A writers group, critique group, or critique partner, is one of the most valuable tools an author can utilize. Many authors belong to more than one group or have multiple partners.
Among the benefits each brings are:
- A reader’s perspective on your characters: Did your character just do something out of character? Was the reader jolted out of the story by something unexpected that doesn’t seem to make sense? Did the character’s action or reaction seem at odds with their personality?
- Any one of these is a call to action on the author’s part. It is perfectly all right to have a character who is out of character for some reason or another, but it’s important that the reader be brought to that conclusion with the action or shortly after. Otherwise, you’re likely they’re to lose them.
- Your critique reader(s) can pinpoint those jolts so you can do a better job of setting up the scene and keep the reader moving along with you.
- Verify if you’ve provided the right amount of background or back story: How much is too much or too little?
- If a character’s actions seem to come out of the blue to the reader, maybe you haven’t given enough back story.
- On the other hand, does the reader need to know everything you’ve provided. As the author, you need to know it, but does the reader?
- Secondarily, does the reader need to know it yet? Perhaps it’s something that could be woven in later. This can help break up back story and keep the reader engaged in the story while learning more about the character.
- Does the story support the plot and vice versa?
- Story is what happens. Plot is how it happens.
- There are many stories about princes and princesses who fall in love, are forbidden from getting together, fight the odds, and find true love. The same Story is told and retold in different ways through the Plot.
- Where is this going? . . . and . . . Will this story get us there?
- These two questions—or one major question, depending on how think about it—are essential to answer if you’re the author.
- Critiquers help by identifying when/where in the story they’re wondering that.
- A sounding board for new ideas: You’ve got a crazy idea for your character’s next scene or chapter. Discuss it with your critique partner(s).
- They can tell you if it seems to far fetched or absurd, question whether it might alienate your readers, and ask you questions that help you determine if this is the right action for this character at this time.
- Those three components—right action, this character, at this time—need to align properly before you take that step with the character.
- You develop your internal editing skills more fully by providing critiques to others as well as from the critiques you receive. Better critiquers become better writers.
- A wonderful benefit includes reducing the isolation that sometimes comes with being a writer. While writing is a solitary process, our interactions and observations feed our writing, help shape our characters, and inform our settings. These we cannot do in a vacuum.
I belong to an online short story critique group and co-manage an online critique group with several former course mates to continue the critiquing and craft development we began in the course. From these, I receive multiple critiques on the same piece of work. Their reactions sometimes respond to different parts of the story, but mistakes are picked up by almost everyone. Something that draws the attention of more than one reader gets a closer review by me, but I pay attention to all of it.
I also have a one-on-one critique partner. Because it’s a long work, she also provides constructive feedback on what’s missing in the big picture. Where is this going and do these elements get us there is the major question each of us asks ourselves as we read the other’s work. An added benefit is that she knows horses far better than I can recall from my days in the saddle. She’s helped me correct or clarify certain elements related to that in my novella, which will also transfer to my trilogy.
This is a short list of the benefits having one or more critique partners and/or being in writer or critique groups can bring. I’m sure other authors could add more. I welcome your comments to grow this list.