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September 20, 2010

Critique Week: Finding the Perfect Critique Partner

Step Pyramid

It’s probably a given that all good writers want to get even better.  Last week, I talked about how we can use criticism to improve our work, and I gave a peek inside a successful critique partnership.

My critique partner and I work very well together, and we certainly lucked out by finding each other.  But how can you find the right partner for you?

Well, the logistics of finding any ol’ person to exchange chapters with are easy.  Hang around on writing and editing blogs and forums long enough and you’re bound to find someone you “click” with—bonus points if you respect their opinion.  In fact, some websites and forums are dedicated to matchmaking feedback readers.  But none of that helps you figure out if they’re the right person for you.

Types of Writing Feedback

Step one in finding the right critique partner actually has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you.  First, you need to figure out what you need and want from a critique partner.  So let’s break down the different levels of feedback for writing:

  • Beta reading: This often happens before other types of critiquing, as some authors use this method to make sure their story is on the right track.  The beta reader might read through several chapters or even an entire manuscript at a time to give an overview of the story’s strengths and weaknesses.  Did the story make sense?  Were there confusing parts?  Were the characters likable?  How was the overall pacing?  The beta reader doesn’t need to be a writer or editor-type person.  Anyone who enjoys reading for pleasure should be able to give this type of feedback.
  • Line-editing: This can be very time-intensive, as the person goes through 1-3 chapters at a time, line-by-line.  The line-editor usually has very strong grammar skills, or if the author doesn’t need grammar correction (because they’re already fairly strong themselves), the line-editor would focus on tangled/confusing sentences, word choice, telling vs. showing, too much backstory, sections to cut/tighten, etc.
  • High-level feedback: This is similar to beta-reading, in that it has a big picture scope, but it’s more in-depth.  Here the person might give the author suggestions for deepening character development, improving pacing (are the scenes necessary, do they start and end in the right place, etc.), analyzing the emotional arcs of characters/scenes/story, analyzing the motivations/reactions of characters, etc.  This person might be a writer/editor, but more importantly, they need to have a strong grasp of character-based plotting, goal/motivation/conflict analysis for scenes, etc.  In other words, they have to want to dig in and psychoanalyze the characters and story.

Now, go back to those weaknesses you identified last week and figure out what level of critiquing will help you the most.  And for the fun part, see where your strengths fall on that list.  With that information, you’ll know what someone could offer you, which you couldn’t accomplish on your own, as well as what you could offer to someone else.

Once you know that, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for in a critique partner—and what you’re not looking for.  Next time, we’ll talk about how to make the relationship successful for both of you.  After all, we don’t want a critique partner just to stroke our ego, right?  No, as much as that might make us feel better in the short term, we really want to improve so we can meet our long-term writing goals.

How do your strengths and weaknesses match up to those feedback levels?  Do you have suggestions for fine-tuning those levels?  Or do you disagree with them completely?  Do you know of blogs/websites/forums for matchmaking critique partners?  Share them in the comments!

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Karen Hooper

I love my CPs. 🙂 Chance and fate led me to mine and I wouldn’t trader them for the world.

Murphy

Great post! I like how you broke this down.

Murphy

Mercedes

Yes! Critique groups FTW! A great critique group is so valuable, but a bad one is worse than no group at all. My work is so much better thanks to my critique partners. 🙂

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[…] partnership looks like, and we’ve identified our strengths and weaknesses so we’ll recognize our perfect critique partner.  Now let’s put that all together and talk about how to build a supportive, helpful […]

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