Monday, August 17, 2009

Crit Groups: Should I be in one?

From my post over on My Book Therapy.

The other night during the Voices forum chat, Susie and I were asked about crit groups -- if we believed they were valuable, and what advice would we give. Here's the summation of our collective advice.

Should I be in a crit group?

If you are new to writing fiction, or struggling in your writing, join a crit group. American Christian Fiction Writers has established groups that are waiting for an author to join. I was in Crit group seven my first few years in ACFW.

Crit groups do not have to be your best friends. In fact, I recommend not pairing with your friends if you are starting out. It's too easy to be nice to each other. You like the other's work too much. Join up with people who are going to challenge you. Not knowing them is a great advantage. But do know if they are accomplished critiquers. That should really be your only requirement. If they are published, all the better.

Often we see crit partners like girlswriteout and we believe that's what we all want and need. Those woman started out just like all of us -- looking for input on their stories and they became best friends.

If that happens with your crit group, great. If not, it's still a valuable tool. I do think over time crit partners who become friends can be more forthright with input and not worry about hurting feelings.

Crit Group Pitfalls

I had input on a few of my manuscripts, but over the long haul, crit groups didn't work for me. I didn't have time to review five people's input on the same chapter. It became tedious. Constant chapter exchange can be overwhelming. Set up a workable guideline for your group's members.

Crit groups often turn into nothing more than line edits. Make sure your crit, or the ones you're receiving, are more about craft and the story than correcting a misspelled word, an awkward sentence, a missing question mark.

A crit group should focus on the story! Does the story work? Is the dialog realistic and snappy? Does it deliver the story? Is there a balance of narrative and action? Too much internal thinking? Is the hero and heroine likable? Is their character acting consistently. Are their goals obvious and planned out? Tension, where's the tension? I could go on. But you get where I'm going. Is this story working? Is it too cliche, too sweet, too dark?

Children with Pebbles

Often new writers armed with a handful of writing rules are like children standing on the side of the road with a fistful of pebbles. They have ammo but no idea how and when to use it, even if they should use them. Instead of helping a crit partner, they damage them. "This is telling," when it's not. Or, "you shouldn't use the word was." (My personal favorite.) At the same time, they lack understanding of how to use more mature writing techniques that would help you advance -- like recognizing metaphors or themes.

Most of all, immature crit partners throw pebbles at your voice. The biggest hurdle for any writer is to find her/his voice. You don't want a perfectionistic line editing crit partner adding or deleting words or phrases that define your style. You want a crit partner to read your work with a somewhat artistic eye. She should highlight a line and note: THIS is your voice.

In the end. . .

The hardest part for a writer is to show their work. The second hardest is to let someone give you feedback. You need a crit group, even a weak one, for that purpose alone if you're starting out. Let someone read your work. Not your spouse or best friend, or mother. They will hear you in the story and love it. Let another reader or writer who is not familiar or close with you read it. Ask for an honest opinion.

I'll admit it. I've lied to new writers before. I said I liked something when I didn't because I knew if I told them the truth -- both the good and the bad -- it would crush them. I didn't feel they were in a place where it mattered if I held back a bit. But if you're serious about writing, get honest, helpful feedback. If you don't get the response you want, email the critiquer and ask questions.

Once an author read my synopsis and said she loved it. When I asked more specific questions, I found out she didn't like the heroine's profession very much which made her not like the heroine. Well, gee, now you tell me. :)

Conference Critiques

Please, sign up for conference critiques. They are a big help.

Later, we'll talk about the dynamic of brainstorming partners.

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