Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Critique Groups

[caption id="attachment_288" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Emalee, Lana, and Erin (l to r)"]Emalee, Lana, and Erin (l to r)[/caption]

I love my critique group! We have so much fun together while working on our manuscripts. The "Pub Club" consists of only three members: myself, my daughter Emalee, and Erin Shakespear (yes, we have an official Shakespear). It's just the right size for us. We meet twice a month at a local restaurant, eat cake, laugh, drip chocolate and caramel on our pages, and discuss each other's work. Everyone gets a turn, and our limit is 10 pages each, which are emailed prior to the meeting so that the time can be spent critiquing instead of reading.

We may be mother and daughter, but Emalee and I set that aside during these meetings and get down to business. And we may live in the same house, but we rarely discuss our manuscripts at home (mostly because she won't let me: "Mom! I've got homework!"). So this group deepens our relationship through the love of books that we share. Erin keeps us in line and is so cute about it. When Erin and I run into each other in town, look out. We can't stop talking (about writing, of course). If we part at the shoes, chances are we'll pick up again at the milk. We're a lucky bunch, to have each other and to be such a good fit.

All three of us write YA and/or MG Fantasy. Since Emalee is a teenager, she is able to provide that perspective, especially with regard to dialogue. She'll tell us stuff like, "He wouldn't say that!" She's also adept at catching unintentional shifts in voice. We got a big chuckle last night over this line that she flagged: "How perfectly dreary and dreadful!" Even though it didn't fit with that particular character, we decided it would be ideal for another one later in the story, so: cut and paste. I'm the editor, and my contribution tends toward that angle. Erin calls me Lady Redundant Woman because I always circle repetitious words (I had to Google that name to remember it). And they don't like my red pen. They made me write "A+" on their pages and I had to promise to use a different color from now on...I'm thinking purple. Erin is our story analyst. She gives terrific input on plot and logistics and whether or not someone would really do whatever it is our characters are supposed to be doing. And she reins me in when I use too many big words. So we're a well-balanced and well-rounded group. And an extra perk is that our personalities mesh nicely, too. We can tease and be blunt and take criticism because we're friends. Our critique sessions are consistently productive, insightful, and fun. We learn and grow as writers by critiquing and being critiqued.

The servers and patrons at our little hangout probably groan at the sight of us: "Not them again!" No, I hope not. But even though we do carry on about dragons and wizards and demons in very serious and long-winded conversations, we're not crazy; we're writers.

If you're a writer, I'd like to encourage you to form or join a critique group (or two) of your own. It's one of the best things you can do to improve your craft.

p.s. Check out for info about the Breathless Reads Tour, featuring Ally Condie, author of Matched! She will be signing books in SLC, UT on Saturday, February 12, 2011 at the Salt Lake City Public Library (free tickets available at the King's English Bookstore). And while you're on Ally's website, be sure to read her "eight years writing" post under "don't give up" for an awesome bit of encouragement (look for the magic 8 ball).

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