Different Types Of Critique Groups

There’s a lot of different ways of conducting a critique group. The standard format seems to be that members show up and read a piece of their work no longer than X. Once they’re done, the other members take turns delivering critiques verbally. Usually there are rules about no one being allowed to interrupt a person delivering a critique.

Often after my group’s meetings there may be a flurry of “Okay, now that I’ve had time to think about it,” emails. Also, like I said in a previous post, our group hasn’t needed to be strict about the no-interrupting rule, but only because we’re all friends and the interruptions are generally constructive.

Sometimes groups will have a deadline to submit material, so that it can be distributed to other members and be read before the meeting. This is great if everyone can actually get the reading done, and everyone can submit something beforehand. I’d love to do this, but our group is full of people with busy day lives and, we didn’t want the less prolific or less serious writers to stop participating due to it being too much fuss. We do still have a dropbox folder where we share copies of our work and we can post it ahead of time, but reading ahead is not required.

Another thing I’ve seen done with more serious groups is a format where they would focus on longer submissions – parts of a novel, several chapters at least, distribute them to be read before a meeting, and only be reading one member’s work for each meeting. They would take turns from one meeting to the next being the writer who’s work up to be read.

Another major variation is membership and attendance. Most groups meet on a specific day of the month, or every X number of weeks, and whoever can make it comes. Of it’s a little more formal, there might be emails sent out to confirm who’s attending, so that no one ends up showing up and being the only one there. My group has a fairly small number of members so we try to make sure we have everyone for each meeting, so we email back and forth our available days each month to figure out a day when we can all be there.

Membership wise, some groups have an online space where people can discover the group and join to find out when meetings will be, and membership is immensely casual. I’ve also been to some groups who weren’t so hungry for members that I learned about through word of mouth, where I showed up unexpectedly because it was a public place, convinced them I wasn’t an asshat, and they let me stay.

One the one hand, the openness can attract new members more easily. On the other hand, one group I was in eventually had to ask one member to stop coming because he was disruptive. I’ve also stopped going to others when a disruptive member was not managed. It was with this in mind that we’ve kept my current group membership by invitation only, and our meeting locations are discussed in private emails.

Another huge advantage of the membership being more private, is if you know there’s not going to be strangers show up, the meeting doesn’t need to be held in a public place. We have held meetings in members’ apartments at times. For a long time, one of our members who lived in a retirement home had a lovely library she would book for us.

Next in the Critique Group series: how to put together your own critique group.

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New Critique Group

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to regularly attend a critique group – my old one in my home town is too far to get to on a regular basis.

But I heard from a friend about one that meets down the street, and I never would have heard about it if not through the grapevine. So I checked up on it, and the owner of the store where they meet said to bring something to read and come by.

They’re a mystery writers group, but they have decreed that their definition of mystery would be very broad, to include anything with mystery in it. With my love of intrigue, most of my work fits their broad definition, which is awesome, because they’re an awesome group and I’m very excited to have found them.

With my old group, bless their hearts, but there was always a genre gap – they were writers of memoirs and non-fiction, mostly or literary fiction at best, and while they were always open minded and never snubbed me for writing genre fiction, I always felt like they weren’t quite sure what to make of me.

These guys, even if they’re mainly into mystery, we were far more on the same page, and I got great constructive feedback on the setting and fight scene and suggestions on how to make them better. They were all very nice people — and good writers, and they seemed to like me too. I’m very much looking forward to meeting with them again next month!

Why I write Fantasy and Science Fiction

I have an in person critiquing group that I get out to when I can, and there’s one member I’ve often got together with for coffee or drinks after the meeting. We chat about the craft because the other members of the group tend focus on word choice and phrasing and not to be interested in delving into the more structural aspects of writing.

He has often asked me, in as polite a way as he can, but it’s still pretty obvious that he looks down his nose at genre fiction, if I’ve considered writing mainstream fiction, set in the real world.

I have, it just doesn’t hold my interest. I tried to explain that I don’t go to sit down and write something – the story comes to me, and I write the story that comes.

But I’ve thought about that, and that’s not a complete explanation, because I’ve often had plots come, but not come with settings. I could slap any setting on that plot and run with it.

Only I couldn’t. There is a definite certain type of story that comes to me, and the stories that come to me are big stories. I mean, stories where the characters are influencing the outcomes of wars, revolutions, etc. Things that are big enough that I can’t just set it in the real world because it’s too big to fit. There was never a revolution that went down the way it did in The Eyelet Dove, and the characters are not the little people you can hide in a big event. The plot requires them to be major players, and in history, no such characters and situations existed, and they’re too big to force in without the audience saying, hey, there was never such a character in such and such a time, that could never happen.

There’s just no way to take such plots and tell the story without changing something major in the setting. Which brings you into the realm of alternate universe, futuristic settings, and my personal favourite, secondary world settings. Which is necessarily, the realms of science fiction and fantasy.

I think that may be part of the appeal of science fiction and fantasy to many readers, especially the many lovers of epic fantasy. Perhaps the people who read sci-fi and fantasy just think bigger than people who enjoy mainstream fiction, and want to read about people who make real change in the world. In times where free agency dwindles and people have less and less control over their own fates and ability to make a living, and a sense of free agency is a major psychological factor in satisfaction with one’s life, they want to read about characters who take on huge challenges and save their world. People who have the power do something.

Not all Science Fiction and Fantasy is like that, but the stuff I like most is.