I have participated in several critique groups. They all have provided invaluable insight into how my word affects people. In addition, readers often catch miss-matched plot lines, unnecessary or distracting details and unintentional time/date references thus increasing the quality of my work.
These are the four formats that I have worked with – reading 5- 8 pages aloud to the group, emailing 5 – 10 pages to the group ahead of time and emailing 30 pages ahead (once a month, two to four members) and online critique groups that are faceless.
Each of these formats has advantages and disadvantages
READ ALOUD – The read aloud group does not require participants to read scores of pages prior to the meeting, thus saving time. I print out copies for everyone. Comments are verbalized, but noted on the copies. PROS: little prep time for participants, quick reactions to presentations, CONS: pages are limited as reading slows the process. Reader’s inflection is sometimes inserted into dialogue, but not actually reflected in the writing.
EMAIL AHEAD 5 – 10 pages – The group that receives 5 -10 pages ahead of the meeting is very productive. The pages have been read and notes made on copies. PROS – Meting is direct and quick, only the written words are dealt with. Double the content is addressed compared to the read aloud format. CONS – requires pre-reading, printing copies of participants’ works, sometimes there is a bottleneck of reading days before the group meets.
EMAIL AHEAD 25 – 30 pages. This group is small 3 – 4 people. Obviously this meeting must move quickly, however, the rule of thumb is small items (typos, grammar, punctuation) are left unsaid, but noted on copies. Only major issues are addressed. PROS – much more cohesive story absorption with 30 pages, group is small and intimate CONS – requires a lot of printing, critique is fast sometimes rushed, requires a lot of reading up to 90 pages of text to be absorbed and critiqued.
Online – I have had limited luck online. Because I don’t know the people and some require sites many critiques before submission I have found comments being somewhat less than helpful and the quality of writing quickly soured me. One writer actually wrote “he rolled his eyes” on literally every page for over 10 pages. I am testing voicesinspace.com but the comments seem to be from one or two people although they are excellent. And the site seems to be used by poets. Jury is still out on that one.
OTHER VENUES – I am looking for other ideas on the subject. Do you have a critique group that works differently? If so, I’d like to hear how it works, pros and cons.