Sunday, January 16, 2011

Art of Critique


Nothing is more crucial than getting a second pair of eyes to look over your manuscript. Many writers can’t afford a professional editor so they rely on a critique partner or group for help to hone their manuscripts. Yet, there are far too many who believe they can edit their own work, and this is evident by some of the published books reviewed in the last year.

In total honesty, every book should go through an initial reader, and that first reader can and should be a critique partner or group, if you can’t afford an editor.

Here are some of the benefits and musts of joining a critique group or teaming up with another writer to exchange critiques:

A good critique will not change the writer’s voice but suggest ways to improve scenes. When critiquing, never add, “If I was writing this I would…” – instead write, “Suggestion…” and add your comments why you feel that scene/passage needs changing.

A good critique group never bashes. There is no point for hurt feelings. Everyone is trying to help each other and by saying things like, “This sucks.” you are offering nothing but total insult. A better way to express this would be, “This scene didn’t move me because…” and give your reasons along with suggestions how to improve it. A writer won’t understand your ‘insult’ if you are not clear why that scene didn’t work.

As part of a critique group make sure to be objective where your work is concerned. If you are going to argue and explain your reasons for writing that scene you won’t get the full impact of the group. Be polite even if you don’t agree with some of the suggestions, and thank them for their time. Then go over their comments and suggestions and pick and choose what you feel best suits your work. Much better than returning with smart-ass zingers and "I'm going to hunt you down." comments.

When more than one writer suggests a change in the same passage, then be objective where your manuscript is concerned and really look at their comments. They are your first readers, after all, and if they are stumped in a scene imagine the reactions of your buying readers.

Some critiques may contradict others. This is where you need to evaluate each comment and see which, if any, enhances your manuscript.

Remember that not every writer knows the ‘needs’ of a particular genre. For this reason I always suggest to pick the right group or partner who either writes or is an avid reader of that genre.

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