This is Part 2 in my Writer Wednesday Critique Series. If you missed Part 1, Fresh Eyes is about the value of having someone else’s opinion of your work.
I recently joined a community, Ladies Who Critique, for female writers searching for Critique Partners, and I’m also a member of several other writing communities that have areas for members to post work for critique (crit). Others, like Book Country, place a great deal of importance on reading and critiquing other members’ work. As I meet more people in these communities, it becomes more obvious that many writers out there aren’t sure what makes a good critique partner (CP).
I’m no expert, but I’ve learned a few things, from having a perfect CP, and a few bad ones. Other writers post about their experiences, both good and bad, and conclusions they’ve reached. So, these are my conclusions of what makes an ideal CP, no matter the genre being critted. Some of these can develop as the person learns to crit, but others are more personality traits, and if they aren’t there, the person won’t make a good CP for anyone.
- Their criticism is constructive, aimed at helping the writer improve the work. No “This is dumb” or “I hate this character” remarks. Instead, “I don’t understand this”, and why, or “This character needs work on being consistent”, and why.
- They are objective. They don’t just praise a piece because they like the subject, or like the author. Likewise, they don’t tear a piece to shreds because of their own agenda. They give reasons for why they like or dislike passages. (Not following their own agenda is essential from the beginning.)
- They recognize that your story is yours, and that all the decisions are up to you. They don’t try to make you change it to suit their tastes. No “This character should use more swear words” or “There’s no need for the sex scenes to be explicit. You should change them” or “You know, she really should find a dead body there. That would make it more interesting”, unless those comments actually fit your story. (Not trying to take over your story is essential from the beginning.)
- They’re fair, pointing out the good as well as the bad.
- They treat you professionally. They don’t belittle you or your work, and they give you fair and useful critiques when they say they will. (Not belittling you or your work is essential from the beginning.)
- Their skill level at writing and critiquing will be similar to yours. You can’t expect a good crit of your nearly publication ready novel from someone who just started writing last week. They may have valuable input, but it probably won’t be as comprehensive as you need. Likewise, you can’t expect an author who has several published books selling well to take on a rank newbie as a crit partner.
- They will be familiar with your genre. Ideally, they read widely in your genre, and write it as well. Yes, good writing is good writing, no matter the genre, but each genre has its own conventions. If your CP isn’t familiar with the conventions of your genre, they may feel something is incorrect, when you’ve actually done it right.
- They are proficient in the mechanics of writing – grammar, spelling, punctuation, as well as sentence structure, dialog, exposition, etc. If they don’t know how to punctuate dialog correctly, they can’t spot your errors. These elements of writing are where many of us make mistakes, and we need them pointed out early on, so we don’t propagate the errors.
- They are familiar with voice (narrative, authorial, and character), style, pace, flow, concept, theme – the more complex elements of writing that many of us find difficult to grasp. We often need someone to point out that the pace is a bit slow there, or the authorial voice is too intrusive in that passage, etc. Some of these elements are beyond the skills of many writers, so someone with a similar skill level may not be familiar with them. In that case, in a long term CP relationship, both partners will ideally work together to learn the more advanced points. Or, once a writer has surpassed her CP in skill level, it might be necessary to find a new CP. That isn’t being disloyal, it’s doing what’s right for your book and your career. Besides, no one says you have to end the relationship with the original CP.
- Finally, they will be able to accept, as well as give, constructive criticism. By critiquing their work, you sharpen your skills and learn things you can apply to your own work. If they have a tantrum over every less than raving-in-awe comment you make, you feel uncomfortable giving honest crits. Often, these people will start to tear your work down, in an effort to get ‘revenge’ for comments they didn’t like. (Essential from the beginning.)
Next week: where to look for CPs.