It Takes a Village to Write a Novel

I spent yesterday morning with my critique buddies working on our stories. I’ve heard of writers who don’t use a critique group. Personally, I can’t imagine NOT having one.

Actually, I belong to two. My face-to-face group that I met with yesterday and an online group. There are pros and cons to each. But then, there are pros and cons to each individual critique group, too. They’re kind of like shoes. You have to try them on and walk around in them a while before you know if it’s a good fit. If you join a group that belittles you and slashes your work to bits, get out. If the other members try to re-write your work so that it sounds like their work, get out. There are good groups out there. You just have to shop around.

My face-to-face group meets every three weeks. We are four women writing different genres. One writes sci-fi and some inspirational, another writes women’s fiction with mystery undertones, one writes children’s fiction and historical memoirs. I write murder mysteries. I’ve heard some say that mixing genres won’t work. But it does for us. We each bring a mix of reading tastes to the table, so the critiques are well rounded and focus on many aspects of writing.

My online group is all mystery writers. I find I do get different types of feed-back from this group than from the other and that’s good. I’ve got all my bases covered.

Well, almost.

There are things that critique groups can and can’t do. Critique groups work on a chapter at a time, so there is a lot of wordsmithing. You learn if that chapter works. What you don’t learn is how the entire story flows. For that you need "readers. "

After my critique buddies help me hammer out the bugs chapter by chapter and after I’ve done a little bit of re-writing to make the story relatively cohesive, I print out the entire manuscript and hand it out to my readers. They read the entire thing and can tell me where the pace lags, where the inconsistencies are and if the plot as a whole works. My readers are a select group, all serving a specific purpose. I have a veterinarian who is also a mystery fan who checks my technical facts and gives me a good idea of whether the mystery works. I have a couple of school teachers who check punctuation, grammar and such. And I have a fellow mystery writing friend (Hi, Kristine!) who gets the manuscript before anyone else and really gets me on track with all the vital “stuff” involved in putting together a workable novel.

So if you’re struggling along trying to write your masterpiece without any outside help, my question to you is WHY? Sure, the work of writing is a solitary endeavor. But we get so wrapped up in the worlds we create that most of us can’t really see it clearly. We need a fresh set of eyes to point out where we need to do some revising and where we’ve overwritten. And, hopefully, to point out what does work, too. That’s always a good thing to know.

Yesterday, one of my critique buddies told me she couldn’t wait for the next chapter. That’s about the nicest critique you can get.

Comments

Joyce said…
I don't know what I'd do without my critique group. We're all mystery writers--all SinC members. It's good to have all those eyes reading what you've written. Someone always finds something I hadn't considered.

I love watching everyone's novels come together--all the way from a kernel of an idea, through plotting, to the finished product (especially seeing Becky's in print).

We're all so comfortable with each other now, that we don't hesitate to nag each other when needed.

I don't see how anyone could write a book without at least having a critique partner.
Kristine said…
Annette, the pleasure is all mine. I'm honored to be one of your valued readers and I'm looking forward to the day (soon, I hope) when you can return the favor for me.

I love my critique group. We have a lot of fun together, but when it's time to critique, we're all business. My fellow critique members have saved my butt MANY times.

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