Deciding which flavor of ice cream to order from the twenty types behind the protective glass is a matter of taste. But if you are trying to create a new flavor, it’s best to have others sample it before you offer it to the public. This culinary critique group often expects to have multiple shades of the same flavor to determine which they prefer. That is one aspect that is more difficult than placing your precious words in front of a writing critique group.
When involved in a literary critique group, they only expect one variation, but rarely is everybody pleased with it. Members tend to go one of a few directions.
1. They are very precise about grammar and usage rules. Therefore, they will point out all errors and even preferences that are not errors. They may point out a preposition at the end of a sentence, or “that” following a type of person rather than “who.” Both of these constructions are acceptable, even if they are not preferable. Like tastes in ice cream, people learn grammar rules at a particular age and tend to stick with them, even as their language continues to change.
2. They have read the current books about writing and want to direct me to change all writing to follow those formats. Some of these comments may be useful because I really don’t want an “info dump” following my exciting first scene. However, adverbs are still a legitimate part of speech. If they are all expunged, this impoverishes my writing. Also, I don’t want my memoir forced into a horror/suspense format.
3. They read for content and find that some events or character’s actions are not ringing true. They may be true for the life I live (I’ve had Bananas Foster ice cream at my local shop.). But, theirs has not been the same, and I wonder if they realize the differences. Or perhaps, the book is beginning to drag, and I should add a bit of tension. It is useful to know if a scene needs more detail or requires trimming.
Because opinions are a matter of taste (I am one of the few who does not like vanilla ice cream.), it seems best to have people read each other’s work and provide comments before the critique group meets. That way people will receive comments from these different viewpoints. Otherwise the most dominant person in the group will set the tone. It does help to set up a structure so that all people have a chance to speak once the group meets.
Any criticism should also provide a rationale for what is wrong, or way of dealing with the problem. Then, the author can ask questions of individuals at the end of all the comments. For example, if a person tells me to get rid of passive tense, I can ask for rewording advice. If the reworded sentence sounds worse, I should know not to take the advice and they should learn that passive tense is sometimes necessary.