|image by parylo00|
It's a fairly large group; there are thirty members, of which twenty-two or so usually come to meetings, where we can usually get through ten to a dozen manuscripts. Obviously, everyone has a different writing style, and a different critiquing style too. With twenty-odd people commenting on every manuscript, the depth and content of critiquing is going to vary a lot. Some people will love an aspect that other people will hate. Some will focus on technical craft, and some will focus on how it made them feel as a reader.
While I've always had good and useful critiques from this group, at times I've had surprising responses, too. I'll never forget the woman who harangued me for using Americanisms (I am American, and was writing American characters for an American publisher). I won't forget the time I wrote (badly) about a train crash and one of the members sent me several online resources giving me facts and figures that I needed to make my scene more accurate. One time I wrote an obscene word in my work, and a member (now long departed) told me that she could not read any further because it was the word that her ex-husband used to call her.
Tonight, we discussed the art of critiquing. Since several members have newly joined, we thought about maybe creating a resource for them to learn how to critique. But the problem is, it's very difficult to teach someone how to critique, and if you do, you run the risk of critiques becoming formulaic. We all agreed that a breadth of response could be valuable. We also all agreed that as a rule, while we listened carefully to all the critiques, we didn't always follow the advice we were given. That we had to follow our own vision in the end.
We decided to try to compile a document with our thoughts about critiquing, and how to respond to critiques, to put up on our website as an aid, or even just a way of starting a good discussion.
What's your opinion? What works, and what doesn't, in critiquing? And how do you choose to respond when you receive a critique?