I’ve been a member of more than one writing group, including groups who read their work out loud for critique, and groups who submit in writing and then discuss, either face-to-face or online. A good group can be of enormous help in inspiration–in fact, a throw-away sentence from another writer actually inspired my first book. I asked him what inspired him, and he said that it allowed him to kill his boss–not in reality, but in the third chapter. It sparked “This Little Pig,” and I’ve been addicted ever since.
Anyone who’s ever been part of a read-and-critique writing group has witnessed the differences in how writers address each others’ efforst. Some seem harsh, some don’t, some seem focused on how the writing can improve, some seem focused on how to improve the writer, rather than what’s been read. Few groups actually help writers learn how to critique another person’s work verbally or in writing, and fewer still help writers learn how to deal with the critiques of their own work.
In my experience, the biggest issue with not having instruction is that group members tend to confuse critique and criticism, and end up leveling the latter.
In the environment of a writer’s group:
The primary definition of criticism is: “the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.”
The primary definition of critique is: “a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.”
Criticism, in a writer’s group, is largely destructive:
- Example: This story is scary and dark and I really didn’t like it. I just don’t understand people who write really dark stuff like this.
Critique is acknowledging your filters, followed by pulling out the positives and mentioning them first. Then you can follow with constructive suggestions for change:
- Example: I may not be your first audience for this story–I don’t often read horror. However, I thought your story arc was good overall, and your characters were well-drawn. You might want to take a look at your beginning. You’ve put a lot of details about the setting there, but I think if you start your story right in the middle of the action that begins on page two, second paragraph, it will draw the reader in immediately. Then you can weave the setting in as you go, to give us the sense of place.
This is just one example–the second in the series will discuss details in what you’re looking for to build a critique that can actually help your fellow writer’s improve, and the third will discuss how to accept critique from other writers and build on it.