The Advantages of A Good Critique Group

I’m about 40% through my first revision of my first novel, tentatively titled Starcrossed, and I started thinking about potential interesting topics along the lines of editing and revision. This part of the process is both the most challenging and rewarding part of writing, so I’m happy to pass on what I’ve learned. Novel revision is so much more intensive than short stories or comics, though the principles remain the same. What I’ve found invaluable lately, as the title suggests, is having a few other sets of eyes to look at the piece and tell me “Hey, this part doesn’t work!”

Naturally, the end goal is to be able to pick those parts out for yourself, since at the end of the day it’s your piece, and your editing. However, different people have different perspectives, focus in on different things, and if you find the right people– those perspectives can tell you what your readership will want to see. An analogy I have is when I was making music with my band aprilsrain. Where I can write a nice melody, have the song going and make it pretty good, the part that my lead guitarist added a lot of the time turned the song from a good song to a great song. Just having an extra flare made it more interesting, and more worth listening to. And it was something I couldn’t have come up with myself.

Now novel writing is much more of a solo piece (unless you’re collaborating), so the analogy doesn’t work 100%, but the principle is the same. A lot of the time we’re so invested in our characters and in our story that we put blinders on, and read the piece from what we have in our  heads, and not what’s on an actual page.  We may miss important plot points, fail to diversify our characters enough or have botched the worldbuilding (in the case of sci-fi/fantasy) and not even realize or admit it to ourselves. So I found that the best way to make sure all of that is covered, is to have several people to read the work and give some feedback.  Now these people have to read my first drafts (poor them!) so they have to be people you can trust to read an inferior product and only pick at the things that need revision to make it a GREAT piece, not someone focusing on your spelling errors. Though copyediting certainly has its place, it’s far more important in the early stages to get real story advice. Here’s some good things to remember to get you helpful critique:

1. Think of this as sending your first drafts out for submission. You want help tearing this apart, dissecting it and telling you what’s wrong. If you have a group that’s composed of your mother and your spouse telling you “that’s great, dearie!” it’s not going to help you progress. That said, remember that your group will be coming at it from the mindset of trying to pick it apart, so don’t get discouraged. It’s still your work and your decision what advice to take/reject.

2. Get a variety of takes. Male, female, old, young. Everyone reads thinking about different things depending on their life states. One of my favorite authors said something along the lines that a work is a collaboration between an author and reader. Their imaginations are what’s bringing the words to life, so to be able to see what’s good from a professional standpoint, having many views will be helpful.

3. If you can find them, have your readers at this stage at a reading or writing level at or above yours. This is hard because you’re going to have to reciprocate a lot of the time, and naturally people who are not at your writing or analytical level will be more inclined to want to read your work and get YOUR feedback on theirs than people at a more professional level, but the advice of the seasoned authors who have made the mistakes you’re making will be invaluable to you.

With those in mind, you should be able to get a nice read of your work which will help you out. The first draft of my novel was absolutely atrocious on a lot of levels, and I’m only able to fix that now because of the three points above.  Don’t be afraid to show others your work, it’s the only way you’re going to improve.

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