I recently posted a story on my romance writers group for critique. The comments I got back ranged from really positive to someone who hated my hero and wanted to murder him with a well placed stiletto through the eye. The latter response led to some rather heated debate (not from me I might add) about the necessity for critiques to be objective. The idea being that it was irrelevant whether someone hates my hero only whether he works within the context of the story. Anyway, it got me thinking about what makes a good critique and a good critique partner.
We get so much from being members of Writers Abroad. It’s far more than just a critique group, but that was probably the main thing that tempted me to join. Before that, I’d been part of an online writing site for a year or so, and I’d started to see the real benefits of getting my stories looked at by someone other than my husband. But it was a large site, and I felt that I wasn’t getting the depth I needed. And basically, people were just too nice.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t always post something with the hope of getting a positive response, but of course that’s not the real reason we put things up for critique. We do it because we want to get better. And for that to happen we need to be told THE TRUTH. Scary.
I tried a number of individual critique partners garnered from varying sources. But they didn’t really work for me. Not on the actual critiquing but I found that often they just stopped writing for long periods of time—I guess life got in the way. But I’m in the lucky position that I can write full time, so I tend to keep going. And I felt guilty asking someone to critique when I wasn’t doing anything in return. So I loved the idea of a small group. People’s productivity is always going to fluctuate, but with a group things balance out and there’s a sense of continuity.
There are so many different things you can get from a good critique. From—does the overall story work? Right down to—is that comma in the right place? And that’s another great thing about a group—different people have different strengths. Some are good at picking out plot holes, others at character weaknesses, and there’s bound to be at least one person who understands where commas should go.
Writing and reading are so subjective, but critiquing needs to be objective. I think the only exception to this is if you read widely within the specific genre and usually love it. But while I don’t think it’s necessary to enjoy the story we’re critiquing, it certainly makes the experience more pleasurable.
And finally, but really important, is not only telling what doesn’t work but also what does (and I actually think we’re all brilliant at this on Writers Abroad).
So, for me—what makes a good critique partner? Someone who’s sensitive, honest but kind, good at grammar, productive themselves, and loves vampires… and I think that about describes the members of Writers Abroad (okay, maybe the vampire bit is pushing it.)
So what do you think makes a great critique partner, and how can we all improve?