Follow the Rules?

As a writer, I belong to critique groups. Most of you probably do as well. I love to receive feedback. Invariably, someone in the group points out a glaring plot hole, unrealistic dialogue, a timeline glitch or any number of other problems that appear in 1st drafts.

I love to offer feedback. I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to pointing out problems but I alway find something that makes me smile and shake my head in envy of another writer’s way with description or sensory details, with dialogue or characterization.

One group is old school and follows the standard rules. In this setting it makes sense because we have a large membership and we try to accommodate every writer at every meeting, which means that comments must be succinct and on point. No rambling off-topic diversions please. Much as I love the folks in this group, rambling, off-topic diversions are a regular occurrence. Since we are congenial to a fault, no one takes offense if we run out of time before they’ve had an opportunity to share.

The other groups I belong to are more freewheeling and loose. There are snacks and drinks. We engage in conversation with the writer, offer constructive criticism and ask questions, which leads to more conversation. In general, we play off one another until we’ve sucked up too much time and  over-shared ideas for improvement and strengthening the manuscript in question.

Both methods are workable, depending on your group composition, the amount of time you have available, the patience of individuals, and the willingness of each group member to accept and offer criticism without taking or giving offense.

We discourage control-freak behavior and gently dissuade those who want to inject personal experience into another’s fictional world, ask if the work is autobiographical, or based on something that really happened. Save those questions for after the meeting. Never forget that writing fiction involves making stuff up. Stick to pointing out places you got lost or confused, or places you felt the writer fell into ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’.  Give praise for a turn of phrase you particularly admire, or a setting that puts you body, heart, and soul into that place and time.

We all desire to improve our craft. And allowing our critique partners to see what we’ve produced should open our eyes, strengthen our writing and help us get from the Page One to The End.