The Indianapolis Writers Meetup Group Message Board › How We Critique - Revised

How We Critique - Revised

James
user 2821758
Group Organizer
Indianapolis, IN
Post #: 31
How We Critique

As our Meetup fast approaches its one year anniversary, we have been examining who we have become, and what we can do better. I wrote our "How to Critique" article before I practiced doing it. Over the past 43 Meetups, our group has developed its own style. So, for members old and new, here's how we do things downtown.

I've spent some time attending, and talking with members of other writer's groups in the area. We are no better than any of them, but we are different. After reading this, it's up to you to decide if this is the group for you.

We focus on critique, and sharing what we know about writing and the business of publishing. Our group caters to people who seek publication. If you write just for yourself, we would still love to have you. Just understand, the majority of our members seek a career in writing, and we will spend a lot of time discussing how we can make our work more appealing to editors who purchase writing.

Right now, the majority of our members write fantasy and sci-fi. This is natural. You have been to a bookstore, and you know who gets the most shelf space. Genre writing appeals because it offers an escape. But no one lives in a vacuum. Just because someone writes in a certain genre does not mean they don't appreciate other genres, or poetry, or straight fiction, or non-fiction. I write fantasy/urban fantasy/magical realism, I read in those genres, but I also read Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, and Saul Bellow. Writing is writing. Good writing is good writing, and bad writing is bad writing. It doesn't matter if your characters work as government assassins, schlep towards Mordor, or attend parties on Long Island. It doesn't even matter if you are telling true stories about your experiences in the Gulf, or Southern France. If you don't believe there exists a commonality in all forms of writing, this might not be the group for you. In fact, I know that you learn more by reading and critiquing outside your comfort zone.

And now that I'm being to the point, you should know this is not a "critique sandwich." The only rule is being honest. If you can't take someone saying something negative about your writing, this is not the group for you. We are not touchy-feely. We are not here to hold your hand. We want to talk about the emotions in your writing, not your inner-child. We don't waste time. We are direct and to the point, using real experiences and craft knowledge. We don't tolerate people being abusive. If I think someone's just being mean I will chuck them out on their ass. If you feel someone was on the attack, tell me, and I'll take care of it. But if you just can't handle an honest evaluation, you need to develop a thicker skin. Especially if you want to publish, time to get used to it now. You have been warned.

The nuts and bolts of our critique process works like this. At the previous meeting we agree on who will get critiqued the following week. Usually, this means 3-4 items between 1,500-3,000 words, depending on how many we have. You must attend at least one Meetup to have your work critiqued. You are responsible for uploading your work into the Files section of our Meetup page, preferably in RTF format. The earlier you post it, the better, but you must have it up by midnight on Wednesday. When you upload, you have the ability to provide a short description. Please include the date that your piece is being critiqued, and provide your personal email address so members can email their critiques to you. Also, make sure that you allow only members of the Meetup group to see your file. This protects your intellectual property. Since users have to enter a password to see your work, it is not considered public domain. If you do not possess the technical skills to do this, you might want to stop right now and learn. If you don't want to learn then you might want to consider another writer's group. Remember, we focus on people who want to publish, and most editors will require you to know how to handle electronic versions of your work. I am willing to help anyone who has questions. It also helps to have your work in Standard Manuscript Format.

After the author posts the file, everyone else downloads it and critiques. Most members appreciate it when you send them an electronic copy of your critique directly to them before the Meetup. We also prefer, (just prefer, not require), members that use Microsoft Word to critique. Word has a function called Track Changes that marks all changes to a document in red, and puts the change in a text balloon on the right hand margin. You can also insert comments at specific points in the document. The original author can than take your critique and go through it, letting Word accept the changes that they agree with. This makes your critique more useful and organized. You can simply bring a hard copy with mark-up to give to the writer at the meeting. Don't write too many comments, remember, we will be meeting face to face. It’s a better way to communicate more complicated thoughts.

So what should you be looking for when you critique? You can start with grammar. We probably won't talk about grammar much during the Meetups, but writers will appreciate it if you include grammar and spelling corrections on the critique you give to them.

What we will spend a lot of time on is style. By this we mean the way you use words and structure your sentences. Are you using too much passive voice? (I see all the passive I am using in this post and its making me cringe.) Are adverbs mucking up the works? Does your dialogue attribution give too much? Do your sentences run on, and on, and on? Do you need a new paragraph here or a comma there? This is the meat and drink of writing. This is why it's all the same, no matter what you are writing; you still need to look at how you use the language. If this bores you, or you just don't care, this is not the group for you. You may consider a career in writing instruction manuals.

The last thing we'll go over is story. Is the story compelling? Are the characters believable? Does it have good pacing? Does it go anywhere? Does it have a theme? All critique is just opinion, but this is the most subjective part. Take what you like, leave the rest.
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