so many people ask how my critique group works :)

Annette Lyon said...

So glad the class was helpful, Kim! Great rundown on how we work. As far as schedules, yeah, ours get nutty too--which is why we have 8 people in the group, since we're lucky to get more than 4 or 5on any given week.

And Karen's right on the money--it's good for writers to hang out with other writers. My husband knows this all too well. If life is hectic and I'm losing it, he takes me by the shoulders and pushes me toward the door, knowing that if I do go to critique group, he gets his normal (?) wife back!

(Welcome to blog land!)

Rebecca Talley said...

I'm a member of ANWA and I live in CO so I can't attend any chapter meetings, but the online group is great.

I'm sorry I missed this class at the conference--thanks for the notes.

I'm sorry I didn't get to meet you at the conference--maybe next year :)

Tristi Pinkston said...

Your comments are very valuable, Kim. I always look forward to what you say because you're very thoughtful about the process.

Plus, you're a dang good writer!

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