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Many writers join critique groups and this is a good idea. Some guidelines in knowing if a critique group is genuinely helpful to you are:

1. If you don't like a genre don't try to critique it. (If you hate sci-fi, you are not qualified to expound on your reactions to it). You may comment on craft issues. T. S. Eliot hated Faulkner. Every author has an audience of fans and detractors.

2. The job of the listener is to understand what the author is trying to accomplish and whether it was accomplished. If it was not, tell how it could have been better achieved.

3. Each listener or reader should simply state his/her own reactions to a work. First talk about effect, not cause. If the ms. works, ignore all the rules. If it doesn't work, then try to figure out why. The best thing participants in a group can do for one another is to be scrupulously honest about their responses and feelings in regard to the work.

4. Try to look beyond surface faults of expression or grammatical construction, to the heart of the scene or bit of dialogue. Again, what is the writer's purpose and how can we support the achievement of that purpose?

5. Always look first for what is good about the work so the author can reaffirm his/her strengths and build on them. It is not the purpose of a critique group to be critical, but to teach.

6. Distinguish between faults that are external in that they can be located specifically and commented on-- e.g. a poorly turned phrase, a misplaced modifier-- and internal faults which are an integral part of the work. It is possible to write beautiful sentences and scenes in a novel that does not work.

7. Look for failures of promise: Is there a promise that is then unfulfilled? This may not be detectable in an individual scene or chapter. Sometimes it is a matter of violating Chekhov's rule: If a gun is brandished in the first act, it had better go off by the third.

8. External faults can be handled by simply making the author aware of their existence. Items on the manuscript diagnosis sheet are examples. A book can be potentially salable and still have some of these problems. They can be corrected by revision.

9. Internal faults produce symptoms of disappointment. We have been let down. The manuscript lacks a feeling of life, fails to create an experience, a world, an involvement in another's life. These faults doom a manuscript to being a perpetual invalid no matter how often it is patched up. Major changes in characters or situation are required.

10. Remember to always look for what is good, promising and laudable in the work first. Remember that everything worth doing is worth doing badly at first. We all had to learn to crawl, walk and run. And all writers improve over a lifetime of writing.

 

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