Monday, November 19, 2007

On Critiquing

Orycon was a great success, for me anyway. I learned a great deal on several aspects of writing, but I thought over here I'd share my notes on critique groups, as I attended two or three sessions on the subject:

On Writer's Workshops and Critique Groups (one with David Levine, Rob Vagle, John Burridge, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman; a second with Irene Radford, Bruce Taylor, Jayel Gibson, David Goldman, and Stephen Stanley; a third with Richard Lovett, David Levine, Michele Avanti, and Kami Miller):
* Critiquing and hearing critiques can triangulate how you are reading a story. Does your interpretation match the other writers? What might you be getting that they aren't and why? What are you missing that they are seeing and why? (Thank you, David)
* Critique groups are great as producing mechanisms, setting external deadlines for the writers.
* "Ditto" is a useful tool when group commenting, so that the same issue isn't brought up again and again. As in "Ditto Kami about the tension in the first scene." Free to discuss new issues and benefits instead.
* Instead on manuscript format, either for electronic submission or hard-copy submission.
* Reading aloud can be beneficial to catching errors, but beware that a good reader can bring a problematic piece to life, while a bad reader could sink a good piece. Better: have someone not the writer read the piece aloud. Gives the writer a chance to judge body language and immediate response to the piece (gasps, chuckles, boredom).
* The audition process for incoming members if useful on both sides; gives the writer and the group a chance to feel each other out.
* The Clarion style of group critiques is tried and true, with the author remaining silent while the group takes turns with their own comments, but beware that the person who begins the critique sets the tone.
* Individual critiques avoid feeding off what others are saying, but limit the brainstorming possibilities that a group can offer.
* A writer writes in a vacuum; reader response is useful to judge how the story is going.
* There is a sharp difference between the 'I didn't like it' reaction and the 'I didn't like it because . . .' response.
* Knowing the predilections of the readers is useful: do they have biases against certain stories, are they more knowledgeable in a subject than an average reader would be, or less so.
* Writing to please the critique group will grind the edges off your story. Avoid using their foreseen reactions as your internal editor.
* There is such thing as overshooting a revision based on a critique that can wreck the heart of the story. Always keep in mind why you wrote the piece to begin with.
* Always deliver an honest critique with compassion, whether to an experience writer or to a novice. Honesty counts, and so does compassion.

There are notes on other subject on my personal blog. I also have several thoughts to throw at the INK group when we next meet for the Orycon Debriefing (nice phrase, Carole). And I have a new goal for myself based on not only the above notes, but my own critiquing experiences during the con. All of it will go a long way to improving not only how I write, but I how I critique, and I'm sure you will all thank me for that.

I can't wait for the debriefing! But now, I have to get back to our regularly schedule Nano. My novel is lonely after two days of sitting forgotten in a folder. Well, not completely forgotten.

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