Types of Critique Groups

Part Five of the Critique Series

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

How Do You Group

I've been thinking about crit groups for the past few weeks and have some different configurations dreamed up.

The Hodgepodge: This is just a bunch of writers who happened to find each other. They likely all write something different. Face to face groups are more likely to end up like this. There's a Meetup.com group in my city that fits this description. Everyone who attends is a writer, but they all seem to write something different: mystery, paranormal romance, fantasy, westerns, so on and so forth. I honestly don't see how this kind of group can be of much help aside from grammatical and very basic style issues. Otherwise, what would be considered clich├ę in one genre would be spot on in another. They can be dangerous places for your writing to be edited, especially if you are impressionable.

The Forum: There are lots of these about, and often many genre writers end up finding their way to these at one point or another. They're great for finding like-minded people, just be wary of those who tend to be there ALL of the time. These people aren't writing; they are talking about writing and I question their seriousness with regards to it. The Forum is also notorious for not being very dedicated. You get random critiques, often from random people, and it's hard to count on them. Oh, and the fluffy bunnies! They're everywhere in The Forum. Tread lightly or they'll sneak up behind you and strike you down with their fluffy rainbow of sugary sweet emotionality.

Genre Group: “Hey, you write Fantasy, I write Fantasy, Bob writes Fantasy, John writes . . . well, terribly, but he's my roommate, we should get together and critique.” Nothing wrong with this one. I think that most personal groups fall into this category. These groups tend to be smaller and often the critiquing is done on a turn by turn basis. This usually works out well for those who are working on short stories or who need larger gaps of time between critiques so that they can get work done. But, if you're looking to churn out work; the gaps between crits can be agonizingly long in some cases, especially if meetings are skipped. My last crit group met once every other week. That means you get a critique every six weeks unless you start doubling them up like we ended up doing. But then there's a holiday, or an emergency, or who knows what and now you're looking at eight weeks or worse. 

Novel Group: I totally stole this one from the writing excuses kids; a small group of no more than five writers, all of a similar genre style, and all working on novels. Each person in the group submits a chapter a week of their WIP and each member critiques all the other chapters. This creates an artificial deadline that drives you to keep moving forward with your novel. No excuses in this group. You don't show up with your work and you get caned by the other members as punishment. But be careful, some people might join this group for the sole purpose of being caned when they fail to show up with their chapter. Naughty. 

Crit Guild: There's a temptation to find writers who are just like ourselves. We want them to have the same voice so that they can hear what we're saying and notice when something doesn't come out quite right. But what happens when everyone listens and no one looks, smells, tastes, or feels? 

This third crit group is likened to an RPG guild. In a guild you try to have characters whose strengths lie in different areas. You have the ranger who attacks from afar, the soldier who carries the front line into battle, the healer who keeps everyone's stats up. Super hero groups get this too. Heck, even we as writers understand it when we are creating our group of companions. Unfortunately, we forget this valuable lesson once we get to critiquing. 

In a Critique Guild you might have one person who is strong in dialogue, another at pacing, another at setting, you might even have your token grammar nazi. Alone, they can manage well enough, but bring them together and you are UNSTOPPABLE!!!11!!1ELEVENTY ONE PWNAGE!!!

Each member focuses on their strength when they crit. They can give broad opinions too, “The opening works really well,” but Dialog-man focuses on your dialog, Grammar Nazi Girl focuses on your grammar, token annoying guy brings the snacks. This way, when you get your WIP back, you can go through each crit and work on that focus area. Of course the trouble is, how do you find these people? Do you use Cerebro to search them out? Do you find the local guild house for Grammar Nazis?

Anyone have any thoughts on this? I think I'd like to try the Crit Guild but have no idea how I would figure out who is strong at what? Heck, I don't even know what I'm strong at. Dialog, I suppose. Yup, that's it, Dialog Dave. It works. Do you just ask what writers find comes easiest for them, what they get the most comments on (hey, that's a good idea)?

Feedback please. :)


damihjva said...

The Hodgepodge was what my first group initially started out as. Yeah, you know exactly how well that one worked out.

I think the biggest problem with our former crit group was varying commitment levels. As a moderator, I found it very difficult to keep everyone organized, interested, and informed, because only a select few ever took it seriously. In some instances, we would get individuals who would join up, only to quit when they found out that we weren't about snuggling with a mug of hot cocoa while telling everyone how awesome they were.

What would you say my crit strength is? I haven't a clue.

I'd say that some of your strengths are continuity, dialog, and flow.

Amber J. Gardner said...

Interesting. I never heard of a Crit Guild before till now. I think it's a cool idea. I've been told before that I'm good with action scenes (cause I love them!) so I guess that would be my strength. I think it also works well if you ask what part of writing does the person like the most. If they like it, they most likely spend a lot of time practicing that one part and that's how they get really good at it.

I think that the biggest problem with most crit groups is the lack of commitment, which is why forums suck the most I think. Anyone can join and some forums have places that aren't even dedicated to writing and so the purpose of the forum gets lost. I learned the hard way that I wasn't getting anything done there.

My favorite is the Novel Group. That sounds exactly what I'm looking for ^__^

David Noceti said...

Damihjva: I'm not sure about earlier in the days of the former group, but when I was a part of it I'd say that it wasn't that much of a hodgepodge. I mean, if you look at the writing excuses guys, they had both Dan Wells (horror) and Brandon Sanderson (Epic Fantasy) in the same group and it seemed to work out well for them.

As for your strengths . . . awesomeness? lol. Honestly, you still need to give me more of your writing. So far I think I've only ever seen the Frog Prince story (ahem) and this latest one that I loved, but it was more of a flash fiction piece. (have I seen more, I'm getting old?)

Amber: I'm really interested in seeing how this novel group works out and I'm sure I'll update everyone on it. I'd say that one of the other concerns is cohesiveness. You've got to make sure everyone gets along. Probably less so in an online group, but it's essential in a face to face group. So far, three of our five seem to gel, we'll see how it goes with the last two added to the mix.

And be looking for me to put up a request for members to join the Crit Guild. I need to see if I'll be able to handle that much work, but if I can I would definitely like to give it a go. I'd like to try all new members for that group if it is going at the same time as the Novel Group, which I assume it will.

I think that action scenes are one of my weak points, so if you're strong in that area it would be a good thing for me :)

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