9/12/2016

Positive Critique Group Stereotypes

Last week, we looked at some of the negative stereotypes that pop up in critique groups. This week, we'll be talking about the flip side: the good guys that help us grow as writers. If you saw a little of yourself in last week's post, this list might help you curb some of your less helpful behaviors.

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The following post comes to us from guest blogger and author Tom Howard.


Learn more about Tom by visiting his Amazon Author Page, and check out Tom's latest story in Coming Around Again, an anthology by my local crit group!

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The Listener 


How to identify: Comes to the meeting prepared, having read the piece at least once and is ready to give constructive feedback, whether positive or negative.

How to encourage them: Take their advice. Be an active listener yourself. Ask questions about their feedback and apply it to your writing.


The Disagreer

How to identify: They don’t always go with the consensus of opinion. They might disagree with the dozen other people at the table and are brave enough to voice those opinions. This input is invaluable whether you take it or not. It gives you insight into the different reader. If they disagree continually with everyone, they might be a negative stereotype.

How to encourage them: Thank them for their input. If they are continually disagreeable, point that out to them. Remind them of the sandwich critique technique of saying something positive, something negative, and then something positive again.


The Filler-Inner


How to identify: This stereotype is almost superpowered. If they mention things that aren’t in the story or come up with motivations and backstory to explain things, they may be the most helpful member of your crit group. By filling things in, they are instinctively filling plot holes or gaps in your story-telling. Don’t explain the missing pieces orally. Ensure they are in the story. Analyze why the Filler Inner feels the need to provide additional information. That’s your job.

How to encourage them: Like all constructive criticism, make a note of places where they are making stuff up and rewrite it to make your story complete. Bring them chocolates or cookies and request they keep finding – and filling – these gaps.


The Grammar Nazi


How to identify: Every crit group needs a Grammar Nazi, someone who knows all the rules of punctuation and grammar. They perform a very helpful role in every group. They can be a positive or negative influence on your crit group. If they are only grammarians, encourage them to look for plot, voice, and style irregularities, too. A good Grammar Naxi does both.

How to encourage them: For those grammar guys and gals who only line edit, point out the difference between technique and substance. If they can line edit as well as they critique, a homemade pie occasionally might be encouragement enough.


The Published Writer


How to identify: This is someone with a few sales under their belts who is willing to share the experience. Not to be confused with the negative stereotype of The Authority, this person realizes there is no “what editors want” as each of them want something different. These writers should be willing to help every writer in the crit group sell and market their best work.

How to encourage them: Be one of them. Write, critique, and rewrite until you start selling. Don’t become The Authority overnight, but do listen to them when they say how important dialogue punctuation, Standard Manuscript Format, and realizing “alright” is not a word are.


The New Writer 


How to identify: A new writer can be very beneficial to the crit group. They bring new enthusiasm and a renewed energy to the group. Welcome them and try to keep your Authority persona firmly in hand.

How to encourage them: Give them lots of positive feedback. Do serious line edits to help them with the grammar and punctuation. Keep them writing. Never use the word “draftitis.” Give them suggestions and time. Don’t pressure them with deadlines or “you shoulds.”


The Useful Occupation 


How to identify: This stereotype is more of a perk than a label. Everyone in the crit group has a day job and these can be very helpful when determining how bail is set or how many bullets are fired during a robbery. Scientists, policemen, lawyers, and nurses can make a mediocre story really sparkle with some real-life details. Listen to the experts and rewrite accordingly.

How to encourage them: Know who is a teacher in your group, find out about the young woman in the military, and seek out medical professionals. You might be surprised at the expertise sitting around your table. Listen and use it.


Fortunately…


You can wear as many of these labels as you want. Try to be kind, helpful, and involved in the story. Don’t race to read it at the last minute. Don’t respond emotionally to a piece. Your crit group should know the ground rules for how to behave. Listen, suggest, question, and inform. That’s why we form crit groups. It’s hard to do it on your own.

Below are some helpful guidelines to make your group a productive one (with thanks to the Dorsal Fin Crit Group in Oklahoma City).


Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group (CASFWG) Guidelines:


  1. Don't make it your story.
  2. Be kind (no offensive terms).
  3. Use constructive criticism and positive feedback in sandwich technique.
  4. Be brief with your critique (written and verbal), 10 minute critique, 10 minute rebuttal.
  5. Use concrete examples of problems (and how to fix them without rewriting).
  6. Correct any grammar or spelling (if you can determine trends, write them down in a summary page), but do not discuss each line item.
  7. Read the entire piece.
  8. Look for continuity and missing action.
  9. You can always opt out! If you cannot or will not be able to critique this piece, you may do so with no explanation required.

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See anyone you recognize? Know anyone who could learn from these role models? Share this post on Facebook and tag them!