Monday, April 4, 2011

"C" is for Critique Partner

Today in the A-Z Blogging Challenge, we plow onward with the letter "C".  I want to talk about something, or someone, really, no writer should be without....a critique partner.

The "Red Pen of Death" in action.

I have one, and I wouldn't trade her for all the bronzer in New Jersey.  Her name is Shelley, and she can be followed on Twitter!/ShelleyNGreene.  Shelley was kind enough to help me with this entry as well...she contributed a lot of great ideas.

Now, I'll bet you're wondering what does she do that makes her so indispensable?  So amazingly awesome?  Well, I suppose that a better question would be what doesn't Shelley do for me.  As a critique partner (and I should emphasize the "partner" part...I play the same role for her - this is a two-way street), we review each other's work, looking for any obvious issues we find.

What kind of issues?

A lot of feedback stems from character voice and pacing issues.  Part of being in a partnership like this is getting to know your partner's characters, story, and writing style as well as they do, and they, yours.  Being able to "hear" their character's voice when you read what they've written is a valuable talent to learn.  It enables you to say honestly, "I'm not sure (insert hot hero main character) would do this," or, "What was (sexy female main character)'s motivation here, because it seems like she's acting out of character."  Since character development is so important to a good story, your critique partner should be sure to tell you if anything seems amiss.  They will also not judge you or think you're a raving lunatic if you complain that the voices in your head have suddenly stopped talking to you.  If anything, they'll commiserate.

Yes, writing can feel like this. Frequently.

Your CP will also help you figure out what to do when your story is zipping along like Speedy Gonzales on crack, or slogging along as slowly as molasses in inappropriate spots.  Story pacing problems can be a huge pain in the ass, and until someone you trust (like your critique partner!) steps in and gives you another set of eyes on it, it can make you feel like you're bashing your head against your keyboard.  

Another role Shelley has for me, and I for her, is that we beta each other's work for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and word choice, among other basic errors.  As much as we'd all like to believe that what we crank out for a first draft is as epic as Jesus riding a Velociraptor, it's not.

Shocking, right?

So, we take the time to go over each other's work word by word, enjoying the reading as we edit, of course, but also reading it with a critical eye to make it the best work it can possibly be.  We both leave comments along the way, telling each other what we thought of different sections or sentences, offering commentary on plots and scenes, and above all, words of encouragement.  I'm not positive that all critique partners do this type of editing work; a lot of writers often have separate editors that do this type of thing for them.  I guess both Shelley and I lucked out.

But the best thing about having an awesome critique partner?  They get you, and they get your writing, and they're totally honest about it..  When you go off on a tangent about how your main character refuses to do this, or how you're suffering from word constipation, aka "writer's block," they know exactly how to help you, even if it's just listening to you rant for a bit.  When you feel like going all Avada Kedavra on your work, they talk you off of that ledge.

Critique partners stop you from hitting this key. Voldemort wouldn't be a good CP.
The honesty thing is important.  No one wants to hear that their plot has more holes than Swiss cheese and makes less sense than Charlie Sheen talking about "goddesses" or "tiger's blood," or that their characters are laughably stereotypical, but a good critique partner can be trusted to give it to you straight.  And when you forget something important to the story, a critique partner will bring that to your attention, too.  I once let Shelley know she'd forgotten her female lead's climax in a romantic scene...and an hour later, the new scene in my inbox was much more, uh, satisfying than it had been for her character.  CP's let you know what's up - the good, bad, and the really ugly - and help you fix it.

A CP will help you become a better writer than you already are...they're cool like that.  And no, you can't have Shelley.  She's mine.  My precioussssss....


  1. I love this post. The pictures and the gif are hilarious and awesome but even more importantly, every word you said is true. A good CP is so important. I have a couple of people who occasionally read things for me and they're great. They have no problem saying something like, "I don't know what you were smoking when you wrote that part, but stop it."

    M.J. Fifield
    My Pet Blog

  2. CP=Critique Partner, how cool.
    it must be very helpful for you to keep your writing in shape.


  3. You are so lucky to have a critique partner that gets you and your work.

  4. Crit partners? Priceless
    Yeah, I'm thinking of the commercial too :)
    They must complement (that is with an 'e' not an 'i') your writing style, be motivated, and enjoy what they do.

    They are elusive, the good ones. But they are out there. *Hi Charity:)*

  5. You got me thinking, as a pastor, one who preaches and teaches, I wonder if that would work for us. I could email my sermon to him to critique and I could look at his. If we found any unsubstantiated stories, hyperbole, thesis taken out of context, inaccuracies, or et. cetera. we could have them removed before we got to the pulpit. Wonder how many guys would do something like that? Your friend provides a valuable service for you.

    Gregg Metcalf
    Colossians 1:28-29

    Gospel-driven Disciples

  6. hehe... You picked some great pictures to go with this post.

    I don't quite have a critique partner yet but I'm on the lookout for one. I even signed up for a "critique partner classifieds" that Natalie Whipple posted on her blog. No luck so far. Had one person email me but I scared her away (actually we just figured that we wouldn't be a good match because I write mostly novels with glbtq characters but still). I hope to find one soon.

    Great post for today.

    Dawn's Writing Blog

  7. @M.J: Thank you! I'm glad you have some trusted people to look over your work, especially since they're honest. You definitely don't want to always hear glowing things about your work, because that means they're not telling the truth, lol.

    @Jingle: Yes, I love my CP. She is amazingly helpful. :-)

    @Karen: Thank you! I know she's pretty fantastic. :-)

    @Huntress: You're completely right...a good CP must complement your writing style. Though opposites in some areas are good...then you get different perspectives, which can help.

    @Gregg: No matter what kind of writing you do, another pair of eyes on your work is always helpful. I'll bet there are a lot of people in your profession who would be willing to trade critique services. Always nice to get another perspective. :-)

    @Dawn: Thank you! I had fun finding the pictures. Good luck on your CP search. Maybe try a critique group, too? If you're a member of a writer's group, even nationally (I'm a member of the Romance Writers of America, for example), you may use them to help you find someone. I know a lot of people don't mind reading/writing GLBTQ topics or characters.

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  9. Hey, sweets! I'm loving the alphabet here! :0) And I am most flattered because I am very lucky to have you, too! <3 *hehee* That night of editing was the true test of a great CP. Late at night, I was so lost in my guys third-person subjective perspective that I completely forgot about my girl. *facepalm* It was a matter of a few sentences, but they were VERY IMPORTANT and Sarah was my hero (as always). She gently pointed out the oversight, asked if she could make a few suggestions and within minutes I had a draft with comment bubbles that help to dirrrrect the O. LOL! We didn't have to add much but, man, it was a crucial couple of lines. And that is truly what a CP does. She's your safety net and your sounding board. Thanks for all you do, Sarah!

  10. This is a terrific post. You're so lucky to have such a great critique partner. I'm hoping I can find one sooner than later, but don't even really know where to begin.

  11. Hi, Marie! Thank you for a great comment. CP's are a big help, even if you start off in a critique group. There are often writing groups in cities, so you might want to try looking there. I also know if you're a member of a writing organization (I'm a member of the Romance Writers of America, for example) that they often have critique groups or you can use various channels to find someone to take a look at your work. Actually, one of my other commenters mentioned that she was looking for one, too, lol!