Monday, September 24, 2012

Diva Critique Partners

Finding a great critique partner is like sending the Curiosity Rover to Mars, except it's a lot more than "seven minutes of sheer terror." Finding a bad critique partner is like shooting fish in a barrel, except a lot messier.

And a good critique partner will point out all those cliches you just wrote, and she will gently suggest that you rewrite the passage.

So here's five tips on what not to do so your critique partners don't call you a diva behind your back:

1) A little politeness goes a long way.

Constructive criticism can be delivered in a way that doesn't leave the writer in tears. Instead of saying, "My five-year-old could have written a better paragraph," try "I think your hero needs to show some emotional reaction here."

2) You don't know everything.

Make sure you know what you're talking about when you're offering criticism. "A PI, a lawyer and a cop walked into an RWA meeting" sounds like the start of a bad joke, but the three of us shared all kinds of stories of bad advice we've gotten from other writers. Just because you're an avid fan of Magnum, P.I., CSI or Law & Order does not make you an expert. If you think something feels wrong in the manuscript, mention it, but refer back #1 before you tell a twenty-year HPD homicide detective he doesn't know his job.

3) Leave your personal bias at home.

We all have them, that little thing that hits our squick button. I recently had a long conversation with a friend about the prevelence of the Cinderella/rape fantasy stories since 50 Shades of Gray came out. Needless to say, the subject does not turn me on in the slightest. Sure enough, another friend asks me to look at her manuscript which features...wait for it....a Cinderella/rape fantasy.

If you can be objective about a subject that turns your stomach, great! But if you can't objectively look at your critique partner's work, you need to tell him. Again, refer to back to #1.

4) Don't rewrite your critique partner's story.

I admit this was my BIG problem under the guise of "I'm just making a suggestion." Actually, it's down-right insulting and insinuates that your partner can't write. I've had critique partners go as far to give me whole different plots along with sample dialogue. Mention the problem you see, but let your partner find his own solution.

5) Acknowledge when the partnership is not working.

Sometimes, despite everyone's good intentions, the relationship just doesn't work. That when you take a step back and have an honest conversation. As I've mentioned before, my friend Nancy and I realized our styles and genres were too different to really be able to help each other. She writes very sweet YA, and I write R-rated UF. But honest acknowledgement kept our friendship intact.

I'm not saying gentle honesty will always work. Some folks get their fee-fees hurt if you look at them sideways. Those are the relationships that you don't walk away from, you run!

* * *
Have a brutally honest conversation about what each of you needs from a critique partner. Then be the kind of critique partner you would love to have!


  1. I used to be willing to critique with anyone (a critique-slut, if you will), so I have learned quite a bit on this subject...both good and bad.

    I agree with all your points, Suzan, and will only add--find people who will tell you what you NEED to hear, not what you WANT to hear. We all know that doesn't work for everyone, because some people only want to hear you love their work, but as for me, I need the honesty and real feedback so my work gets better!

    And I always try to find something nice to say about each person's work (because I'm sure they've bled on the paper just as I've toiled over my stories and I know that takes dedication--whether I 'get' their story or not)!

  2. It can be a tightrope walk at times, that's for certain. One of the thing I always say to someone who asks me to read is, "Keep in mind, this is my OPINION. It's not right, it's not wrong, this is just how this story hit me."

    Which, after all, is what agents and editors do. I just had a ms. come back from an agent who said, "You are a really good writer, but this particular story didn't work for me. I'd love to see something else from you."

    She didn't say "Get lost," or "your writing stinks", she said that particular work didn't resonate with her.

    Same thing with critique partners...:)

  3. I think that goes back to point #1, Tess. A great crit partner can be honest without being a dick.

  4. LOL Thanks for the reminder, Will. Nothing works for everyone, and you've got to trust yourself sometimes.

    The big reason I ended up indie-publishing was because I got SO MANY replies from editors and agents saying, "I love you writing. I love your voice. I can't sell a zombie story. Send me something else."