Finding a critique group that’s good for you is based on one question:
My goal is simple and direct; improve my storytelling and storycrafting/increase my skill levels/learn my craft.
You have to say something nice
These critique groups vary from “You have to say something nice first” to “You can only say nice things”. This format falls under a larger format I call “Ruled to Death”. The You have to say something nice format occurs so often I’m giving it its own post.
First thing; if a critique group has this rule in place, it’s probably a reaction to harsh and perhaps abusive activity. Get out while you can!
That noted, the You have to say something nice format (if enforced unanimically) may be great for people with fragile egos and those who can’t separate themselves from their work. It’s definitely a good place for newbies to test themselves against their ability to take criticism.
It’s not a good place (my opinion) for people who’re following a path to publication and don’t mind having their work bloodied getting there.
Number 1, is the piece being critiqued going to be offended if I say it sucks and explain why? Does it count as nice if I say “It didn’t suck that much”?
Number 2, if the author can’t separate themselves from their work then it may be time to look for another group.
I was in such groups briefly. I put lots of time into my critiques because I want the author to improve.
Some things I offer are what I consider “mechanicals” (grammar, punctuation, spelling format, …) and I’ll rarely if ever offer those as part of my critique. Mechanicals are important and can be handled mechanically; spell checkers, grammar checkers, templates and the like. I’ll mark up the page and that’s about the extent of it.
But turning good writing into consummate writing by a careful, precise and intentional critique?
I wrote in Writers’ Groups – Critiques that critiques are all about what’s not working. You may have written a beautiful passage and if that beautiful passage isn’t helping the story, a good critiquer will tell you to take it out. Remember Faulkner’s adage:
Perhaps, applying Faulker’s adage to the You have to say something nice format would be something like, “My god, that’s a beautiful scene. Now pull it out. It’s ruining your story.”
These groups may work well for newbies not familiar with criticism or who aren’t yet at the point that they can separate themselves from their work.
Next up – Ruled to Death!