Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Art of the Critique ...

So it's getting to be about that time.... Time to send over my blood, sweat, and tears for someone to rip apart and demolish my oh-so-blown-up writerly ego. Perfect. That's what I need. Funny, how after writing that first draft I feel so proud of myself and unstoppable. Then, chapter by chapter, my beta readers/critique partners whittle away at my masterpiece and expose it for what it is: a first draft in need of revisions.

Thank the Lord for good critique partners. Seriously. I value them so much--they pick out things I don't notice and offer suggestions for improvement that, well, just never occured to me. That's the power of more than one brain.

Knowing my new baby is soon to be in the hands of my trusted beta readers makes me excited and anxious. SO I thought I'd share what --to me-- makes a good critique and what I hope to find out about my own work. I'll also share some of the things I look for and strive for in returning the favor.

One thing is for sure: writer's should never assume their story is finished before running through at least one trusted critique partner.

What I hope to discover after the first time my baby has been read:

*How the story flows/pacing

* Does it make sense

*Is the conflict clear

*Are the characters easy to visualize

*Is the voice clear/consistent/entertaining

*Do you feel like you're reading a story or do you feel like you're part of the story

Also, I love line edits. I don't expect them and I know not everyone cares for them, but if I misspelled or mispunctuated or, heaven forbid, dangled a participle, I wanna know!

When I give critiques, I look for the same things, but my strengths are picking out inconsistencies with characters and spotting unnecessary adverbs. I'm a stickler for using verbs in place of adjectives and modifiers.

Every beta reader/critique partner has different strengths and weaknesses. That's why it's so great to have more than one. At this partcular time when 2010 is nearing a close, and so many WIPs are enduring the brunt of full force revisions and critiques, I thought it'd be nice to find out what you look for when giving/getting critiques.

Please share, so we all may benefit in makinfg our babies glow with precision.

19 comments:

E.J. Wesley said...

Hey PK! That's an excellent point about the strengths and weaknesses of critique partners. I've found exactly that. Some people are really on top of story consistency, while others might be grammar hounds. I suspect it has to do with what they/we most consider when reading.

Personally, I tend to be a good voice/character authenticity checker. However, don't count on me to spot a misplaced hyphen because I would probably do it the same way! (Which is to say the wrong way ...)

EJW

Carla White said...

I'm a stickler for punctuation and find some people use too many commas while others don't use enough. I also used to be really bad at being consistent with tense (e.g. switching between past and present when I should only be in one of them); so now that's something I really look for in other people's writing because I've noticed that while we're in the heat of the moment we tend to forget which tense we're writing in. Also, if I know anything about the subject at hand or the occupation of the characters, I try to check in on the authenticity of that.

Summer Ross said...

Hey there! What a great topic. I love critiquing other peoples work. I'm a stickler for "Was" and "That". I tend to point out if the start is good or missing something. I comment on dialogue and if it sounds stilted or wrong in any way. But i also point out the good, many people are really good at descriptions, so I tell them when they have a line that really made me laugh or cry or feel awesome.
My strengths, I think, is being honest and rewarding at the same time. In each crit I manage to be strong in different things. Each story is different and each writer I help has different weaknesses, so I guess I'm one of those who finds the weakness. :)

LTM said...

that's me to a T! :D But I do try to help brainstorm ideas when the writer's in a jam... A good CP is a gift, I tell ya~ :o)

T C Mckee said...

Hey girl! Great topic. I usually look for consistency, character development, descriptive flaws, ya know, too much, too little. I also look for plot development and all the good stuff. I look for cliches too. I do this with my own work. And most importantly, I look for showing rather than telling scenes. As far as grammatical errors, I'm definitely not your girl. I have a special editor for that;)

Colene Murphy said...

I just love critiques. And my partners. So valuable and insightful! Good luck on your own. I hope you get some good feedback!

William Kendall said...

I tend to drift into the punctuation and grammar side of things when I critique.

The Golden Eagle said...

I've never had anyone critique my work, nor have I ever critiqued anyone else's . . . but I know I'll have to send out my novel sometime. :P

Nas Dean said...

As I don't have a critique partner so far, it's interesting to read what to look for in the manuscript.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Well, I'm hoping for what you listed above - and to know what part of the dialogue sucked! (My test readers excel at telling me, too.)

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

I'm an extremely thorough critiquer, so I kind of watch for everything (I usually do 2-3 reads focusing on different things) but I guess overall what I'm looking for is believability and pacing. Do I buy the world, characters, and plot, and does the story move fast enough to keep me interested. To me, that's what's most important.

Great post!

JEFritz said...

What you have up there is definitely what I look for. But I want it to be specific. The reason I left my last group was because they told me "It's great!" and "There were parts I didn't get" but never told me what they didn't get.

I really want someone who's specific, honest--even ruthless! and points out when I use words too much or incorrectly. Oh, and who points out things like tense shifts, POV shifts and incorrect grammar.

Sigh...one can dream...

Oddyoddyo13 said...

Ah, the *best* part of the book...getting a critique! Especially after you've just finished. :)

Good luck!

Su said...

I'm not much of a critiquer, at least not yet, although I do have a friend who believes I am a writing authority and often asks for what I think of the latest thing he's written. I'm always encouraging him to move the description out of the beginning and give us action instead.

kmckendry said...

When I critique, I concentrate on flow and grammar. I'm also a stickler for sentences that don't move the story along.

Lola Sharp said...

I read it through a couple times and am extremely thorough. I do all of the above and much more (poor verb choices, echoes, passive or awkward sentence structure, telling where it should be showing and vice versa, etc).

I love to point out what works, too. :)

Julie Musil said...

What a great subject! Loooove line edits. One of our critique members is awesome at this. Like you, I love it when my partners find a hold I'd never seen.

When I critique, I look for character work and pacing (among other things)

Nathalie said...

I definitely agree with everything you said PK. A good beta reader is so hard to come by and I value mine immensely.

What I DON'T want in a critique partner is how YOU think the story should be written, or what you would have done in a particular scene. Not to mention someone who can't spell or isn't familiar with common grammar. I've had CP's that have told me exactly that and frankly, it's not their story to write, so when I came across my tried and true beta's, I was thrilled that they were good writers AND great CP's!

Norma Beishir said...

I belong to a critique group. But for some reason, they never really critique me. Once, one of my critiquing partners got really excited when she found a mistake....

Martin doesn't get much, either...but then HE rarely MAKES mistakes.