The Page a Day Writers Group

Becoming a Better Critique Partner

Posted on: June 7, 2011

I’m fortunate to have two critique partners who pour over my work with a commitment to make me a better–and published–novelist. The three of us have been on this journey for a couple of years now and I know how valuable it is to have writers I trust comment on my work.

I often think of Randy Pausch’s words in “The Last Lecture” when he refers to a football coach who cared enough to keep on him to make him better. After a particularly tough practice an assistant coach told Pausch why criticism is a good thing. “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.” My read-and-critique partners never give up on me. And I’ll never give up on them.

 “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”

When I spend time reading their pages, I want it to be of value to both of us. I’ve learned the more I critique, the better I get at it and the more my own writing improves. (Funny how practice always makes perfect, just like Mom said.)

There is a big difference between critiquing and providing a line-by-line edit. If I see glaring grammar, spelling or punctuation issues, I’ll comment, but GSP is not the focus of my critique.

I’m spending my energies determining if the story world works.

Is the tension in each scene enough to make me want to turn the page?

Does the pacing of the book feel right? Not too fast, not too slow?

Am I asking myself, what will happen next or are things dragging along?

Do I care about what’s happening to the characters? Am I invested in the outcome?

Are there enough visual images? Are there too many? (As far as I’m concerned that’s just as bad.) Do I want to skip sentences, paragraphs, entire pages?

What information you look for when you receive critiques from your critique partners? What information to you supply?

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

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2 Responses to "Becoming a Better Critique Partner"

Claire, this is a fabulous post. All writers need additional pairs of eyes to help them sort through what works and what doesn’t in their story. Your list of critique questions is excellent. I would add: What passages are confusing? And in addition to visual images, is there enough immersion in all senses? Is there enough of a window into the characters’ emotional landscape- are we feeling what they feel?

Claire, I think you covered the list well! You and Ondine have given me more to think about when I’m critiquing and this list also will help me when I’m writing. Nice post!

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Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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