If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

Check out our February author interviews: 2/7-debut author Keenan Powell (Alaskan lawyer), 2/14-Leslie Wheeler (Rattlesnake Hill), 2/21-bestselling author Krista Davis, who unveils a new series, 2/28-Diane Vallere answers my questions about Pajama Frame. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our February Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 2/3-Saralyn Richard, 2/10-Kathryn Lane. WWK's Margaret H. Hamilton will blog on 2/17, and Kait Carson on 2/24.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Critique Groups

I had a boss once who had a compulsion to edit. Even when nothing was wrong, she edited to change my writing to her style. Maybe she wanted me as her clone, but perhaps I should also add that she never had children. A spurious correlation? No, I think her words were her babies. Up until then, I’d never wished pregnancy on another woman. She was a good writer, but never recognized that she wasn’t actually improving my writing, just making it in her own image.

She was the boss, so I never defended what I had written. But when I started writing fiction, I developed an ego about my writing. Having an ego and being egotistical are two very different things. Writers need to have egos, if not, you’d have nothing else. There is so much rejection, having an ego is like wearing a safety helmet before dirt biking. It’s just crazy not to have one.

Soon after I finished my first novel, I realized critiques by friends weren’t worth much. Terrible to say, but too much personal baggage gets in the way for friends to effectively critique. Since I often write about child abuse, the first thing they wanted to know was if I was an abused child, and looked at me dubiously when I answered negatively. I took their comments as a complement to my writing since I must have portrayed abuse with realism. I also write about characters seeing demons, crouching in closets to avoid gunfire or freeing kidnapped children, all of which I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing. Writing fiction calls up our muse or imagination, which is invisible to our friends so they assume we don’t have such fanciful dimensions. Only other murder mystery authors understand.

Friends don’t have a professional viewpoint that will home in on a manuscript’s problems. Unless your friends happen to be in the fiction business, most people do not have the skills to critique or edit.

Critiquing is about concept, structure, impact, characters and plotting. Editing is not only making sure that what you have written is grammatically correct, which doesn’t include dialogue or personalized narrative, which may be purposefully incorrect, but also that your use of language is effective. Less is often more. An astute editor also provides advice on the elements of the manuscript much like critiques. Critiquing and editing are two very different sets of skills. More often than not, an editor can do both well due to the volume of fiction they edit. They know what others are writing and who is getting published, in short what will fly. Of course, editors aren’t cheap, so new authors find critique groups, hoping that some in the group have more experience than they do.

My first critique group was a disaster. We sent each other our pieces via email, critiqued and minimally edited, and then met in a restaurant once a month to discuss the critiques. Did it happen like that? No. More often than not, people talked of other things, ate, socialized and very little was actually accomplished by getting together. We could have forgone the socializing and accomplished more on-line. When people meet, other factors come into play than the actual writing.

I joined an on-line short story critique group that works well. These writers are published, know the market, and have the experience to provide worthwhile comments. Problem? Out of a group of twelve, only four to six members respond to a piece submitted for a critique. Granted, any response from these experienced members is valuable and not everyone can respond every time. But then, that’s why a group, rather than a few individuals getting together is better. A large enough group provides that some of the members will respond to all pieces. Like any voluntary group though, the same people tend to respond. Too much dependence can develop among members of too small of a group, and dependence on a few people narrows the prospective through which a piece critiqued. The more critiques you receive the better.

My third novel, Sparkle Days, (I haven’t decided among the twelve other titles I’ve drafted) is ready for its first critique. I joined a slower chapter-by-chapter group since my manuscript is a rough first draft. Our start wasn’t smooth because our novels were in too varied stages. Two members dropped out, one because her novel was at the polishing stage. The other thought her draft too rough. Now that our membership has stabilized, we begin the critique stage. I’ll let you know how it goes, but I am hoping that my boss’s ghost doesn’t possess one or all of us. Maybe I should ask them about their children.


Ramona said...

A good critique group is like gold. You not only get commentary on your work, if it works correctly, you learn from your partners' experiments and mistakes as well.

I wish you the best with this new group.

Charles Gramlich said...

I just had a remarkable experience. Some members of my group were being overly critical of one particular member's work and afterward I said quietly to the most vocal of those that they were going to make the individual stop writing if they weren't careful. The fellow's response floored me. First, he said he wasn't in the group to help people toward publication. Nor was he there to help encourage people to keep writing. I still haven't gotten over that one.

E. B. Davis said...

People like that I try to identify and stay away from before I'm involved with them. On-line groups pose problems because you don't know the others' values, although what they write is telling. But getting involved in a critique group with those you know, also poses problems. There is no easy road. A professional attitude is a must. I'll continue my series on critique groups next week. Thanks for posting.