Tag Archives: revising

Writing Critique Groups

Critique groups can be the bomb-diggity. Slang aside, a great critique group can accelerate a writer’s growth in their craft.

And of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a critique group can be an immense time suck with very little return.

Even worse, it can steal a writer’s joy and shake their confidence. Today’s Teaching Corner is going to focus on how to get the most oomph out of a critique group.

What Is a Critique Group?

A critique group is a group of writers who agree to meet on a consistent basis in order to exchange feedback on each other’s writing.

Find a Critique Group When  . . .

  • You want to be with your people. Those people who “get” what it’s like to have words living inside you that must be written down. Revised. Shared.
  • You want to grow as a writer. You’re ready to learn and practice new skills.
  • You are ready for honest feedback, even when it stings. You can give yourself space and time to feel the disappointment, and then you can review the feedback with some objectivity.
  • You have time to share your own expertise and feedback to partners.
  • You enjoy supporting other writers.

Where to Find a Critique Group

The usual places to look for an established group:

  • The library
  • A local writing organization
  • Ask a friend who writes

Not so usual places to look:

  • A local coworking space
  • A local coffee shop 
  • Meetup.com “Meetup is a service used to organize online groups that host in-person events for people with similar interests.”
  • Online: social media groups, like Nextdoor and Facebook, and Google

How to Get the Most Out of a Critique Group

  • Be prepared when it’s your turn to share material.
    • Have the words written. Print the files or share electronically by the deadline.
    • Ask specific questions to garner the feedback you want/need.
  • Be open. Getting feedback, especially critical feedback, doesn’t always feel great, but try not to be defensive.
    • If you’re up to it, ask the group to help you workshop the trouble spot.
    • If you’re not, say thank you and give yourself time to marinate on the problem.
  • Remember that you don’t have to share your entire manuscript, or even your current WIP (work in progress). Sometimes, especially in the early days of a draft, this will just bog you down. Or you’ll get stuck in the revision phase forever. Rather than writing and then revising, you’ll feel like you have to revise as you go, which is a fast way to kill a story.
    • The point of a critique group is to grow you as a writer. You can get the same effect, and practice new techniques, with a short story or an essay.
  • Share feedback that is both honest and kind. Honesty doesn’t have to be brutal. Practice offering feedback from a place of positivity. “I like the way you wrote ________. I’d love to see you include more _________. Here’s an idea for how to do that . . . .”
  • Don’t be the strongest writer in the group. If you want to learn, then that’s hard to do if you’re the person everyone looks to for guidance as the resident expert. You want to be part of a group where you can also be challenged. You may start with a group and later outgrow it. That’s okay.

Point of View: Head hopping

Point of view is a bugaboo for many writers. Editors too.

When deciding which point of view is best for your manuscript, think about narrative distance. Ask yourself, “How close do I want the reader to be to the experience?”

In this post, I’m going to dive into various types of third-person point of view and break down head hopping, specifically.

Third-Person Point of View

There are three types of third-person point of view.

Third-Person Objective: The writing is told from an objective narrator’s point of view. The narrator only reports on what is happening. This point of view is rarely found in popular fiction. It’s most common in nonfiction.

Third-Person Limited: The story is told from one character’s point of view and keeps the reader close to the story. The reader is aware of everything this character sees, hears, feels, thinks, experiences. Caveat: if the narrator is unreliable, then the reader may be “betrayed,” or tricked, by the narrator.

Third-Person Omniscient: The story is told by an all-knowing narrator, one who shares with the reader what is happening with every character: their thoughts, emotions, experiences. But because readers are being told what is happening, there is narrative distance between the reader and the story.

What Head Hopping Is Not

Omniscient point of view is NOT head hopping. It is a specific way to tell a story that was very popular in books we consider classics today. The all-knowing narrator is a character in its own right. Its voice may be very strong and offer opinions on the characters’ behaviors and plot happenings, or the voice may be more distant and simply share what is happening with the characters on the page.

What Head Hopping Is

Head hopping occurs during third-person limited point of view when the writer shifts from one character’s “head” to another character’s “head” in the same scene without any transition to ease the reader into the shift.

What I mean by “head” is that the reader is aware of the character’s internal musings.

During third-person limited point of view, readers ride along with a character, experiencing what that character hears, sees, feels, thinks, etc.

Example:

She bebopped along the trail, ambling slowly. She breathed in deeply and sighed. Honeysuckle is one of my favorite smells. Where is it? She spotted the sweet blooms on the opposite side of the path and crossed over, her mind focused on the tiny drop of nectar she’d soon taste.

“Watch out!”

The girl jumped as the biker skidded around her. Where had he come from?

He couldn’t believe how clueless the girl was. He’d been shouting, “Biker coming through,” louder and louder, and she hadn’t looked his way once. He was furious and a little frightened, too, if he was being honest. His hands were shaky on the handlebars. He’d almost had a major wipeout. And who knows what damage could have occurred to that flighty girl if he’d hit her.

In this example, the reader enters the scene from the girl’s point of view. Then midscene, the reader has to “head hop” into the biker’s point of view without warning.

How to Revise Head Hopping

Here are three ways to revise a head hopping scene.

1. Create a scene break when shifting to a different character’s point of view. A scene break can be created by adding extra line breaks, or white space. You can also add a symbol to alert the reader to the change. In a manuscript draft, three asterisks (***) do the trick.

2. Wait for a chapter break to switch character points of view.

3. Only write from one character’s point of view.

This means that the reader can only experience the thoughts, senses, and feelings of that one character. Information about other characters is conveyed through the point-of-view character’s interactions with the other characters.

Still Confused?

If head hopping is still clear as mud, don’t fret. This is hard stuff. Do let me know if you’re confused though, and I’ll do my best to make it clearer.

Wading through Beta-Reader Feedback

As I’ve previously written, feedback from beta readers is invaluable. TV producers have been using this method for years to determine if a show is worth investing in beyond a pilot episode or season.

Let’s assume that you chose ideal beta readers in your target audience, you provided them with guiding questions, and you’ve collected their feedback with a handy survey tool, like Google Forms.

Next Steps

First, thank your beta readers. Follow through on any promises you made in exchange for their feedback. If that’s a copy of your published book, let them know that you’ll keep them posted on your progress.

Then you’re ready to begin revising.

Digestion Phase

First, you read the feedback. All of it. Even if you read individual responses as they came in, sit down with all the responses and read through them in one sitting.

Hold space for the emotions that will show up. It’s totally normal to swing from elation (He loved it!) to anger (What does she know? Nothing!) to despair (I’m the worst writer. Why did I think I could write a book) to confusion (Did they even read my manuscript? What are they talking about?).

Take a break. A days-long, possibly weeks-long break, if you can. Let the information digest. Expect to need more time with this than you think you will, but don’t let the feedback (whether positive or negative) paralyze you indefinitely.

When you feel like you’ve shaken off the strongest emotional responses, you’re ready for the organization phase.

Organization Phase

Reread all of the feedback again. Then analyze it by reviewing the responses to each of your questions in turn.

Organize the responses based on how they resonate with you:

A. This is a helpful suggestion. I want to use it.

            Save these ideas in a separate file to pull out during the Implementation Phase.

B. No, just no. This is my book, and I’ll write it my way.

            Give yourself a pat on the back for owning your story. You don’t have to take every suggestion that is offered, even if it’s a good one.

C. I’m not sure about this idea.

            Read the responses here carefully.

Do the same suggestions or questions show up with multiple readers? If so, this is information to pay special attention to. Move this feedback to the Implementation Phase file.

If there’s a one-off suggestion, and it doesn’t resonate with you, then trust that this reader just isn’t your ideal reader for this manuscript, and move on.

Implementation Phase

Grab the file you created with all the suggestions you want to implement and begin revising. If you get stuck, you may find that one or two of those beta readers who offered helpful suggestions would be willing to brainstorm with you.

Remember to keep your beta readers updated as you progress through the next phases of editing and publication. And don’t be afraid to ask those folks for reviews when your book launches.

Time Transitions in Fiction

Time passes in our stories, but communicating that to readers can be tricky.

Not acknowledging the passage of time can leave readers confused about “when” they are in the story.

But bogging down your narrative with every blessed minute of a character’s life is a freight train to Dullsville.

How do you help your readers follow the timing of your story?

First, create a timeline of events. You can do this before or after your first draft, depending on whether you’re a pantser or plotter.

I can’t stress the importance of this enough if you’re including flashback scenes or your novel plays with time in more complicated ways.

Think about ways to show the passage of time.

1. If your novel hops around to different time zones and there’s lots of action to track, or a race against the clock, consider a time marker at the beginning of the chapter.

Thursday, 2:27 p.m.

2. Use a simple phrase to cue the reader into the passage of time:

two weeks later

an hour ago

next month

3. Use setting to show the passage of time: day to day.

A sunrise cues the readers that it’s morning. Stars out show it’s night.

4. Use setting to show the passage of time: seasonally.

Snow falling in a scene is a different cue than sweating poolside. Set your scene with appropriate seasonal weather (or complementary character clothing) to show readers that time has passed.

Be sure to build in time-passage cues to make your reader’s experience enjoyable.

Google Forms for Beta Readers

After my first round of developmental edits and revisions, I was ready to receive beta-reader feedback for Love Letters to My Body. I wanted to make the task as easy as possible for me and my readers.

Ideal Readers

First, I identified what my ideal readers looked like. Then I made a list of everyone I knew who fit into those descriptions, and who might be willing to give me specific feedback. Once I knew WHO I wanted to ask, I turned to the questions of WHAT I wanted to ask and HOW I wanted to ask.

Trying to manage multiple email threads felt daunting to me, and I also wanted my beta readers to have the option to respond anonymously. I turned to Google Forms to create a survey.

Google Forms

I can’t stress enough how easy it was to create and use a Google Form to collect beta-reader feedback. Here’s a tutorial on how to create your own survey.

The survey was easy to set up. I shared five questions that were a mix of a rating, yes/no, and short-answer responses. Then I generated a link to my survey.

The Ask

Now I was ready to reach out to my potential readers. I emailed everyone on my list and asked if they’d be willing to beta read and provide feedback by a certain date.

The deadline was important so I could maintain my schedule. Many folks said yes, and I sent them a PDF of Love Letters to My Body, along with the survey link and a reminder of the deadline.

After the deadline, I was able to download the responses into a spreadsheet. In another Teaching Corner, I’ll share how I parsed the beta-reader feedback for my next round of revisions.

As You Know, Bob . . .

Who is Bob?

And what does he know?

“As you know, Bob” moments occur when a writer uses dialogue between characters to slip in backstory that the readers need to know, of which the characters are already aware.

Example: “As you know, Bob, it hasn’t rained in seventy-nine days. We’re in a drought.”

Why is this a no-no?

Well, it’s clumsy. Dialogue should be sharp and serve to move a scene forward. It should also reflect the way people speak to one another. How many times have you actually said, “As you know . . .”

If it’s such a big no-no, why do we writers do it?

Because we’ve been told ad nauseum to “show, don’t tell.” Dialogue can be a great way to “show” readers what’s going on in a scene, either by what’s said or by the subtext of what is left unsaid. And if one character is revealing important information to another character, which has been unknown up to this point, that can be a dynamic moment.

But if it’s just rehashing info to keep readers in the loop, it falls flat.

So what do I do instead?

This is a perfect time when “telling” is the best choice. Use a short bit of narrative to relay the information needed.

Example: After seventy-nine days of no rain, the drought conditions were hardening more than the soil. The townspeople’s hearts were hardening, too.