Critique Groups And Feedback From Other Writers, by Onil Lad
One school of thought suggests that you shouldn’t show your work to anyone until it’s ready and polished, which begs the question – why join a writing or critiquing group?
I remember the story of how fabulist writers Tim Powers, KW Jeter and James Blaylock were befriended by Philip K Dick. Stories circulated about how they talked writing whilst Philip K Dick’s soon to be ex-wife took away the furniture. It’s kind of like a rock band. If chemistry exists between a group of people then great things can come to pass. Each one of them went on to become established writers in their own right.
Looking for a similar sort of experience, I signed up for a manuscript review session. There would be four prospective novelists plus two established authors reviewing two chapters from the wannabe authors. It wasn’t a writing group as such, just a one day workshop, but the spirit of the experience was the same.
I didn’t know until I received the manuscripts for review that the session would come down to three female writers of predominantly contemporary women’s fiction and myself with urban fantasy. The two established authors were women as well.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but in the end the experience was worthwhile. The genre elements of my chapters that the reviewers may have missed were made up for by the flaws that were spotted.
It’s eye-opening when you come to understand what does and doesn’t work for people reading your work for the first time.
The most telling aspect of the review was that the rest of the group were mainly interested in the unique relationship between the main character and his romantic interest. I’ve since decided to ditch my second chapter altogether and focus on this interaction. Everything else will become a vehicle to enable this relationship to progress. It’s where the hook and the heart of the novel are at. For a while I even entertained thoughts of turning it into a full blown paranormal romance.
I wanted my first chapter to give a clear indication about the premise of the novel and the type of story to expect. I’d spent a lot of time on the first ten pages and was pleased with them, but the group missed the whole point of why my characters were being treated in a particular way. My narrative wasn’t clear and concise enough. It was a surprise to me, but in the end it wasn’t hard to fix. A little bit of telling amidst the showing, meant that the reader would have to do less work to make out what was happening.
Critiquing is a two way process. You have to give valid feedback as well. Mostly I could and even though I’m unfamiliar with women’s literature, there was only one chapter, dealing with personal female issues, that I felt unqualified to comment on.
What makes a good writing or critique group? The answer for me is one where everyone is prepared to receive and give feedback.
Sometimes, what’s broken is right in front of your eyes but you need it to be pointed out. When one person says it, you can take it or leave it but when five people tell you, you have to listen.
Yes, I would farm my work out again to writers of contemporary women’s fiction, or any genre that I am unfamiliar with. You don’t know what they will spot or what hidden insight will be unearthed during the process.
Although, now would be a good time to join a review group made up of fellow urban fantasy writers, to see what they say.
Writing Novels in Australia