Virginia Law Manning

The ABCs and 123s of Critique Groups

Virginia ManningComment

I’m a big believer in critique groups. I’m in four—two for illustration and two for writing. What I’ve learned is how important it is to be in a group with people who work hard. Not just at their own writing, but even more importantly who work hard at being great critique partners CP.

So how do you become a great CP? It starts when you receive the manuscript. You’ll want to know what age child your CP is targeting.

Next, you’ll want to read the manuscript TWICE with a pen in hand.

The first time through, read the work for enjoyment but when you get to sections that you like or don’t understand, that take you out of the story or make you want to put the manuscript down, make a small notation. (Do NOT spend a lot of time writing notes at this point.)        : 

:  )  Something you liked or made you laugh

?    Something that confused you

 A bump in the road. Something that pulled you out of the story.

)   The moon is a slow section where your attention drifted

After you read the manuscript the first time, try to answer the following questions. They will help you focus on the big picture. (If you’re reading a few chapters of a longer story, not all of these questions will apply):

a.      Who is the main character MC? Describe the MC at the beginning of the story?

b.      What is the MC’s problem?

c.      How did the MC try to solve the problem?

d.      What were the obstacles in the MC’s way?

e.      What was the climax of the story?

f.       How was the problem resolved?

g.      Describe the MC at the end of the story? Did the MC change or learn anything?

Then read the story again and mark up the manuscript at the points where you can answer these questions. You’ll want to help the author see where there might be problems. For instance, did it take too long to get to the problem? Did the main character play a passive role in her story or was she actively trying to solve the problem?

The Delivery

1.      Type up your comments. Use the comments section for specifics within the text AND general comments at the end.

2.      Critique the work, not the writer. Never start comments with “you,” instead, refer to specific words/lines.

3.      Create an easy to digest critique sandwich, using specific examples from the text. Start your critique with what worked in the manuscript, next discuss areas that you thought could be improved, then end on a high note with more positives!  

4.      In terms of the constructive criticism, be diplomatic. Avoid using strong negative language. Frame things in a positive light, “this scene would be more exciting if…”

5.      Leave your personal taste out of it. Critique the work and how well the author accomplished his/her writing goals.

I learned a lot from watching Heather Alexander’s KidLit College webinar “Be a Better Critique Partner.” Stayed tuned each month for more tidbits.

I hope you’ll leave a comment below, sharing some critique group wisdom or asking a question. I’ll randomly select one winner and offer a free, online private critique on up to 10 pages of one manuscript. You’re not obligated to accept. I know some people are already hooked up with great CP, agents or editors. Either way, I hope you’ll leave a comment!

Thank you and good luck!