Thursday, September 3, 2009

Honesty in Critiquing

Missy Tippens here. Do you have a critique partner or a critique group to help you with your writing? Well, I work with Lindi (the two of us are pictured here at ACFW last year.) I joined a critique group she was in back in 2000. The four of us worked together for several years. And we still send things on occasion. But these days, Lindi and I critique as partners. Since it's worked so well for us, I thought I'd share what we do in case it might help you in working with your group/partner. Or maybe it'll inspire you to start one!
We have had brainstorming sessions, but normally, we each come up with our own story ideas. Then we bounce character and plot ideas off each other as we get started on the book. ("Do you think my character will be likable if he ____" "Can my heroine do ___ this soon in the story?" "Does my character seem to young/old/stupid here?")
Then once we have a few chapters completed, we share our work. Now that I'm selling on proposal, I send her 3 chapters and a synopsis. And she usually sends me a larger chunk, like maybe 10,000 words. We actually found several years ago that we work better if we wait to send the story once we have more of it written since we usually go back and change so much at the beginning. Plus, that keeps us from stalling by getting critiqued too early. You need to take advantage of the freshness of the idea. Go with the flow and follow whatever kernel of an idea sparked your passion for the story before you let someone rip it apart. :)
Then once we look at the critique, we change things (or don't change them) and move on. Sometimes, we suggest things that the other person thinks won't work. A lot of the time, though, she suggests things, and I make those changes. Because if she's confused by an action or put off by a bit of dialogue or plot point, then most likely someone else would be as well. We also often help each other out of plot problems or when we just get stuck.
I have to share a funny. In one story, she told me my character seemed old because everyone calls him Colonel. And when the townspeople talk about him, they call him "the colonel." Well, Lindi said she could only picture Colonel Sanders (from KFC)!! I thought it was funny and told her I would look at it. But as I was writing, I kind of liked having everyone call him that, because I thought through the story, as he grew to be more a part of the community, everyone would start calling him by his first name. I thought it would be a nice touch to see that change.
Well, I had my hubby read the chapters, because he's great about catching typos and inconsistencies. And he immediately said, "This guy seems really old, especially when everyone calls him The Colonel." Well, after I finished dying laughing and emailing Lindi to tell her she's right, I made the changes and got rid of that. :)
So you have to honest in a critique. Lindi didn't hold back on her gut reaction. She told me how she really felt. If she hadn't, out of fear of hurting my feelings, then she wouldn't have been helping my writing (or my chance with my editor) at all.
So be honest. But be kind. And give lots of positive feedback along with the criticisms. I always try to use the sandwich technique. Give something positive. Then give the critical feedback. Then finish with something positive. :) I also do this when judging contests.
So... do you have a critique partner? Any suggestions on how you do your group?


  1. I'm sorry my paragraphs all ran together! I don't know why that happened. I typed up the post in Blogger.


  2. I have a critique/writing partner, in addition to a crit group. The group tends to be a little softer, probably because we don't have the time to be in depth. Plus, only doing one chapter a week makes it hard to follow sometimes.
    A partner, however, can look at the story as a whole to see what does and doesn't work. I think the key to a good partner relationship is that the person has to "get" you, be on the same wave length. Otherwise you'll both end up frustrated.

  3. Good point, Mindy. And it's probably a good idea to have someone who's willing to read books my your target publisher.

  4. That's supposed to be "by your target publisher"

  5. Missy,

    The Colonel story was funny!! And I think some people work well together. I know we do. We've been doing it long enough.
    I know there are also people out there who don't use a critique group or partner. I would find that very scary.

    You are an awesome critique partner and I feel blessed that God guided us to each other. Twice!!

  6. Oh, and I also changed my character's rank to Major. Don't know if I said that in the post. :)

  7. Honesty is imperative in a good critique. But kindness goes a long way in helping a person accept it.

  8. This is an excellent glimpse into critiquing. I've been in a class where the instructor doesn't know how to "sandwich" positive, negative, positive. In fact, that instructor has discouraged the entire class with rude, harsh, and sometimes just plain meanness. It's amazing the difference. The classmates have even emailed and called each other for support against the attacks. (Not a writing class, no worries.) So important to be honest without being intensely harsh or mean as spit. It's possible to be kind, courteous, and even detailed critique without discouraging the other person in their journey.