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.