Skip to content

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.


Onil Lad’s bio page


Burning LiesThe Book of LoveSavage TideStillwater CreekThe Fortunes of Ruby WhiteHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (S.F. Masterworks)

Writing Novels in Australia

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Another interesting post. Just today I was following a discussion in a forum about reviews and critiques…I have slowly developed the confidence to share my work around and yes, I think you are 100% correct – readers outside of your ‘own’ space spot depths and layers that even the writer may have not been aware of. Every reader has valid feedback…it’s just a case of eliciting the specifics from them.

    June 30, 2013
  2. I use some trusted and very black and white beta-readers and then the manuscript goes to a trusted and very black and white editor. I really don’t feel it can be called a novel until those things are dealt with. I used to belong to a critique group but it became extremely difficult as one had to earn points by being a regular critique-er oneself, and that played havoc with actual writing time. The above method has proved most successful for me.

    June 30, 2013
  3. Marlish Glorie #

    Hi Steve, many thanks for yet again, another wonderful post. I get a great deal out of them, as I suspect many others do as well. Yeah, I think belonging to a writers group is fantastic, provided the chemistry is right. The feedback and support which a group of like minded people can provide is invaluable. All the best Marlish

    June 30, 2013
  4. Great post, Onil. I belong to several writers’ groups, but not a critique group. It works well for some people, but my one and only attempt was a disaster so I’ve not attempted to travel down that road again.

    What I do have is a husband who’s not a reader who gets the very first raw draft. He reads it for story and marks anything that jars with him. I deal with those comments then send it to my sister who provides more detailed feedback on everything from a scene that needs strengthening to plot holes. Once I’ve addressed all of her concerns it goes to my publisher. It is, I guess, a form of critiquing, but I have to have the finished story down before I share it.

    With all things in writing it’s horses for courses and wonderful to hear you had a positive experience. Sharing can be very empowering 🙂

    June 30, 2013
  5. Nice post. Finding a crit group at the same level as one’s own writing is the tricky bit, regardless of genre – as you point out – but terrifically worthwhile. I’m beginning to think that all writing, even novels, are collaborative to a point. And that’s a good thing.

    June 30, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Month In Review (June 2013) | Writing Novels in Australia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: