How Do You Critique?

So my friend Patti and I are critiquing the hell out of her story. …

I’ve spent the last several weekends on her book – I’m holed up in front of my computer, and my brother-in-law keeps coming by and asking if I’ve seen the light of day yet. But it’s a lot of fun. (And she returns in kind, by the way – she’s given me some of the best advice I’ve ever received on my books.)

Writers — Do you have a great critique partner? How do you help each other?

Readers — Have you ever critiqued for someone? Or maybe done a beta-read? What do you like to read for most — theme? characterization? plot holes? something else?

Please share! I love to hear others’ experiences!

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11 thoughts on “How Do You Critique?

  1. I thought I wanted to write once so took several Creative Writing courses and belonged to a writer’s group – so I’ve had some experience critiquing. I found both the writing and critiquing difficult. Even now trying to critique a book for book club I find it difficult to put in clear well thought out sentences what I like and dislike about a book. For me it’s often more of a feeling. But…..give me a red pen and a draft of some business writing like a user’s manual or an article and I’m all over it!

  2. Hi, Lauran! Yes, I guess that’s why this was on my mind recently — thinking about how I critique for the published books of the book club versus how I critique manuscripts that are still a work in progress. It’s definitely different. I’m sort of mapping it out for myself, and very curious to hear others’ thoughts. …

  3. I’m an aspiring author, belong to several writing groups online and off, taken many workshops, read craft books and learned tons. That has all helped in being a better writer and critiquer. I’ve worked with large online crit groups, but the best by far is a one-on-one partner who will stick with you through the whole manuscript. Accepting criticism and knowing enough to give advice are essential. Having a dedicated partner you can work with is a real gift because writing a manuscript can take a long to a very long time to finish or get right. Crit partners are also cheer leaders, pushing you to the finish, encouraging when one is down about their story. Yep! I’d have to classify crit partners as coaches AND cheerleaders. Reciprocal and invaluable.

  4. I love to write, although I wish I had more time. But I have been critiqued by many (Sonja and Patti being two of the best), as well as critiqued fiction both professionally, as part of critique groups, and for several contests. This is an interesting question, Laurie, but I would say I don’t start out with a question in my mind, like “I’m looking for theme, or characterization, or _____.” I just let the story guide me and invariably any problems pop out. If a writer struggles with grammar issues, I comment on it…often with a line by line crit. But if the grammar is good, I might just say a sentence or two about it at the end like, “What the overuse of adverbs, or dialog tags, or _____.” But if there is a big problem with—oh, let’s say the plot—I won’t put nearly as many comments in the text, but I will write a ton at the end. Of course, like Sonja said (and the way you and Patti function) the more you know about a story, the more insight you have, the more issues you can comment on and the more valuable your input. You can’t do better than a one-on-one partner.

  5. To everyone,

    Laurie is almost done with my book! Yay. (Don’t know why but I am sitting here turning a fiery red at the moment. Miss you Sonja and Andrea…what have you been doing?)
    That being said, I’ve been critiquing for 15 years or so. Started in 1993 with five people in my local RWA chapter. And for the first three years there were 5 of us, and we stuck together through thick and thin. And then things started to change, people come and go, and the my mom got sick and then I had to go.
    I’ve been with maybe about six groups total during my writing career, only one on line…again..with Sonja and Andrea and Laurie and a few other’s, and truthfully, that is how I met Laurie and I feel very blessed to have Laurie as a crit partner.
    We do know our stories inside and out, backward and forward, and for me that is wonderful. Because we critique on line we don’t often get distracted like my other in person critique groups did about car accidents and crazy husbands and conversations about getting fat. (Although Laurie and I do have some fun conversations. I bore her with Nebraska weather. LOLOL.
    As for critiquing style, I think I just critique line by line. My strength is that I get into the characters. I worry over them..obsess over them. Fall in love with them..So I concentrate on them…and at times I should focus more on the plot. Does the GMC follow the whole book? Is everything that happens in the story have a rhyme and reason to it? I need to focus on that more, instead of deep POV and character motivations during the scene when I am reading.
    But then, I have learned over time, we all have strengths as a critiquer. Quick example, in my last group, my friend Kim was good with the big picture and reminding me to put in sensory details. If I forgot something she’d snap…so what do they see? What do they hear? My friend Theresa would analyze the heck out of Character emotion and action..and Jenn would tell me to cut the details. Haha. And I was the POV purist and was a stickler on themes. It worked. But I agree with Andrea. Nothing but nothing beats a one on one crit partner.

    (And Laurie, you will be done this weekend. Sigh. Then I can start on FIN!!!

  6. Hi all. Well, Pat Guthrie and I were actually writing partners for her book “Water Lillies Over My Grave” and my book “Down Home Cotton Blues”. What we did was go back and forth (she had a major deadline) until the book was finished. I do this for other writers for a fee. I also teach a Novel Writing class.

    I look at everything because writers want to get their money’s worth. I go over plot, pacing, flow, characterizaion, you name it. Spell check and tense are just the minor things. I give a 4 pg. written commentary along with notes and suggestions on the pages written. We work it out until its as good as it can get.

    Joannie LeMonte

  7. Hi Laurie-
    In answer to your question, How Do You Critique? Out of our original critique group of four particiapnts, two of us stuck with the plan. Every Wednesday my critique partner and I meet in a private room at the city library. We have different goals. My partner, already a Pro, is in the process of polishing her second novel. My goal is to “go Pro” this year. The way it works for us is this: between our weekly three hour sessions we email back and forth for whatever help we need, and prior to our weekly sit-down session we determine what needs the most attention. To keep the momentun going, we show up prepared to hold each other accountable. Our method is loosely structured but our commitment to helping each other achieve our individual goals is “tight .” Commitment is what makes it work.


  8. Love hearing all these approaches and stories — thanks everyone! Sounds like most do online, and most enjoy one-on-one. But Sharon, your in-person group sounds interesting. I’ll write a little more about this. …

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