Focus Your Focus Group

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Combination of 20px and rotated version of 20px to form icon for Peer Review process (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Asking a trusted friend, colleague or fellow author to review your work is a brave thing to do. And it’s an important and necessary part of the writing process- when publishing is amongst your goals.

If you have chosen wisely, your ‘critiquer’ will be someone who can be honest with you and whose opinion you can trust.

Still it’s never a good practice to hand someone your work and say, “Let me know what you think”.  Even a seasoned editor or literary agent has a checklist of plusses and minuses they refer to when diving into a new manuscript.

That being said, if a general impression is what you are looking for- ask for that. But if you want help identifying strengths and weaknesses in your piece, you need to focus your reviewer’s attention, without overloading them with too much to look for. Their job is to give you constructive feedback…not to edit your work for you.

My writer’s group Somerset Ink has one member each month offer a piece of their writing for peer review.  At the end of the submission are two or three questions for their fellow authors to work from. This not only helps to focus the critiques but also serves to identify patterns in the feedback when a group of individuals review the work. Similar comments or impressions can be red flags within your writing.

So, when handing over your ‘baby’ for critical inspection, ask your reviewer(s) if they can identify two or three specific issues including questions, which offer the opportunity for praise as well as censure- i.e., “What do you feel is my antagonists number one strength and number one weakness?”

When I asked this of Lucy, the main character in my novel, Lost and Found: The Souls of Rosewood, I got a resounding, “She’s too nice. She needs a dark side.” This warned me that the most important character I was creating was not authentic. My readers were not identifying with her because she was too good. I needed to give her a vice or a button, which when pushed made her angry maybe even unreasonable. Being the heroine does not exclude her from being flawed like the rest of us (most especially because she’s a teen).

As my own worst critic, I always have on tap plot issues I am sure I am writing into my story. I know I always struggle with tense. So I usually ask my ‘critiquers’ to point out where in my work, I may have switched tenses.

If you know you have reoccurring plot issues, be sure to ask about that.

Here are some other topics for your reviewers:

What would you ask of your ‘critiquer’?

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5 responses »

  1. What would you ask of your ‘critiquer’?

    Probably to tell me in 25 words or less how wonderful my manuscript is, that was until I read your post. Now after reflecting upon what you said and examining my ego I have a different perspective.

    Thank you.

  2. I’m always hesitant to question too specifically about my own perceived imperfections in my work. Too often, reviewers find something else ENTIRELY that’s out of whack, and my “problem” doesn’t bother them a whit. So I do hesitate to ask about “this, right here.” Your bullet points are excellent and broad enough not to plant ideas in critiquers’ heads.

  3. When I first asked for a critique from my group, I would rush to change the area each of them felt needed help. Of course, it only led to a headache for both me and my characters. Now I look at the numbers – if 3 of four respond favorably on what I hoped to evoke – I;’m on the right track. If not, I know I need to do more work. I’ve also asked my non-writer friends to read my work as they would any book they’ve bougnt and give me their overall impression. I’m suprised and gratified when they want to read more, understood the plot and weren’t bogged down with too much nonsense.

    Being asked to critique someone else’s work helps me to learn from their strengths and recognize my own weaknesses. Writing is a solitary experience that can only be perfected from sharing.

  4. How do I stifle my inner schoolmarm when critiquing? I need that pen in my hand, correcting while I read. Often, the author is looking to get insight on the actual content of the rough draft rather than the form. Even knowing this, I can’t help myself! How discouraging do other writers find it to receive this kind of feedback? I do include my thoughts on story elements as well.

  5. I had submitted a story to my writing group to be critiqued that I thought I had done a pretty good job on and din’t expect it to need a lot of revision. I was surprised with their comments which gave me quite a bit to think about. As usual, most of them were quite helpful and very insightful. This is why I am glad I am amember os Somerset Ink. These women keep me on my toes, and when motivation is dwindling, being in touch with them rekindles my enthusiasm for writing. And latel, I have been in a writing slump. However, I will be retiring soon, and I’m hoping to have more quiet and concentration time.

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