March 21, 2017

How Should a Writer Respond to Feedback?

So, you've attended a critique group and need to know what to do with the feedback. First, and foremost, keep writing. Don't spend every meeting rehashing the same pages.

What Do You Do With the Feedback?

As you keep writing remember the following:

You don't have to change everything the group suggests. The work is yours. You've joined a group for feedback, but sometimes it's worthwhile to take that feedback with a grain of salt. Not everyone will agree on what works and what doesn't. If everyone, or most everyone, tells you something, it's probably worth considering. Also, notice who gave you the information. I've gotten great feedback from less experieinced writers, but when the feedback gives me pause, I do consider the background and genre experience of the person providing the feedback. If you choose to ignore certain feedback, make sure it's based on something you can explain. For instance, it's goes against the personality of your character or changes the story line.

If you don't understand a comment, ask for more information. Some groups ask the writer not to speak during the feedback, but I find this annoying and unhelpful. If someone says something about my writing and it's not clear what they're telling me, I ask.

If you disagree with a comment or it surprises you, ask if others in the group agree with the feedback. Every now and then, a comment will surface that gives me pause. Let's face it, we all read with our own perspectives, so another person's reaction can be quite different from your own. If it feels really out of left field, then put the question to the whole group. If you get broad agreement, then it's probably worth exploring the feedback further.

Feedback is subjective. There are many accepted standards of writing, so you want to learn those, but when it comes to the story line itself, make sure you don't take advice that sends you down the wrong path with your story. I let a group convince me that my character behaved too stoically for the circumstances. What happened? I turned a princess into a sniveling brat. Not good, and an agent reprimanded me for it. Ouch!

If the critique hurts, ask yourself why you're there. Some people come to writers' groups to hear other writers proclaim them as a great writer. We had a guy attend years ago who introduced himself as the next John Grisham. When we didn't fawn all over his work, he left. It takes an ego to write, but it takes humility to receive honest feedback. If you don't want honest feedback (even given in a tactful way), then choose a different group. There are groups that will pat you on the back and tell you how great you are. Your writing won't improve, but your ego will remain safe.

What about you? What's the oddest feedback you've received? Did you accept it or cast it aside?

March 14, 2017

Essential Guidelines For Writing Critique Groups

A few of our members grabbing
a bite after the meeting.
A critique group can be a wonderful resource for your writing, whether you're new to writing or with a few publications under your belt. Feedback, to some degree, is subjective, so it's important for the critiquers to know what they're looking for and what they should say to the writer.

Critique Guidelines

When we meet for our bi-monthly meetings, we have time for nine people to read their work and hear feedback from the group. Prompt and appropriate information is imperative due to our time constraints. That's why it's important to focus on the writing first. So what are the guidelines we use?

Point out something you liked.  At a conference several years ago, an editor told me if we can't say something positive about someone's work, then we don't have the right to criticize it. Not everyone agrees with that notion, but it's true a writer is more apt to listen to someone who first points out something good. Be specific when you do so. Don't just say:  "I liked it." Tell them why.

Focus on the writing. We don't need to hear about how the story reminds you of your aunt or childhood or experience with something similar. As great as that is in a casual setting, it's not going to fly in one of our meetings.

Don't repeat what someone else has already said. If someone stole your thunder, it's ok to say you agree with them, but that's all you need to say. If you disagree with them, then definitely share your thoughts.

Don't mention every single thing you liked or marked. We bring copies of what we're reading, so everyone can mark on the pages while the writer reads them out loud. Only mention what warrants mentioning. If you found a typo, mark it, but it's not always necessary to bring that up, especially if we're running out of time. If you decide a typo needs mentioning, point it out and move on.

Pass if you're not ready to comment.  There's nothing worse than someone flipping through the pages, saying, "Um, um, I know I had something here." It's better to pass your turn. If you figure it out later tell the writer after the meeting.

Write your name on the copy you marked up. Because our time is limited, not everyone gets to give verbal feedback during the meeting. When the writer looks at the pages you marked up later, they can see whose comments they're receiving and contact you with questions if they have any or can't read your writing.

These tips may sound harsh, but, for our group, it works. Some groups provide the pages a few days early, so the critiquer can read the work in advance. This provides more time for critiques during a meeting, but it does require everyone to read the work beforehand. Our group knows they are less likely to come to the meeting prepared, so our process works for us. Even if your group reads in advance, these guidelines will help you provide helpful feedback.

Don't know what to look for in a critique?  Check out these posts.

What tips or guidelines does your group use? What would you add?

Next week:  How Should a Writer Respond to Feedback?

March 7, 2017

Do Your Characters Like Your Protagonist?

Image courtesy of
Does your protagonist get along with everyone? I hope not! How boring.

"No matter what you do, some people won't like you."

During a conference this weekend, I made the above statement. Everyone at my table agreed, but then one person said, "But I want them to like me. I'm a likeable person."

What's Not to Like?

This led to a short discussion on why someone might not like a person:
  • You remind them of someone they don't like
  • You believe differently than them
  • They like different things than you
  • You have something they want and can't have
  • You force them to do something they don't like

Let's face it, if we all liked the same things--or people--there wouldn't be so many flavors of ice cream. How boring!

Yes, we want to be liked, and we want out readers to like our protagonist (usually a good thing), but we miss out on great conflict opportunities when the protagonist is loved by all of the characters within your story.

A Time I Wasn't "Liked"

A few years ago (more than I care to share), I ran a welfare-to-work training program for a local non-profit. One day, a graduate of the program said to me, "I had a chance to talk to some of your new students. I told them you were mean, but it was worth it. They'd learn a lot."


She described me as mean? Her statement stabbed me through the heart. I had poured my soul into helping these women get back on their feet. I cared about them. I saw this graduate as a friend. When I objected, she explained.

My expectations during the twelve weeks they attended the training program translated to "mean" to some of the students. What kinds of expectations did I enforce? Nothing surprising. I expected them to adhere to standards they'd find when they found jobs in the corporate world. Standards such as:

  • Proper dress
  • Acceptable Attendance
  • Participation
  • Professional Behavior (a part of their training)

Not unusual expectations from an employer, yet my students struggled with them. A few students didn't follow the rules and lost their position in the program. Others dropped out rather than follow the rules. Still, I knew they were better off learning these expectations from me rather than losing a job due to these issues later. We had a 95% employment rate among our graduates, so I may have been "mean" but it worked.

What's my point?

Not everyone gets along. Even when we mean well. We need conflict in our stories, and personality clashes are a perfect way to get them. Odds are your protagonist doesn't see himself as unlikable or mean or petty or whatever opinion your characters form about him.

That's what makes him interesting.

What are some reasons your characters don't like each other?