“A useful writers group . . . offers constructive criticism which helps its members improve their writing. Its members are not in competition with each other; there are no cliques. Its members feel inspired and encouraged to write more, to improve their craft, and look forward to remaining long-standing, active group members.”—Adele Cosgrove Bray (http://bit.ly/1HUTcta)
Critiquing a Manuscript
- The purpose of a critique is to improve the writing, or to help the writer overcome a particular problem he or she is facing. Criticism should be constructive and focused on the page, not the writer.
- Be as specific as possible when critiquing.
- Let the writer know what works, as well as what doesn’t work. Where are the places where the writing grabs you? Where does it lose or confuse you? Point out the details that bring the piece alive for you, as well as when these details are lacking.
- Point out grammar, spelling, or punctuation questions on the page only. Minor details are not necessary during the group critique, unless it distracts or jolts you out of the reading. Instead, focus on the big picture and how the story works.
- It’s rare not to find anything to mention, whether good or bad. At the minimum, give a summary on the front or last page telling what you thought of the piece overall.
- Strive to give others’ submissions the same time and attention you expect to receive for your own.
- Sign your name so the writer knows who to talk to if he or she has further questions.
- Even if you aren’t familiar with the genre, you can still share your impressions.
- Be sensitive to confidential information a writer discloses on the page.
- Each critique begins with a short (3 pages or so) reading from the work by the writer, then the moderator opens the comment time to whomever wishes to start.
- There’s often give and take in who’s speaking—it’s natural for someone to wait for a pause and chime in when they strongly agree or disagree with the speaker’s point—but the original speaker should be given the chance to finish should that happen. If a bottleneck occurs or we get off target, the moderator steps in to free it up.
- Try to say something during this period, even if it’s just to read a summary critique you’ve written on the front or last page.
- A good discussion period will be lively, with multiple points of view on the piece. This way, everyone around the table learns from each other, not just the writer whose work is being critiqued.
- Try to focus on the writing, not the writer. Instead of “You handled the dialogue very well in this passage” try “The dialogue is handled very well in this passage.”
Also see the following pages: