Monday, September 23, 2013

The Four Types of Critiquers

For almost three years, I've been a member of a fabulous YA and MG critique group. During this time, I've given and received innumerable critiques. I've celebrated group members' book deals, publications, agent signings, and writing awards. I've said goodbye to old group members and waved hello to new ones.

The list of lessons I've learned from my critique partners is about two miles long, but near the top of the list is the fact that there are four types of critiquers:

1.  The Nit-Pickers - These are the critiquers who notice the "their" you used when you meant "there." Who identify the fact that a sentence on p. 17 contradicts a sentence on p.2. Who make sure your work shines on a sentence level. Their critiques usually look something like this:

2.  The Big-Picture See-ers - Though these critiquers are often light on the in-line comments and tracked changes, their notes address the "big ticket" concerns: plot, character motivation, pacing, etc. These notes are especially helpful in the early stages of the drafting process, because they can keep you from straying too far down a wrong path, or staying on a decent path when a far superior path is just off to the left. Their critiques might look a little like this:

3.  The Call-You-on-Your-BS-ers - Let's be honest. These critiquers aren't always the easiest to work with. At best, they force you to read their notes from behind your hands. At worst, they make you want to quit writing forever. Difficult as they may be, I suggest you find one of these critiquers and hold on tight. Because guess what? It's better for a CP to call you on BS than an editor. It's better for you to find out what's wrong with your work when you can fix it, not when you've already sent it to your dream agent. Thick skin and all that. Like this:

(That's a relatively small BS-calling. I've ditched entire stories based on CP feedback, and later realized that they were absolutely right!)

4.  The Lovers - Ah, The Lovers. The critiquers who pepper your pages with smiley faces and "LOL"s and excessive punctuation in the form of !!!!!!!!!! The ones who make you keep going. Who boost your spirits. Who make you doubt yourself a little bit less. They typically give you gems like this:

While most critiquers fall into one of these categories, some are a mix. Some are Lovers with certain pages or chapters, and Nit-Pickers elsewhere. Some are Big-Picture See-ers with a hint of Call-You-On-Your-BS.

When possible, I suggest you surround yourself with all four types of critiquers. All are beneficial in different ways and in different phases of the writing process. 

If all four types don't come together naturally for you? Tell your CPs how they can help! Need a little more Big-Picture Seeing and a little less Nit-Picking? Or vice versa? Ask for it! And always, always ask your CPs to call you on your BS. You'll be a better writer for it.

Are you the person doing the critiquing? Think about what your CP needs most of all at his or her stage of the writing process. Not sure? Ask! And don't shy away from calling BS, but also don't be afraid to love. Those pages you're critiquing contain a little piece of your CP's heart and soul, and there's always something to love. 


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