Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Critique Groups

A critique group can be a wonderful tool for a writer. I've belonged to many on-line groups, some good, some some not so good, some awful. I think one of the most important components of such a group is that you match yourself with people whom you respect, people who are at your level of commitment (be it casual, involved, or intense), and people who are at your level of development as a writer. Some writers, I know, wouldn't agree. They like to mentor younger writers and I think that's admirable. I've done it myself. But when it comes to a serious critique, I want someone who understands where I am as a writer because they are (roughly) at the same place. That way, we don't spend time going over the same territory we've been over many times before. I don't have to explain to them why they should avoid passive writing (or tell them what that means). I can assume they've already understand writing no-nos like the overuse of adverbs and adjectives. I know they understand what "head hopping" is and can stay in one POV throughout. And so on.

In some ways, though, as helpful as I believe a critique group can be, I find them a bit frustrating because they don't reflect "real life" reading. Your crit partner reads a chapter a week, if you're lucky enough to have a group that productive (I am!). While that is a blessing, it also means that your partners have spent six weeks reading six chapters. Something you mentioned in chapter one, which would be remembered by a normal reader who might read six chapters in an hour or two, isn't remembered by a crit partner. Try as they may (and since I am a crit partner, believe me, I do try!), your partners can't keep track of everything that happens as your novel unfolds over several months worth of reading. So, invariably, some things are lost. As a result, you get asked questions that I don't think the average reader would ask and, if you're like me, you end up backtracking just to make sure you really did talk about that already in chapter one!

The alternative, of course, would be to read the whole work once it's done. I've had readers do that, but they were people from my church who agreed to take the manuscript and tell me what they thought. In other words, they weren't writers. Most writers are knee-deep in their own work and don't have time to read a four-hundred page novel. Recently, someone on a Christian writers site proposed such a group, but he didn't get much of a response. Too bad.