"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

How do your critiques vary?

It seems an ongoing theme of my summer is critiques. I'm giving them, getting them, thinking more and more about them, trying to improve at them. Each situation needs to be weighed and critiqued based on what the author is looking for and what is given.

For example, the first ten pages critique.
Wow. This is one of the funnest ones for me. It's the first ten pages of the novel for Pete's sake. I want to be hooked. I want it to just grab me. I want to be able to see some action, some character development. I want to be left hanging and asking for more.
  • Read your first ten pages. Do they do this?

As a subset of the first ten pages, we have the first page.
This is my favorite. I love reading first pages. I don't want to be confused. I don't want too many characters. And I really don't want to see too many adjectives or adverbs. I want to see conflict. I want the voice to make me want to keep reading.
  • Read your first page aloud to someone, and ask what they think. Then listen to what they say and be willing to change.
  • Read random first pages in the bookstore, especially of new releases, to see what is being published. This about what works and what doesn't.

The ongoing twenty pages.
This is what my formal critique group does. We submit twenty pages once a month. In twenty pages, no matter where in the novel, stuff should be going on. I want the story to move forward. One of the biggest things here (and I'm sure I'm guilty of this too) is the twenty pages somewhere around page 170 where nothing's going on. This is a problem. However, I also find the twenty random pages critique the most difficult to do. It requires remembering where the story left off a month ago, being able to fall back into the story and characters after a month.
  • Read a random twenty pages of your novel. Just open it and start somewhere. Does it still draw you in? Is the writing as nice on page 140 as on page 2?

The full manuscript critique.
Generally for this type, I read much more quickly. I don't stop to give minute details unless something really stands out or confuses me. The beauty of the full manuscript critique is the entire story can be viewed. I can think about when my attention gets hooked. What is the real grab of the story? When do I keep turning the pages faster and faster? What happens to the plot?
  • Offer to read someone's full manuscript and give it some serious thought. What value can you add? Did you lose interest at some point?
  • And for this one, beyond all else, read in your genre. And then read some more in your genre.

Hmmm...apparently, somewhere this turned into a post on critiques.

On a completely random note, I'm reading SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater, and in church on Sunday, the girl two rows ahead of me had a shirt on that totally looked like the book cover. Weird. I see YA everywhere. I almost took a picture, but opted against it.


Have a great week!

44 comments:

MG Higgins said...

Great post with some good information. My critique group only crits full manuscripts, which I prefer to partials, but there's something to be said for closely focusing on 20 pages for action, plot movement, etc. Think I'll do that with my WIP today--look at a random 20 pages and see what's happening.

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, MC! I love the fulls also, but something about having to put twenty pages out there for scrutiny does make me focus on it a lot more!
Thanks for visiting!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Excellent advice, PJ! I like the random pages tip.
I have read several full manuscripts for people and enjoy letting the story take me, seeing if it is a smooth journey.
Does your crit group work by email or in person? My two groups are in person and limited to ten pages or one chapter. I think one benefit is reading aloud, but a problem is lack of time if there are a lot of readers. Sometimes, I think the remarks can be not as well thought out and influenced by what others say.

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Tricia!
I work pretty much solely online. I tried the in person thing for a while, but it was really hard getting away when the kids were so young.

T. Anne said...

LOL about taking a picture at church (or almost)! Love your dedication. Isn't it true though, we can't shut down the writer in us. She just keeps on going.....

The post was a great one and if I ever get brave enough for a critique I will re-read the rules! Thank you!

PJ Hoover said...

You will totally get brave enough, T. Anne! They get easier and easier. And it is funny how we can't shut the writer down. Hilarious!

Christine M said...

You're right that depending on what your critiquing the method varies. I do like full manuscript critiques because you can get a feel for the whole story.

The twenty pages at a time works well too, but like you said, sometimes it's hard to remember exactly where you are in a story.

I like critiquing on line, because it gives you the time to really be able to read, absorb and figure out what you are going to say.

Great post, by the way!

PJ Hoover said...

I love the online thing, Chris! It's worked way better than even expected for me. The only think I miss is the social interaction part, but we're chatty enough, I think we make up for it!
Just ordered 4 of your books today! They will make such nice presents :)

Christine M said...

Thanks so much! My books are scheduled to arrive today! I can't wait!

And yes, we do tend to be a social group - if we got together in person we might never get any actual critiquing done! (Oh, but we would have so much fun!)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

great idea about opening up to a random 20 pages and seeing if it still draws you in. i know i have spent WAY longer on the first 3 chapters or so than the middle...but that's why i'm thankful to have such a great crit partner to help my middle not be sagging. :)

PJ Hoover said...

So true, Chris!

I found I was doing the same thing, Jeannie! Spending so much time on the beginning, and then I ended up pitching that whole part! But it was also a learning experience.

Thanks for visiting!

Jim Danielson said...

Great post! I see value to all the types of critiques. I like the 20 pages and full MS best, but getting that first page right is SO important.

I actually did find that my former face to face critique group became more social than productive.

Online seems a good balance and has given me great cyber writing friends. :-)

Miriam S.Forster said...

Oooo... I love the twenty-pages bit. I can't tell you how many times I've written a chapter, read it and thought. "Gosh, nothing really happens here."

Critique groups are the best. I really need to find one in Moscow...

Word verification: scess. Hey, it's not quite success, but I'll take it! :-)

PJ Hoover said...

I found a similar thing in my face to face groups, Jim. The social vs, productive thing.

You could try online, Miriam! It does help build a nice support network!
Here's to scess for all of us, Miriam :)

beth said...

This is very informative! I usually set more credence to full ms critiques than partials, but it is also very important that you do have something important happening every 20 pages...I never really looked at it like that.

PJ Hoover said...

I never did either, Beth, until I started reading twenty pages and trying to give valuable feedback on what I'd just read.

Lady Glamis said...

Great information and ideas! I've done all those except the first 20 pages. I currently have a request for the first 30 pages from an agent, so that's what I'm mainly concerned with at the moment.

I think my favorite is the first 10 pages.

Kelly H-Y said...

Fabulous advice!

Lauren said...

I have been giving 20 page sets to my CPs. Although it's been working all the way through the novel, so in some ways it is like a full.

I enjoy editing random pages, although usually I find one random page and pick a number one through ten, each number corresponding to a goal (more detail, better phrase, condescending phrase, tension). I find it helps make sure all elements are consistently good throughout.

PJ Hoover said...

Congrats on your partial request, Michelle! That's awesome! Good luck!

Thanks, Kelly!

Your process sounds awesome, Lauren! Very thorough and kind of fun, too!
Thanks for sharing it.

Rebecca said...

When I started my novel in verse, I had my YA-reading daughters read the first several pages for me, just to give me an idea of whether it was working or not.

I've done the partial critiques before, but usually chapter by chapter. Hmm...maybe I should ask someone to read a random 20 pages of my book. A lot of people are intimidated by reading/critiquing a verse novel, though.

Good info!

Solvang Sherrie said...

I like critiquing in sections. To have 300 pages to critique all at once is too much for me. I get overwhelmed and I don't pay as much attention in the middle, especially if I'm into the story! Although I guess that's kind of a good thing =)

lynn said...

I usually like doing critiques chapter by chapter--though if you end on a cliffhanger the critiquer tends to throw things at you!

The random twenty pages is a good tip to make sure the writing meets the same standard all the way through. Thanks!

PJ Hoover said...

As horrible as this is, Rebecca, I have yet to read a novel in verse. I MUST do that! Like next. I have Lisa Schroeder's book here. Maybe I'll start with that.

That is such a great reason to critique in sections, Sherrie. It really helps to look at the segments and prevent reader boredom.

Oooh, Lynn, I'd love for my critiquers to feel this way! That would be very cool! And I love when I'm critiquing and this happens. It really makes me excited for the next submission.

Christine M said...

You want your critiquers to want to throw things at you? I guess that can be arranged, but the logistics might be a little tough. :)

PJ Hoover said...

okay, just send chocolate :)

Tess said...

good discussion going on over here. I love and appreciate critique. the idea that someone would take their time to help me is so neat. still, I require that they know the genre and have some background/experience in writing and critiquing.

to me, that can make or break the experience.

Keri Mikulski said...

Great advice, PJ.. A lot of info in little space - Nice work. :)

Always tweeking the first ten. :)

Casey McCormick said...

This is a great post, PJ! I think I'll always prefer online critiques over in-person (not that I've been in an in-person group before).

Personally, I love looking at shorter pieces. The first five or one chapter at a time. I feel like I can offer more that way. I'm not stretched as thin. I don't think I do as good with big picture critiques, unfortunately.

Danyelle said...

Thanks for the great ideas. I like how you *brain is fried* had different levels to the critting. I also like that I can do some of this on my own as well. Great stuff!

PJ Hoover said...

It's so important to find the right critique partners, Tess! I totally understand! It's like dating, right?

Thanks, Keri! And welcome back! I've missed you.

I know what you mean, Casey! I'm working to get better at my big picture critiques, too!

Thanks for visiting, everyone!

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Danyelle! It is nice to feel like there are things we can do to help become our own critiquers.

Angela said...

Great post! I love the versatility of critting differently depending on the goal. I like to really go hard on that first chapter because in so many ways it's the gateway to acceptance, but there are so many more things to consider beyond it. I find too that sometimes with chapter by chapter crits, the forest can get lost for the trees, so sometimes it's great to have someone read the whole book in one chunk and focus on the big picture.

It is tough to find the right crit partners, so when you find one, hang onto them!

PJ Hoover said...

Yes, the forest and the tree, Angela! I so agree! It's why it's great to get a varying level of critiquing going on.
And totally on the crit partners! I feel like we should wear rings :)

Trisha Pearson said...

Great post PJ! I'm in the stage of just learning about critique groups and how they operate, so this was very helpful.

Heather Zundel said...

Awesome post PJ! I love this kind of insight. And I had also never looked at partial critiques that way before. Every twenty pages... it makes perfect sense. I may have to steal that one from you. ;)

And I loved how you explained what the first ten pages had to do. Very informative for any aspiring writer.

Heather Zundel said...

Oh, and if you are looking for a novel in verse - The Song of the Sparrow is an excellent place to start. Absolutely love that book.

Christina Farley said...

Great thoughts here. I find when my group does the one chapter thing, I want to be blown away in each chapter and that really puts a lot on us as writers. Every chapter has to be amazing.

But then I did a full manuscript critique and I saw that novel in a whole different light.

So I guess you need both to really get your manuscript in its best condition.

PJ Hoover said...

I'm glad it was helpful, Trisha! Critique groups are amazing!

Thanks for the book recommendation, Heather! And steal away! There are no new ideas, right?

So true, Christina! It take a macro and a micro vision to make a killer book!

Hope everyone's having a great evening!

Carrie Harris said...

This is a great point! I think a lot of people stick with the same techniques regardless of the kind of critiques they're doing, but I'm with you. You've got to think about the purpose of the crit if you're really going to be useful.

Robyn Campbell said...

Great advice and I'm printing it out. I need all the help I can get. I started my new WIP and it's coming--slowly. :) Thanks PJ!

PJ Hoover said...

Exactly, Carrie! I want different feedback based on where I am in a project and what my interim goals are!

You're welcome, Robyn! So many times my WIPs start slow, too!

Diane said...

This is one that I really want to read.

PJ Hoover said...

I'm really enjoying it, Diane! Thanks for visiting!