Sunday, March 10, 2013

Critique Groups and Beta Readers

My Critique Group

My critique group has been meeting since 2011, and it is still going strong! (Thanks, Sarah, June and Deb, you are awesome!) 

When we first started meeting, we were quite formal, but as time passed we've adjusted our process - and not always in a conscious way.  It developed fluidly.  And, it seems to work for us.  (If you are curious, I described our approach in an earlier post.)

For example, there are a lot of "how to create an effective critique group" articles that say the person being critiqued should not ask questions.  They shouldn't speak.  I suppose it is because the writing should stand on its own - the writer will not be beside the reader, explaining things that aren't clear.  But, my critique group is not like that. At all. 

And, we like it that way.  (Yes, we are true rebels. ;) )

Perhaps it is because we are reading excerpts that are by no means a final draft, so sometimes we need extra input. The critiquers and the writer discuss various points: we argue, we brainstorm, we try to find solutions, we are encouraging, and we are candid but constructive. 

Don't get me wrong, it isn't always easy to hear criticism, and there are times when we might feel a bit defensive.  But, in the end, the feedback is always important.  How else would we learn and develop our craft?

Giving and receiving feedback can be a
great way to learn the craft of writing too!
(Image: © Palto |

The Importance of Other People's Opinions

Which brings me to another thing I've been thinking about for a while - I wish people wouldn't publish before getting honest feedback and responding to it (if appropriate). 

I think there are a lot of people who pursue publishing too early.  By all means, write at a fast pace if that is what you do, but before you send your work to someone to fix spelling and grammar, make sure you send your work to someone who can offer comment on your scenes and story.  Yes, this is something indie writers in particular need to think about since they control their publishing process - but it seems to me, based on some of the stories I've read, that editors in publishing houses may not have the time to really give comprehensive feedback either.

So, it'd be great if every writer had a troop of beta readers or critique partners who'll give them honest opinions that they can consider and possibly address before sending their stories into the world. 

12 Candid Comments

You need someone who'll say:
  1. I think you've assumed that based on what has happened, that the reader will know what the character is feeling, but that isn't the case.
  2. There is no emotion in these two scenes.  Give me something. It doesn't have to be much... just something.
  3. The tone of this scene might be too light to fit with what's just happened in the previous scene.
  4. I wanted to shake your heroine in that scene.   Why is she so snotty / bitchy?
  5. What is the purpose of this scene?  Why is it here at all?
  6. I find this confusing.
  7. I hate your hero / heroine right now.
  8. I can't believe your character would behave this way.
  9. I wouldn't have continued reading your story after that.
  10. The heroine needs to quit pushing the hero away, because right now I don't see why he keeps coming back.
  11. That isn't heroic.
  12. Why would the hero want to be with this heroine?  Or vice versa?
I've received those comments over the last two years.  I didn't receive them all at once (that would be a little overwhelming), and not all critiquers agreed with each one of those... but the words were still important for me to hear. 

I've been given a lot of incredibly positive feedback too, but I try to pay special attention when someone flags an opportunity for improvement.  It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will love my stories - I think that is just reality you have to accept as a writer - but I wouldn't want to pass over an opportunity to learn and improve. 

12 Happy Comments

You also need to have people who'll let you know, without bias, what you are doing right or, rather, what they really think works - though, again, not all critiquers will like the same things.  There have been times when one critiquer will love something that another one will hate.  It is all part of the process. 

Here are some "Woo hoo - maybe I don't suck at this" comments I've received:
  1. I just love your writing.
  2. Very compelling imagery.
  3. You rocked / nailed it.
  4. You are a master at writing an emotional and erotic love scene and then letting out a bit of humor to make it all so real.
  5. I really felt for her in this scene.
  6. It all flows and works together beautifully.
  7. Great pacing.
  8. These people seem quite real.
  9. You've set up a ton of potential conflict, questions, attraction.
  10. I think this is an excellent first scene.
  11. I particularly like how you have a serious tone intermingled with lighter moments.
  12. (And perhaps the very best) I want to read more.

Accepting Feedback

As I mentioned earlier, there are times when my critique group doesn't collectively agree on an excerpt, which is why having three opinions is so helpful.  If all the readers see the same problem, then I know it is an issue that must be addressed.  If only one reader flags something, I still need to consider their opinion and decide if I need to take action.   And, before I finalize my draft, I'll also be seeking beta readers who can take a fresh look at my story. 

However, I fear some writers believe their story is exactly the way they want it and consequently they don't want to change it.

Maybe they are right (sometimes you do need to stand up for your story / your writing and do what feels right) but there are some books I've read where I think if the author had listened to feedback from knowledgeable people, their book would have been so much stronger.  When I read those books, I feel badly for the author because it seems they've missed an opportunity to have a much better story.

That said, there are some truths we must accept: no story will be loved by everyone, and, as much as we may aim for perfection, there is no such thing.

But, I hope we all want to write the best story we can and will use all opportunities to improve our writing skills.


Are you in a critique group?  Have you sent your work to beta readers?  What are your thoughts on this?


Sarah Kades said...

Hi Lorraine,
Our critique group has been instrumental in my writing career! I laughed reading the "candid comments" and the "happy comments", thank you for including both!!! ;)
Seriously, though, writers have such a resource in each other. Ever time I am in a room full of writers I am reminded of this, and what an incredible group of people each of the writing communities I belong to are. Thank you all!
Happy Reading, writing, and constructive critiquing!

Anonymous said...

I used to be in a critique group many years ago, but time intervened and it disbanded. Then I worked with a wonderful critique partner who lived several states away. We met online and continued that relationship for 12 years until she passed away. Recently, after flying solo for many years, I've started worked with an author in my publishing house, trading critiques. It feels wonderful to have that feedback again, both postive and negative. I so missed it.

Lorraine, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said there is no such thing as perfection but we can continually strive to learn,grow, and produce the best story we can. Excellent post!

patonlorraine said...

Hi Sarah!
Thanks for stopping by! You saw some familiar comments, did you? LOL
You are right - writers are great! - so generous.

patonlorraine said...

Aw, thanks, Mae! It is always important to find someone you resonate with - it sounds like you've worked with a lot of great people! It took me a long time to join a critique group, but now that I have... I can see where I'd miss it too!

Sarah Kades said...

Aw yeah!!! :)