How to Critique a Story When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

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It isn’t always easy to give feedback when an author, friend or otherwise, asks you to be be a beta reader. At least, it isn’t always easy for me.

I’m not used to critiquing. In the beginning, I was crap, no doubt about it. But over the years I have slowly gotten better at it. Between people reading for me and being a beta for others, I have grown better at giving helpful feedback.

Tip 1) It isn’t easy if you feel like you are going to hurt someone’s feelings. Just approach it with tact and know that the author needs your help. Writers can’t approve and grow if everyone keeps telling them “oh I loved your story” with no other input.

Tip 2) Read the story first as a reader. Don’t worry about picking out issues unless something catches your eye. Then read the story again, slower this time, and keeping an eye out for issues with characters, plot and even grammar. Not every beta reader will find every problem. Just do what you can.

Tip 3) Don’t focus on the negative. I try to point out one positive thing for every few points of constructive criticism. Writers need to know what they are doing right, along with the hiccups of their story.

Tip 4) Take notes. As you are reading, jot down what you like, the plot issues, etc…Then later on use these notes to organize your thoughts when giving feedback.

Tip 5) Make sure to let the author know if this is a genre you typically read or not. I know when someone is reading one of my vampire stories, if the supernatural isn’t their thing, then my sights are set low for how much they enjoy it. And that is totally ok. I am looking for issues with pacing, if I have a cardboard character, etc…

I hope this helps. I still don’t feel totally comfortable giving someone feedback, but I do my best. And after all, practice makes perfect. 😉

 

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Why Every Writer Needs A Writers Group

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No matter if it is an online group or an in-person meeting, being in a writers group can help you out a lot. Joining my group was one of the best things I have ever done. I joined The Story Forge about fifteen years ago.

My group is laid back. We get that life happens and you can’t make it to every meeting or that you can’t get so many chapters written. There are also groups out there with more structure.

A Mixed Bag.  Our group has everyone from those who write for fun and for themselves, as well as published authors who are busy in the writing community. (Writers in schools programs, signings, readings etc…) We bounce around ideas and talk about various topics. We all also have different genres that interest us, from poetry to sci-fi and mainstream. Everyone has something to offer.

Support and Encouragement. I have left more than one meeting feeling inspired and ready to concur my current writing project. And on days I have felt like I want to give up, my friends help me realize that I am being crazy. If one of us is in the middle of something big or crazy, like NaNoWrimo, we encourage each other to keep going. Not every one in our daily life understands what a writer is feeling, but your writing friends always do and are there to back you up or give you a kick in the pants if needed.

You Learn A lot. My writing and editing skills have improved immensely since I started going to The Story Forge.  I also feel more confident when I critique someones work. While I am far from perfect, I enjoy helping others and feel I can help.

Brainstorming. Stuck with a plot? Need advice on a topic? Or maybe you are unsure if killing a character will help or hinder your story? Ask your writing buddies. They will give you feedback that you can mull over and help you figure out where to go next. Sometimes more brains are better than one.

Feedback. Finished a piece and need a second pair of eyes? Odds are someone will offer to read your work for you. The great thing about this is that they may see something you missed. When you read your own work umpteen times, you are going to miss the little things, or a problem you didn’t realized you had.

A Night Out. Writers tend to be solitary. Not always, but I am one of them. When I am not at work or out with friends, my favorite night in is curled up with hubby watching tv or with a book. It’s good to get out and talk with people who share your interests.

 

Where to find a group: Check your local library and ask a librarian. That’s how I learned about The Story Forge. You can also find them online like on Facebook. I belong to online groups as well, but meeting up in person gets you out of the house for an evening out, and you can make real life friends you can meet up with in between times. One of my friends is coming over tomorrow, for a coffee and a mini writing session. When all else fails, start your own! Put up a flyer at a local library or start your own online group.

How I have changed and benefited since joining my group: I have been published four times. (Soon to be a fifth…our group is putting an anthology together and the money made will go to our local library.) I have learned a lot about writing and improved so much. I have made some great friends; one of which was my matron of honor. I have become more confident and learned how to turn my inner critic off.

That’s just my take on it. I love my group so much and think every writer can benefit from having one.

Do you belong to a group? What is your favorite thing about it?