It is blog chain time again. This round was started by Mary. Her questions were about critique groups.
To make this fun, I expanded the questions a little, and pretended I was being interviewed by Writer’s Digest (Hey, I love playing pretend).
So, here we go…
We are here today with Christine Fonseca, author of The Spaces in Between. We wanted to know exactly how she felt about the writing process and the use of critique groups and beta readers.
WD – So, Christine, do you have critique buddies that read your material at some point during the process?
CF – I do. I have a critique group that I joined in January. I also have a few beta readers that help once the novel is completed and another couple of people I brainstorm with (usually during the initial writing stages). My first novel was written without the benefit of critique partners. And while the story was good, the writing was not as strong as it could have been. Working with a couple of amazing critique partners has enabled me to cultivate my own author’s voice, stay true to the voice and behavior of my characters and more fully develop my story line. I really can’t imagine writing without them now. In fact, one of my beta readers just finished reading the first 100 pages of my current WIP and was pleasantly surprised by the change in my writing style. Honestly, I know that would not have happened without the critique partners that I have.
As for when I use my partners, I like to use them early enough that I don’t mind changing things – but after a rough draft (Yeah, definitely after the rough draft!). The work with my critique group usually occurs during the initial rewrite of the novel. I use beta readers after that – for any last revisions.
WD – How does your critique group work? Do you critique a certain amount at a certain time?
CF – We established specific rules with each other regarding posting dates, how much to critique each week and what we specifically felt we needed from each other. I feel like the rules we established helped guide those first couple of months. I mean, I really didn’t know these people very well. In fact, I barely knew them at all, and here I was, trusting them with my work. By establishing clear expectations from the outset, I knew what I was getting myself into and knew what was expected of me.
For our group, we use a private forum on Rally Storm and post 15 pages per week, with critiques due prior to the next posting. This has worked really well for us.
WD – How detailed are the critiques you give? What about the ones you receive?
CF – I would love to say I give the most amazingly detailed crits… but I would be totally lying! That being said, I do think I have a knack for seeing problems with some basic things (like cadence of sentence structure, or redundancy), as well as the more difficult things like when the emotional pull of the story falls short, or something doesn’t add up right. I tend to be a big picture person in my professional life. My critiquing is no different – I really pick up on the gestalt. Hopefully my suggestions help my other partners.
I have an amazing critique partner that provides incredibly detailed and HONEST critiques. Nothing gets past her – whether it is a grammar problem or a moment when I was out of character. I have learned so much from reading her crits. Although, I have to admit, her honesty was a bit hard for me to get used to at first. Don’t get me wrong, I would never want her to change…that honesty has made me rethink so many things…and in a good way. But, I absolutely had to develop a thicker skin, you know.
My other crit buddy is the polar opposite. She tends to be more of a big picture person. I turn to her when I am confused with a larger aspect of the story.
Overall, I think the detail of the critique isn’t as important as the honesty and benefit of it. I mean, my partner and I definitely don’t give as detailed feedback to each other – but I see things in her work she doesn’t, and she sees the things I miss as well. It is really a partnership.
WD – How about genre? Are your critique partners writing in a similar genre?
CF – My group consists of YA writers. I think that works for us. My beta readers are different. I use both writers and readers for my betas. Both parties come to evaluating a story from very different points of view. Since I would like to appeal to the largest readership possible, I like getting input from writers of many different genres, as well as from readers within my specific niche (i.e. YA) and other readers that are well versed in many types of stories.
WD – Thanks for your time today, Christine. I do have one more question for you. How do you deal with the feedback you get? I mean, how do you know when to change your story?
CF – I love this question. Actually, for me that was the hardest part of joining a critique group. I have such high respect for my critique partners and beta readers that I wanted to completely change everything based on whatever they said. It was a very hard balancing act for me to learn. Fortunately I became close enough friends with my partners that I could talk with them about this topic. One of them told me to remember that I was the author – ultimately it was my story that was being told. I, alone, needed to decide when to change or not change things. Her advice stayed with me. I stopped feeling like I had to change everything simply because someone told me to. Instead I took the feedback as just that – feedback. I decided, based on the information provided, where the actual problem was. I mean sometimes the feedback says one thing, but the actual problem may be something a little different. As the author, I need to decide this – and fix it when necessary
I had to learn to stop fighting the process – stay true to the voice of the story and NOT change something sometimes. The result – better critiques and a much improved story.
WD – Thanks again Christine, for taking the time to talk with use about critique groups. We look forward to reading more from you in the future.
CF – Thank you.
So, there you go – my imaginary interview with WD. For more information on critique groups, hope on over to Kat’s blog who posted before me. When you’re done, check out our newest member Annie for her take on the subject!