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Writers’ critique groups

November 8, 2012

ODETTE ELLIOTT

I have a friend who lives in County Durham.  Sadly she is too frail to come and visit us any more, so we keep in touch by ‘phone.  She is excellent at embroidery and really enjoys it.  She produces some beautiful work.  I can appreciate her creations but know very little about the mechanics of her craft.  (I didn’t progress much further than enjoying doing French knots at school).

What has this to do with the Buzz About Books blog and our emphasis on writing for children?  When I describe to my friend how valuable I find my critique group, she asks me what the group does.  I reply, “They listen to my stories and say what they find works and is enjoyable and bring out what they think does not work.

“Oh I wouldn’t stand for that!” she replies.  “I’d end up punching them on the nose”!

I would like to defend the existence of critique groups.  At our group in Islington we are careful not to destroy a person’s work, but when we can, we offer opinions on how the story could work better.  The best thing for the author to do is to listen to the criticism and go away and mull it over.  Sometimes one needs to stick to one’s guns.  Sometimes a really helpful piece of advice can save the whole story.  It is amazing how many times one can read one’s own story and think that it works fine, only to discover that something is not clear to a reader.

I usually write picture book texts, so trying them out on young children would not work very well.  A good picture book is a wonderful and sometimes a magical combination of story and illustration.  Our critique group members are used to using their imagination about the likely illustrations when they listen to the story.

When listening to criticisms, it is good to remember that the ideas expressed are simply other peoples’ opinions.  In the end we have to decide how to keep the story our own and to make it as good as we can.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2012 10:34 am

    I enjoyed your post, Odette. I think you’ve summed it up very well.

  2. Alison Allen-Gray permalink
    November 9, 2012 11:13 am

    I agree. I think your last sentences are particularly eloquent in describing what we’re aiming to do.

  3. Marion Rose permalink
    November 9, 2012 1:16 pm

    It’s hard to sum up how extremely useful it is to get feedback that is both supportive and insightful, but I think you’ve done a great job here Odette.

  4. Children's Author permalink
    November 14, 2012 11:47 pm

    I agree with what everyone has said.. I find the criticisms incredibly helpful. If half a dozen people in the group think that something is not working, then you have to take that seriously. It’s gives you an excellent sounding board.

    Elizabeth

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