A reader has asked me about critique groups again. Since 1978, I have belonged to a writer’s critique group. The first one included Dr. Sherwood (Woody) Wirt, the founder of our San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild. Woody was the editor of Decision magazine for Billy Graham for 17 years. Author of over 30 books and an amazing person. I was so green and new to writing. I thought I had to write “Christian” stories and articles with plenty of Scripture. What Woody gently pointed out was, “The world doesn’t need more Christian writers, it needs more Christians who write!” It took me a while to understand what he was saying. It is our Christian world viewpoint that comes through in our writing whether we write for a Christian or Secular publication.
Many new writers feel like they are banging their head against the wall hoping to catch an editor’s attention. So why a critique group? We need the opinions of like-minded people. Even in a Christian group there are diverse ideas and opinions, yet if you think of it, they represent a small cross-section of your readers. If they note errors, will your readers not also pick up on those errors?
How many of you have read a book and say, found a lot of quotes by the protagonist in French without the interpretation? Do you have to take a French class to be able to read the book? No, just showing off a command of French does not help your reader.
Have you ever tried to keep track of so many character names that you lose the story? What about punctuation? Are there glaring errors? Speaking for myself, punctuation is my nemesis! I sprinkle commas liberally. That is why I need my critique group and also have someone go through my manuscript before sending it to my editor. They love “clean” manuscripts!
If you are mostly writing Christian material, do not seek out a secular critique group. They will not give you the feedback you need in this particular field. If your church is larger, put up a notice that you are starting a critique group for fellow writers. If you are in a neighborhood that has an on-line feed for notices and other information, post it there.
Some rules to go by:
1. Take the first 15 minutes for refreshments, have coffee and cookies or ? ready. Keep it simple! Members can take turns bringing something.
2. Open with prayer.
3. Limit the number to 6 or 7 due to the time taken to critique each person’s offering.
4. 15 minutes to read that person’s offering, and 15 minutes to critique, with each person allowed 3 minutes. If someone has already mentioned an item, just say you agree with so and so and keep to the things you want to mention that have not been mentioned, to save time. Keep a timer handy and hold people to their time (we do get carried away talking!) At 1/2 hour each, for six people, that is 3 hours! It would depend on your host or hostess, how much time they wish to set aside on your critique group day.
5. Be kind, but be constructive in your criticism. Find the “good” parts and comment on those first.
6. Close in prayer.
Someone came up to me recently and mentioned they had been wanting to write a book. I asked them the subject of the book and they weren’t sure. They just thought it would be great to write a book. Sometimes well-meaning would-be writers have no idea of the blood, sweat and tears that go into the writing of a book. Are they prepared to attend writer’s conferences, attend workshops and go through umpteen re-writes to perfect their craft? Writing is a craft. Granted, there are rare exceptions, the author that writes their first novel and it becomes a New York Times bestseller. The chances of that are about as good as winning the lottery.
It takes time and determination, research and editing to bring a thought or idea to fruition. For me, research was the fun part, learning new things every day. My particular genre to begin with, was women of the Bible as God really saw them. Writing is a joy to most of us who have chosen that vocation. We do have our down days and dry spells when we stare at the computer before us and nothing comes to mind. I’m reminded of Jan Karon who wrote that one day she saw an Episcopal priest walking down the street, followed by a boy named Dooley and a dog named Barnabas, and that was the beginning of the wonderfully popular Mitford Series.
It starts with an idea. For my first book, it was seeing the woman at the well in John 4 come alive; for the second book, we were studying Martha in a Bible study. Each time God has let me know my next subject, yet while the inspiration came via the Lord, the leg work and writing was my task. So if you have a book in mind, consider your subject, write a few pages and get into a critique group. Go to a writer’s conference and attend workshops that you feel will help you hone your style. There are a lot of books out there, but who knows, you just may make the NY Times best seller list!Read More
As we move our characters around in the story, describing what they are doing and feeling, care needs to be taken not to try to over-emphasize their actions. Leave it to the reader to see in their mind what the character is doing by just a few clues.
If your character is sitting on the couch and desires a coke from the kitchen, don’t sketch out their every movement, i.e. “she got up from the couch, walked across the room, went into the kitchen, opened the fridge, pulled out a coke and opened it”. We know the actions needed without being told. Suffice it to say, “she went into the kitchen for a coke”.
Over staging your character’s actions marks you as a beginning writer. You can use a few actions to denote who is speaking, if there are more than two characters in the scene. An example of this is: “ ‘That’s fine with me,’ John murmured, tossing his pencil on the table and leaning back in his chair.” It reminds us who is speaking if there is several lines of dialogue.
Shorten your sentences. Instead of ‘Mary leaned an ear towards the sound of footsteps treading up the hallway’, try “Mary heard footsteps in the hallway”. Or, “Irritation seeped through his words as he slapped the air with his powerful hand”, can be changed to: “Glowering, he slapped one hand loudly on the table.”
Keep your actions to a minimum. With just a few well-chosen words, you can convey your character’s mood or actions to the reader.Read More