Better Critiques


Better Critiques

By Rory C. Keel

 

Recently I re-examined a few rules on critiquing other writers’ works. Occasionally I have to do this because I tend to get caught up in the stories. There’s nothing better than someone reading a story to you, right?

First, when you give a critique, start with praise. The most fearful thing about having your work judged is the fear of mean spirited criticism. Find something that you like about the piece, whether it is the overall story idea, plot, character or phrase in the writing that touched a cord with you.

Second, examine the overall piece. Does it make sense? Will it fit within the stated genre or purpose for the writing? What is the plot or premise? Does it have a reasonable conclusion? Does it read smoothly? Does it show rather than tell?

Third, check the details. This is the time to check the facts, note any phrases that seem to be odd or out of place. Mark grammar, misspelled words and punctuation errors.

Finally, critique another writer’s work with respect. Have an attitude of helping them improve their skills, not tearing them down.

Follow these simple rules and you will give and get better critiques.

roryckeel.com

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Better Critiques


Better Critiques

By Rory C. Keel

 

Recently I re-examined a few rules on critiquing other writers’ works. Occasionally I have to do this because I tend to get caught up in the stories. There’s nothing better than someone reading a story to you, right?

First, when you give a critique, start with praise. The most fearful thing about having your work judged is the fear of mean spirited criticism. Find something that you like about the piece, whether it is the overall story idea, plot, character or phrase in the writing that touched a cord with you.

Second, examine the overall piece. Does it make sense? Will it fit within the stated genre or purpose for the writing? What is the plot or premise? Does it have a reasonable conclusion? Does it read smoothly? Does it show rather than tell?

Third, check the details. This is the time to check the facts, note any phrases that seem to be odd or out of place. Mark grammar, misspelled words and punctuation errors.

Finally, critique another writer’s work with respect. Have an attitude of helping them improve their skills, not tearing them down.

Follow these simple rules and you will give and get better critiques.

roryckeel.com

Better Critiques


Better Critiques

By Rory C. Keel

 

Recently I re-examined a few rules on critiquing other writers’ works. Occasionally I have to do this because I tend to get caught up in the stories. There’s nothing better than someone reading a story to you, right?

First, when you give a critique, start with praise. The most fearful thing about having your work judged is the fear of mean spirited criticism. Find something that you like about the piece, whether it is the overall story idea, plot, character or phrase in the writing that touched a cord with you.

Second, examine the overall piece. Does it make sense? Will it fit within the stated genre or purpose for the writing? What is the plot or premise? Does it have a reasonable conclusion? Does it read smoothly? Does it show rather than tell?

Third, check the details. This is the time to check the facts, note any phrases that seem to be odd or out of place. Mark grammar, misspelled words and punctuation errors.

Finally, critique another writer’s work with respect. Have an attitude of helping them improve their skills, not tearing them down.

Follow these simple rules and you will give and get better critiques.

roryckeel.com

Who Loves You Baby


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Who Loves You Baby

By Nandy Ekle

The second and fourth Thursdays of every month I subject myself to a bloodletting beyond anything Stephen King could ever write–and I love it. These are the nights my critique group meet.

We six writers sit around a conference room table and expose our deepest thoughts and passions to each other, and then beg to be ripped apart. Afterwards, we gather our shredded souls and hug each other, thank each other, and promise to do it again in two weeks.

This group of tough word lovers is one of the finer things in life. Writing itself is a huge rush; then add reading your work out loud to friends who believe in you enough to tell you the truth about what works and what doesn’t work, what makes them think, makes them laugh, makes them cry. These wonderful brothers and sisters of ink and paper care enough to slap my hands when the writing is bad and to raise me up on a pedestal when the writing is good.

So tonight I raise my glass in the most honorable toast I can put together. You five lovelies have educated me better than I could have dreamed and I love you all. And just so you know, red is an amazingly fantastic color for ink!

So, I guess you, my dear readers, are waiting for some clever bit of inspiration from me as the muse tonight.  Okay. Here it is. Find yourself a critique partner. It really will change your writing life.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Who Loves You Baby


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Who Loves You Baby

By Nandy Ekle

The second and fourth Thursdays of every month I subject myself to a bloodletting beyond anything Stephen King could ever write–and I love it. These are the nights my critique group meet.

We six writers sit around a conference room table and expose our deepest thoughts and passions to each other, and then beg to be ripped apart. Afterwards, we gather our shredded souls and hug each other, thank each other, and promise to do it again in two weeks.

This group of tough word lovers is one of the finer things in life. Writing itself is a huge rush; then add reading your work out loud to friends who believe in you enough to tell you the truth about what works and what doesn’t work, what makes them think, makes them laugh, makes them cry. These wonderful brothers and sisters of ink and paper care enough to slap my hands when the writing is bad and to raise me up on a pedestal when the writing is good.

So tonight I raise my glass in the most honorable toast I can put together. You five lovelies have educated me better than I could have dreamed and I love you all. And just so you know, red is an amazingly fantastic color for ink!

So, I guess you, my dear readers, are waiting for some clever bit of inspiration from me as the muse tonight.  Okay. Here it is. Find yourself a critique partner. It really will change your writing life.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

It’s a Real Job


Outtakes 54

It’s a Real Job

“I always thought about writing a novel. I think I could do it.” I hear that statement 99% of the time when folks find out that I’m a writer. I’m sure most authors have heard similar responses. If people really understood what it takes to write that novel, they might reconsider their responses. Do these well intentioned folks really think writing is easy?

What does it take to be a writer? Some would say talent is the key component. Of course there is a certain degree of talent involved. However, there are thousands of folks who have the ability to write, but never start. I have a nephew who has talent, but he doesn’t write. Why not? Because he prefers music to the written word. He devotes his energy to perfecting his skills on the various instruments he plays. Simply put, talent comes into play when the writer has the desire to write.

The desire to put words on paper propels a talented person to begin the journey. He buys the right books, studies the craft, experiments with a few ideas. He might join a critique group and a writers’ group. As he presents his work to his peers, he receives kind but honest feedback on his writing. He rewrites, but his critique group still is not satisfied with his efforts. Frustrated, he packs the first novel in a box and shoves it under the bed. The book is never completed.

A successful writer combines his talent and desire with bulldog tenacity. No one is going to convince him it can’t be done. He plans his writing time; places his backside in the chair and writes. He listens to other writers’ critiques and does the necessary rewrites to produce a better product. The writer risks rejection when he submits the finished novel to agents and editors. A writer doesn’t expect overnight success or instant wealth. Instead he will take the free short story publication to enhance his writer’s resume. He will volunteer to help at a conference or present a program to students. He keeps up with current trends in publishing. Deep in his soul, he believes he will be a successful writer and he works for it.

Writing is a real job.  It requires talent, desire, effort, a thick skin, risk, confidence, and tenacity.  No one component is enough. Even Snoopy concedes “Good writing is hard work.”

Cait Collins

In Search of Meaningful Critiques


In Search of Meaningful Critiques

By Natalie Bright

The creative writing instructor provided numerous reasons for joining a critique group and I rejected the idea at once. How could I possibly find a small group of writers attempting similar goals plus a willingness to meet at the same time and place for the rest of our lives?

Let us imagine we find such an assembly.  The unattainable involves leaving your feelings at the door and listening with an open mind as complete strangers criticize your best efforts. In return, you must provide positive comments and insightful suggestions for their work.

The final deal breaker was time. Whose real world itinerary allows meetings on an already unyielding schedule? I discovered so many reasons why NOT to find a writing group.

Based on the form rejection letters I’d received, I soon realized a second opinion might be more than helpful.

I turned to a son who listened intently to my ramblings. One day, he responded to my request of “listen to this” with, “That’s okay, Mom. I’d rather not.”

Not to be discouraged, I searched my heart and contemplated my dilemma carefully. I needed someone who believed in me, someone who was not afraid to bestow the gut wrenching truth.

Behold, there he sat, relaxing comfortably in his easy chair surfing through 210 channels of mind-numbing bliss. I approached my darling husband.

He agreed to help and seemed pleased that I included him in my newfound passion. Thrilled at the possibility of sharing a common interest besides kids, I envisioned lengthy conversations into the night, deliberating words and phrases.

I recognized a pattern appearing in his critiques. He started with “Promise you won’t get mad,” and ended “You should write a Western.” The critique itself consisted of one to two word comments, such as “needs research,” “no emotion,” and my personal favorite, “cornball.”

A critique group of strangers was the only option left.

Through a local writer’s organization, I found a few critique partners, who knew of a few more. We came together preparing to pour our heart and soul onto written pages with hopes of receiving sparks of inspiration — not only to learn ways to improve our work, but starved for any words of praise. We had to know if there were any good parts.

If you have not found someone to critique your work, keep searching. In case you are wondering, my husband continues to be the first line of critique, only because once in a while he surprises me with a unique, very male perspective so amazing and so opposite of mine.

More importantly, I have learned if someone responds to your story with “cornball”, it’s probably true.

Natalie Bright

 

Giving and Receiving Critiques: Consider the Ground Rules


Part 3:

Giving and Receiving Critiques: Consider the Ground Rules

By Natalie Bright

In receiving a critique of your writing, it’s only fair that you’d be expected to give back.

Once you’ve identified several reliable critique partners, set some rules or guidelines to ensure that everyone is in total agreement as to how the critique should proceed. This only makes certain that the process is fair to everyone involved, and that it’s not a waste of your time. I’ve read numerous manuscripts for people, and it’s always nice to hear “send me one of your stories sometime.”

You can learn much about story craft by reading other people’s work, in addition to having them read yours in return.

The Rules Rule

Based on my experience, following are a few basic rules to consider for critique groups:

*Confidentiality

*Page limit: minimum or maximum number of pages to submit for critique

*Time limits for equal time of discussion

*New or edits: limit submissions to new material only, or can members bring edit? This eliminates the problem of someone bringing the same chapter over and over.

*Determine order of reading, if you meet in person.

*Find something positive, then move into the negative. Identify strengths and weaknesses.

* Group size; do you want to limit the number of members?

Wordsmith Six

My first critique group, that I found through the creative writing course, sadly didn’t stay together for various reasons. Some of us had work and family obligations that made it impossible to attend meetings, and several others moved out of the area. A few of us from the original group met a few more writers through a local writers organization, and we formed a new group about three years ago. Six months ago we started a blog about our publishing journey.

Even though we write in a variety of genres, the commonality is that we are all actively writing and submitting for publication. We stay on task. I come away from every meeting with invaluable critiques.

Here are the rules of Wordsmith Six critique group: we meet every other week, and our meetings usually lasts three to four hours. Due to time constraints, we’ve set a maximum of ten pages each. If we don’t have our own work to read, members bring a general interest article on writing craft or share notes from a recent conference, for example.  The key is everyone participates.

We generally restrict readings to new material, however if a piece has had a tough critique, then we’ll look at it a second time after edits. We draw numbers to determine who reads first, and we each read our own work out loud to the group.

Productivity is the Key

This is a biggey rule: we work first, and visit last. Everyone arrives on time, we begin on time, and we get right to business. After the work is done, a few might hang around to discuss character motivation, books we’re reading, or just gabbing about families.  The main point is that our writing is the main focus, and the main goal is to keep everyone moving forward.

Members who only bring chips and dip do not make for a productive atmosphere. Everyone understands life is crazy, and some weeks are unbearable as writers. We all know this. Do your critique mates a favor, and become a dependable giver as well as receiver. As you become familiar with each others work, you’ll move beyond basic grammar checks. A magical thing happens when you begin discussing character motivation and plot structure. As you realize the development of your story through others eyes, you’ll be able to edit and polish your work until it shines.

Next week in Part 4, I’ll discuss responsible behavior.

Natalie Bright


Giving and Receiving Critiques: What to Expect


Giving and Receiving Critiques: Part 2:

Giving and Receiving Critiques: What to Expect

By Natalie Bright

WAS is a pesky little word. I had no idea how much I truly love the word WAS until I joined a critique group. Someone actually counted the number I had on one page and it wasn’t pretty. Then there were other pages with not one WAS in sight. Who knows what goes on in your brain during the writing process?

That is an example of what an honest and unbiased critique of your work can do for you; invaluable insight into your tendencies and quirks.  If you write humor, obviously you want people to laugh at the funny parts. What if they’re laughing in places you didn’t even realize were funny?

When you listen with an open mind, a critique group forces you to step away from your work. You must take the gutt-wrenching, personal feelings out of the process and develop a critical eye.  Critique members can help you do that.

Next week in Part 3; establishing ground rules for critique partners.

Natalie Bright

Giving and Receiving Critiques: Why bother?


Giving and Receiving Critiques: Why bother?

By Natalie Bright

Part 1:

The story you are working on is important. It’s so important that you spend hours writing and rewriting, and even more hours thinking about the characters, the setting, and the plot. There is no doubt that it’s very real in your mind, but how it comes across to the reader might be a totally different experience than what you intended.

Books on Impulse

Books have become impulse buys, and surprisingly I’ve purchased more eBooks than I ever imagined. One click and it’s there, ready and waiting, and saavy authors understand how to make that purchase a no-brainer. I’ve discovered some amazing stories in a wide variety of genres, all affordable and effortless. I’ve also discovered many wonderful authors. Some with great potential, and sadly, some that I’ll hesitate to purchase again because of the typos and very basic story craft mistakes.

If you’re thinking about putting your work out there, I say go for it. Make certain that it’s the best that it can be. You can’t afford to have your name associated with something that is less than perfect. Writing is hard work, and an honest critique is essential to your career as a writer.

Where to Turn

The first step is to ask other writers where they go for help. You need an honest, unbiased opinion. I’ve talked to many authors who have had great success with online groups. You can find other writers looking for critique partners by joining your local writing organization, or inquire at local junior colleges or universities. I met my first critique group through the creative writing course which was taught by a NYTimes Bestselling author at our local university.

Today, more and more writers have found helpful critiques online, either by joining an online group which may involve thousands of members, or simply exchanging work via email with one or two people. Some local writing organizations have large scale critiques where everyone is invited to participate.

Give it a Whirl

Experiment with several different venues until you find the one that fits. You’ll be rewarded with a polished, professional manuscript ready for submission and you’ll discover definite improvement in your productivity level.  The very best inspiration is being surrounded by creative people.

Next week, in Part 2, we’ll discuss what you can expect from a critique.

Natalie Bright