Writer Wednesday: 10 Qualities Of The Perfect Critique Partner

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)
  4. They’re fair, pointing out the good as well as the bad.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.


22 responses to “Writer Wednesday: 10 Qualities Of The Perfect Critique Partner

  1. Wow, this is really great! Why didn’t you tell me about your blog? I think my problem has been in times past not having a critique partner that was at my skill level. And you’re right, no matter how good their intentions, they can seriously mess you up if they aren’t there with you!

  2. Hey, CDP! Thanks for stopping by! I didn’t even think to tell you – too busy reading your work in all its Smex Beam-y glory, LOL.

    There are so many ways a well-intentioned CP can derail your work – to me, selecting someone to work closely with is almost as important as choosing a baby sitter. It’s a wonder any of us manage to finish a book. 😉

  3. I think I may camp here for awhile…

    You never want to hurt someone’s feelings, particularly if you have built a relationship. I feel like you have to do the military thing and pull the weakest link along with you….but in writing, which is often a solitary pursuit, pulling along a weak link can really hurt you and even totally wreck your story.

    I hope you’re enjoying the Smex Beam, and have to tell you there’s more of just that kind of content (if you want it for, er, research purposes or whatnot) that doesn’t fit into the story arc just yet. You are welcome to it if you just want to read some gratuitous aerobics. 😉

    • Camp as long as you like – showers and food are over there —->> 😀

      Yeah, you definitely don’t want to hurt a CP’s feelings – I think it’s pretty important to discuss early on what happens if one of you need new eyes on your work. My CP and I routinely ask for other feedback, which we then bring back and discuss and work with. We’re so familiar with each other’s work, and so invested in it, that it’s hard to be objective, so other people are vital. And neither of us is jealous if the other chooses to work closely and long term with someone else. We’ve become very close friends, and our relationship is so much more than just critting each other’s work.

      The Smex Beam is amazing – gratuitous aerobics can be a good thing 😉 I have the files you sent, and when I finish reading them, I’ll be waiting for more. So get busy writing, woman! 😀

  4. Great article Kenra, and many of your points are so true. It’s vital to choose a CP that is constructive, encouraging and has your best interests at heart. Well said!

  5. Oy! Ouch! That whip hurts……do it again? lol.

    I’m supposed to be doing homework and instead am procrastinating…. I think if procrastination was an Olympic event, I’d win the gold medal!

    Thanks for pointing out the showers, but I think I’ll go au naturel for awhile. Nothin like a stinky neighbor to keep people away…….feeling a little anti-social with the people around here right now.

  6. You’ll get another couple lashes of the whip… when you finish a new chapter! 😛

    They’d have to award two golds – I’d win too. I’ve been known to start a ten page paper the night before it was due, research and all. Usually finished just in time to hit send right before class started.

    Stink all you like – you don’t even have to shave your legs. Oh, and the free dragon with a nasty temper is pretty good at keeping neighbors away – he’s great at lighting campfires too. Just don’t be alarmed if a very hot, very naked man unzips your tent in the middle of the night. He prefers company when he’s in human form… You might want that shower after all, when he shows up.

  7. Oh my, please pleasepleaseplease send me a hot naked man. It’s cold here tonight and I could use some warming up. Plus, a Smex Beam workout is in order, as I missed my Treadmill Thigh Torture session.

    I’ll even cuddle up if he gets all scaly again. Especially if he promises to take me for a ride. *wink

    • He’s guaranteed to burn a LOT of calories, and workout muscles you never knew you had, lol. You’ll have to negotiate your own ride!

      PS, there’s a *taste* of him in Ch2 of the files I sent you! Have a good… er.. workout!

      • Yes ma’am. I was looking at photos of Saturn and procrastinating my homework some more. I will be whipping out your files tomorrow in between classes at school. At least, that’s my plan.

        Although, maybe at school isn’t such a good idea….if it gives me, uh, naughty thoughts. Which may lead to actions that are inappropriate in public……

  8. And here I finally am. Captain…nice to see you, hope everything’s going good for you, Kenra, I forgot how cool your blog page is. I promise to be by more often. Love you gals, good damn stuff Kenre, thanks for being so cool AND smart.

  9. Everyone, we have a Very Special Visitor! Azure has been my CP and close friend for almost 2 yrs, and she’s a fantastic writer.

    ‘Bout damn time you showed up, A! Don’t know about cool or smart, but I usually figure things out eventually, after getting hit over the head with them enough times. 😛

  10. Well I’m here to confirm all coolness and smartness. It’s not negotiable. Kenra is the best damn crit partner I’ve ever known or had. The fact that she’s STILL my partner means she’s a saint. Not to mention one of the fastest learners I’ve ever met. Guess that’s why her and I stayed together, we were purged through the same fires. We’re just so damn hard headed and determined to be published and we do whatever it takes. I’m glad to have met you those two years ago on Fiction Factor Forum in all of our “darker” glory days. Looking back at it makes me smile. And I’m SO looking forward to watching your best selling books go damn forth!!!

  11. Pingback: Musings on reading and critiquing « creative barbwire (or the many lives of a creator)

  12. Pingback: Writer Wednesday: Putting It All Together |

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