Monday, August 15, 2011

Critique Group Case Study - The Critecta

Finding the special someone(s) who can complete your writing life is a lot like finding the special someone in your love life - damn hard. Where can you find these excellent people? How do you know when it's a good fit? What should you look for in a critique buddy? And what do you have to offer?

Our little trio met when we serendipitously crossed paths over at AgentQuery Connect, and we quickly discovered that ours was the kind of chemical balance you only find in a room full of professionals wearing white coats. We may all three end up in a room very much like that one day, but that's besides the point. Together, we're going to triple-team the concept of our Critecta—the guest poster here on my blog today is RC Lewis, sharing her approach to our trio.  You can read my post on From the Write Angle, and Caroline is on RC's blog, Crossing the Helix.


My Plan of Attack:

Whenever I read (even published books), there are certain things that make me pause, and in a critiquing situation, leave a comment.

Positives:
(1) It makes me laugh.
(2) It makes me cry.
(3) It makes me think, “Sheesh, why can’t I write like that?”
(4) It surprises me (in a good way).
(5) It makes me think, “MUST TURN PAGE. READ MORE NOW!”

Not-So-Positives:
(1) I’m confused.
(2) I’m annoyed/frustrated.
(3) I’m bored.
(4) I’m jarred out of the story.

#4 in the Not-So’s is an interesting one. It can come from style/voice issues, structure choices, or—thanks to my OCD—technical nitpicks. Depending on the critiquing situation, I may not point out every technical boo-boo, especially if they’re rampant. (Those situations usually get a broad statement of, “Be careful with your commas,” or similar.)

With the Critecta, though, I’ll point out anything I find. Often teasing them about it. (I only wish I’d been the one to first spot Mindy’s “lip floss.”) If it’s clearly a typo and not a tricky grammatical concept they might struggle with, I’ll just offer an “Oops!” and a smile. I know they’re not idiots, and they don’t really need me to belabor the difference between its and it’s.

Occasionally I’ll offer suggestions, but mostly point out what throws me, and (if possible) why. They’ll find a way to fix it with their voice and style, and if they’re not sure, we spitball some ideas.

My Co-Conspirators:

I’ve also gotten awesome feedback and help from larger critique groups and random beta readers. So why are these two my go-to gals? We’re huge fans of each other’s work, yet are able to be blunt and honest with each other, without hurting anyone’s feelings. More specifically, we feel like we’re roughly at the same level of know-how, but with different strengths and weaknesses to complement each other.

Caroline is our queen of Contemporary YA. The characters’ emotions radiate off the page, and she can vividly describe a setting without droning on. She won’t let me skimp on my own characters’ emotional reactions, and she brings a very human element to writing that my analytical brain doesn’t always come to naturally. Since she’s not big into science, she can also call me out when I go too heavy on the geek.

Mindy is mega-versatile. One novel is full of funny, while another is a gritty, stark dystopian. Being a school librarian, she reads like some people breathe, and she’s more of an intellectual than she might let on. She’ll catch subtexts and themes, letting me know if my threads are weaving together properly. She also wields the Hatchet of Excess Wordage Death. (I’ve renamed that hatchet at least five times.)

And that’s why it works. Mindy can put in comments about killing my excessive eyebrow-raising with a sniper rifle, and instead of thinking I’m a crap writer, I’m laughing as I make changes. I don’t recommend highlighting phrases and noting “Kill it!” over and over with someone you haven’t established a rapport with yet.

We're no longer limited by geography, and while some people do prefer a "physical" critique group to meet with, there are wonderful online resources where you can perhaps cross paths with that perfect partner. AgentQueryConnect offers a friendly, open forum where you can talk out your fears, discuss the market, and get query reviews. QueryTracker is a free service you can use to track your query rates, and read other user's comments regarding agent response time. Ladies Who Critique is a new service that operates much like Match.com, but for women looking for women to read their stuff. And as always, industry and book blogs are great grounds for meeting like-minded individuals.

Do have your own Critecta? (Or duo, or quartet, or whatever...) How did you find them? What’s your process, and why does it work for you?

2 comments:

Krista said...

My process if very similar. When I critique someone's work I look for several things. I am not great at spelling or grammar - so I usually avoid these kinds of suggestions. I make sure I point out things I like and why. I also point out if I get confused or if a passage breaks the flow. The other thing I like to do is put my impressions/feelings in. That way the writer can see if I, as a reader, am getting it right.

This is the kind of feedback I like to get as well.

Jemi Fraser said...

I also think a crit group works best when you all have different skills and strengths. Thanks for the insights into your group - off to check Caroline's post now... :)