Monday, September 8, 2014

Qualities of a Good Critique Partner

The manuscript is polished – huzzah! Time for another set of eyes to look at it.

Beta readers/test readers are often those who are just readers of our genre. They’re great for spotting flaws in the story. But we also need skilled writers to go over the manuscript and examine the plot, the character arc, the grammar, the structure, etc. Enter–critique partners.

What should we look for in a good critique partner?

Similar writing ability and experience

A professional tennis player doesn’t want to play with someone who hits the courts once a month for fun. He needs a match with someone at his level. We need to find partners who are also at our level or above. A published book isn’t always the best criteria as there are many writers of talent not yet published. But they do need to be in a similar place on the journey in terms of ability.

Familiar with your genre

A partner who writes in our genre is great because he understands the setting, structure, and flow of that kind of book. But most writers read outside of their genre as well. They can judge a manuscript based on its characters and storyline. Often they are more subjective and spot things we miss.

Honest but tactful

We need to know the truth. Yeah, it can hurt. But if something is wrong or doesn’t work, we need to know while there is still time to fix it. This needs to be done with tact–and with suggestions if possible. The critique partner’s point should come across as ‘I don’t think this works’ rather than ‘this is all wrong, stupid.’ We also need to hear what does work well.

Familiar with your style and voice

This might not always be possible, but a good partner has read our writing before (even in blog posts.) He knows how we tend to write–what elements we usually include, the flow of our stories, the voice of our characters, and so forth. He’ll also be less likely to impose his own voice on our work.

Reliable and trustworthy

Most writers are trying to work on a schedule. We need someone who adheres to deadlines and is consistent with critiques. We also want someone who will not only deliver as promised, but will be discrete with our work. (Sharing it with the world or running off with it is just not cool.)

Good sense of humor

Everyone involved needs a good sense of humor. (Writing is intense enough–need to lighten up now and then!) We don’t always get to sit down with critique partners and words on a page can come off cold and harsh. A good partner knows when to add a little humor.

Understands you

This is a package deal and why it’s important to use people who know you well. It helps if they understand your standards, your morals and beliefs, and what you’re trying to accomplish. And just like making friends, it’s great when critique partners share many of those same attributes and goals.

If we find one or more critique partners with all of those qualities, then we’re set!

What do you look for in your critique partners?

34 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Alex .. the working with someone of a similar standard or better, as you mention, makes so much sense ...

Great points you've listed here - all very necessary for us to be aware of ..

Cheers Hilary

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Alex--Such good information here. I've been in crit groups before, but they didn't work out for me because several of the above conditions weren't met.

Kristin Smith said...

This is a great list, Alex! It just reiterates that I think I found the best critique partner ever! I hope she feels the same way...

Thanks for posting this! :)

Al Diaz said...

I think I am lucky for finding good critique partners. Now My only problem is that I am not writing anything.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I also belonged to a group that didn't meet those standards and didn't stay long. Good list!

J.L. Campbell said...

All good qualities, Alex. I particularly like to have someone who knows the genre I write in so they an make an assessment of what and how I've written.

Pat Hatt said...

Awesome list indeed, have to find ones the work by such rules for us or more time is sure wasted than needed

Heather M. Gardner said...

Great post! Its so important to find the right mix!

I'm so glad I didn't say, 'this is all wrong, stupid' last week!

Heather

Christine Rains said...

You covered all the points! I'm lucky to have 3 amazing CPs, and my betas are just as wonderful. It also helps that they have a few different strengths than you so they can catch things you don't.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Heather, I would've laughed had you said that!

Thanks, guys!

Jennifer Chandler said...

Great post! I agree that a great crit partner needs to be someone familiar with your voice. My former crit partner was just that, and boy would she lay into me if I wasn't true to my voice! Argh...I miss her!

~Jen

cleemckenzie said...

All of these characteristics are right on. I'd add, that I'd like if they write better than I do. It's kind of like tennis. You don't want to play against someone who doesn't play a bit better than you. That's one way to improve.

Carrie-Anne said...

It would be nice to have a trusted, capable critique partner or beta, though I've gotten along fine without any. I'd never heard of this supposed need for CPs and betas until a few years ago, and had always written on my own, learning the old-fashioned way about improving my craft and how to edit. I'd want a partner who focused on the big picture and had a light hand, instead of telling me to change things just because s/he would've written it that way.

Patricia Lynne said...

All great info. Currently, I just want a crit partner who has enough time to read for me. I had 3 great ones, but life has gotten in the way for all of them and there's no time.

T. Drecker said...

Humor is priceless in a CP. Well, all your points are ;)

Melissa said...

Yes! When you find a good CP, hang on to them!
Great post.

olgagodim said...

Great post, and I agree with everything you said. I have one question though - where to find such a partner? I have been looking for a while.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Yes, humor! So glad that's included in this helpful, comprehensive list.
Thank you.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

You hit all the important points. I've very lucky in my critique persons.

Trisha F said...

I think it's pretty hard to find that perfect CP. Sometimes you have to do a bit of digging. :)

Great advice here on what to look out for!

Lynda R Young said...

See, that's why I can never use random CPs found via forums. I need to have an understanding of the person to have a greater understanding of their critique.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Carrie-Anne, if those changes are requested, that's not a good critique partner.

T, but humor is still up there!

Olga, ask other writers who are friends, see if they will exchange critique with you.

Robyn, some of us need that humor, don't we?

Lynda, exactly! Which is why you, Rusty, and Heather rocked. You get me.

Rusty Carl said...

Great tips! What do I look for in a crit partner? Someone willing to be a martyr. Because I may kill them with my words.

I don't know what that means, I was just trying to sound edgy.

Lynda Dietz said...

I think you've hit upon the perfect list here. Working with someone who is of at least equal skill is very important! How else will you improve if not by being challenged? Throw in that sense of humor to cover a multitude of things, and you're set. I think it's fun that our posts today reflected so many of the same things from a different angle.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

This is good stuff, Alex! Thanks for this guideline. Now to find a bunch who fit this criteria! ;)

♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥

Elsie Amata said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes!! I agree. I'm so lucky that I have a fantastic CP with a wickedly funny sense of humor. He makes the critique hurt less when I have to hack and slash. Now, it's my turn to help someone too. Hope I can do my CP justice!

Leovi said...

Yes, well reasoned the qualities of a Good Critique Partner. They may also be true for other creative fields: music, painting ...!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Rusty, you kill no one with your words.

Lynda, thank you! I know, I thought our posts were so in synch.

Leovi, yes! We need good critique partners in all artistic areas.

Cindy said...

Great points Alex..I can't think of anything else I would add. :)

Michelle Wallace said...

Thanks for this list!
Now I'm off to hunt for CP's...

Karen Lange said...

Excellent points, Alex! A good crit partner is worth their weight in gold.

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

Those are great points. It hard to find someone that really clicks with you. For me, I always feel like I'm the short end of the stick, because I have less experience with critiquing. I want to be able to be help for the other person too.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Alex -

Excellent tips. I'm blessed with several great critique partners.

Tweeted!

Susan :)

Toinette Thomas said...

Though I'm late to reply, this post was just in time for my recent to find some critique partners. Thanks for the tips.