How to critique Chapter One

We’re told over and over how important our first chapter is. It’s the one you’re asked for by agents and editors, it’s the one people sneak a peek at in the bookshop, it’s the one you’ll put on your website as an extract to get readers to buy it … That’s a lot of pressure on one small chapter! But the bottom line is this is the reality today. We can’t afford first chapters that spend all their time describing characters or setting, or are nothing but setup for the story that starts around … [Read more...]

How to critique a poem

When you are in a dedicated poetry writing group, critiquing well is not such an issue because usually most members know the basics. However, in a mixed group of writers where maybe only two or three write poetry, it can be a challenge for the fiction and nonfiction writers to feel like they can say anything useful. The key to a good poem is that every word should count, from start to finish. I also think a poem should have some kind of progression happening, a sense of movement forward … [Read more...]

How to critique a short story

Short stories are a popular form to write, even if we're constantly told nobody reads them! Here are some guidelines and questions to help you give constructive feedback. What kind of story is it? If it’s literary, what will you expect from it? e.g. not a lot of physical/external action, more internal conflict and characterization. Maybe less closure in the ending. If it’s genre, what will you expect from it? More action, a sense of the genre through setting, story problem, strong … [Read more...]

How to critique a picture book text

The first thing to work out is what kind of picture book it is. Yes, there are several categories. Board books, concept books, simple stories for 2-3 year olds, slightly more complex stories for 4-6 year olds, picture books for older children. Board books are usually written by the illustrator (very few words) so anyone attempting these needs to illustrate as well or they are almost impossible to sell. Concept books (e.g. alphabet and numbers books) need to be original and have something that … [Read more...]

A good critique is worth more than a pat on the back

Lots of writers are in groups, but not all of these are critique groups. I know one where the members read their work to each other, say lots of nice things and then eat supper. This is a support group, not a critique group. But it’s possible to be in a critique group that damages your writing, and your self-confidence. So what should a good critique from your fellow members offer? Constructive criticism, phrased in a way that is not harsh, condescending or a personal attack. The … [Read more...]

50 ways to leave your writers’ group

Are there 50 ways to leave? Apparently the song says there are when it comes to lovers, but groups aren’t so … straightforward. For a start, there are more of them. Instead of fronting up to one person, you might have to face four, or six, or sixteen. But if you are certain that the time has come to leave, then you have to do it, mainly to save your writing. You might be leaving because the group has failed to deal with a bad egg (and in that case it might be a sinking ship already – excuse … [Read more...]

The 6 bad eggs of a writers’ group

While a writers’ group can be the best thing that ever happened to your writing, it can also turn out to be maybe the worst! This has nothing to do with the principles of what a critique group is supposed to do – if you’ve done your homework, you hopefully have arrived in a group that suits you perfectly. But after a while, as members come and go (which they will do), you may find one or two bad eggs have sneaked in. Bad Egg 1: The “expert”. Often this person joins a group that they … [Read more...]

How to find a writers’ group

One of the key questions to ask is what kind of writers' group are you looking for? Do you want a supportive, more social group where you can share ideas, do writing exercises and talk about writing? Or do you want a critique group where you give (and get) feedback on your work-in-progress on a regular basis? There are also levels in between these two. As well, you might want a group that focuses on one kind of writing - children's books, for instance, or fantasy. Or you might be after a … [Read more...]

Why join a writers’ group?

In these days of “interaction everywhere”, mostly online or via mobile phones, the idea of a writer tucked away in a lonely garret is appealing. Peace, quiet, focus, no internet. And the truth is, a writer still needs to be alone to write. Alone inside their head. And to get that alone-ness, you often do need total solitude. I find I can write in cafes these days – there is something about general chatter that is easy to cut off from. Chatter from a spouse or child is a different matter! But … [Read more...]