The purpose of a critique group or critique partner is to offer advice and insight into a writer’s WIP. They also provide encouragement and fun! Most writers love to talk about writing, love to talk about their work, and love to hone their craft. Crit groups and partners offer writers the opportunity to do exactly that.
The difference between a beta reader and a crit group/partner is in the reciprocations and qualifications. Like I said in The Importance of Beta Readers, a beta reader is simply a person who reads a writer’s WIP with an eye for problems. A critique group (or critique partner) consists of people who read the writer’s WIP with an eye for problems, and in exchange the writer critiques everyone else’s WIPs.
So how do beta readers and crit groups give a good critique? Where does one even begin?
The steps to a good critique (for beta readers and crit partners alike):
- Establish what the writer wants to know about his/her WIP. Does he/she want you to only address character? Plot? Grammar? You don’t want to give the writer too much critique (when he/she only wanted punctuation-help), nor do you want to give too little. Figure out the writer’s needs up front.
- The writer wants help with everything? Well, check out this handy-dandy (and hardcore) list of questions, or here are a few I use when critiquing:
- Were you hooked at the beginning? If not, why? (e.g. infodumping, not starting the story in the right place, introducing too many people to start, confusing intro, etc.)
- When you reached the end of a page/scene/chapter, did you want to keep reading? If so, why? If no, why not?
- Did each scene/part of a scene/sentence add to the story? Did any parts feel unnecessary, as if they didn’t contribute to plot or characterization?
- Did you feel an emotional connection to the MC?
- Were the characters likable?
- Were the characters believable?
- Did the characters behave as you would expect them to? (i.e. a character who is snobby and spoiled can’t suddenly behave generously for no reason)
- Did dialogue flow and sound natural?
- Did each character sound unique when speaking? (i.e. do the characters all sound the same when speaking?)
- Were dialogue tags overused or poorly used?
- Did the overall story flow?
- Was there too much introspection? Not enough?
- Was the voice appropriate for the MC’s age, the story’s genre, and the story’s time period?
- Did you notice clichés?
- Did you notice overused words or phrases?
- Were there too many adverbs or was there poor use of verbs?
- At any point were you were pulled from the story? (e.g. you had to read a sentence twice to understand it, you thought a sentence was badly worded, you didn’t believe a character or plot twist, etc.)
- Was anything unclear or confusing?
- Did you notice any story inconsistencies? (e.g. his eyes are blue on page 4 but brown on page 7, she hates chocolate on page 8 but eats a brownie on page 11, etc.)
- What was your reaction while reading this? (fear, curiosity, satisfaction, etc.)
- Were there any grammar/punctuation/spelling problems?
- Dictate how many pages you want to read at a time and how quickly you can respond. I had a bad experience where someone sent me her entire book all at once — it was overwhelming, and I should’ve said “no” right away. Live and learn. Now I know I prefer to work with only 5-10 pages at a time.
- Be gentle, be considerate. You may hate what the writer has done, you may have done it totally differently, but this is not your WIP. (This can be especially hard for writers, but we’ve got to let go of the reins if we want to help.)
- If you’re having a bad day, for Heaven’s sakes, don’t critique! Or if you do, be particularly careful to keep your bad attitude from the pages you’re reviewing. It’s easy to take anger or hurt out on an unsuspecting manuscript. 🙂
- Comment on the good too! If you see something you like, say so! As my own crit partner so eloquently put: “I’m with ya on the sugar coated brutality. I’m a firm believer in the say something nice, something to fix, and something nice again approach.”
- Honor your agreement. If you cannot complete the critique, let the writer know. Life happens, obstacles appear, and it’s not the end of the world if you can’t finish. Just be sure to tell the writer.
- Learn to use Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” or OpenOffice’s “Record Edits”. This will make your life so much easier when it comes to exchanging a critique — especially if you’re conducting the entire process via email or online forum.
So, I hope this gives you a good starting point. Everyone approaches critiquing differently, and it’s a process you learn as you form a relationship with your group or partner. Sometimes the relationship doesn’t work out — it may take a few tries to find The One Who Critiques Perfectly For My Needs. Tomorrow, I’ll offer you some different places to peruse as you search for that elusive one.