Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tip O'Day #218 - Critique This!

Your genial blog host Dixon Rice on critique groups.

My local critique group is terrific. They catch spelling errors and grammar mistakes. They notice continuity problems, POV violations, tense problems, and subject-verb disagreement. Most important, they ask annoying questions.

In my WIP, two deputies in a rural Montana sheriff’s department have a hobby. They kill criminals when they can’t get a conviction in court. So I have them researching cold cases, staking out suspects, interviewing witnesses, and other extracurricular activities. You know, acting like detectives, even though they are just patrol officers.

Two nights ago at our biweekly critique session, Jake asked me, “When do these guys work?” Well, darn. He had spotted a problem that many crime fiction readers would immediately notice. My deputies were not getting calls about domestic assaults or car accidents. They were not giving speeding tickets. They were not transporting felons, reporting their locations and odometer readings to the dispatcher, filling out forms or testifying in court.

I can fix this oversight, but I never would have realized it existed if not for Jake and his annoying question. That, my friends, is why Jake and I started our critique group, and why I keep coming back for regularly-scheduled ego adjustments.

This Christmas, look for Dixon’s first published novel, THE ASSASSIN’S CLUB: PRESERVATION.


  1. I wish we had one here. I have two other authors that are professional editors check my books before they go to print, but it would be nice for more people to ask why did you do this here? Or why that ending? This would be nice before I published a book.

  2. Perhaps creating a critique group is easier outside of really large cities - in a sense, that does seem counter-intuitive. The best, and generally only time I benefit from one, is during summer writing festivals at University of Iowa. Somehow writers in large urban areas seem to have too much on their schedules to be reliable critiques. I've made a list of issues to check in my work - one at a time, that include tense consistency, anachronistic errors, historical and geographic accuracy and information about job descriptions that I get from interviewed practitioners of given professions. When all that's done, I tend to "farm out" spelling concerns to a high school English teacher I know who moonlights as a proof-reader to law firms. I'd love suggestions (if you have any) about how I might create a consistent and reliable group. In the meantime, I highly recommend a book entitled: TOOLS OF THE WRITER'S CRAFT by Sands Hall. Hope this helps? And please do check my blog, www.marlenesamuels.blogspot.com. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. What a wonderful idea. A critique group, I wish in the area I live in, there were more writers. Alas, I don't know any of them.

    As a result I do rely on many friends I have on FB, who are writers and on my husband. I am however always looking for the motivation in someones actions, so do look to myself for many of the answers to the whys of a characters motivation.

    In the book I am working on presently, "Dinky: The Nurse Mare's Foal."

    As Dinky tells the story and it is based on his struggle for survival as a nurse mare's foal. It is a constant struggle to keep the tenses and his motivation in check.

    So both my husband and I are keeping a close eye on this. So much of his story, is after we adopted him from the rescue group. Thus, I must remember it is him telling the story and not me.

    When picking a book to read, I look for content and the style of the writer. It is very important for me to be able to believe in the characters. If I can't then I lose interest, sometimes forcing myself to finish the book.

    Mostly I do, however there are a few that I couldn't find enough interest or belief in the characters or settings to finish. Luckly those are few and far between.

    I have been reading since the age of four and like my mother before me, I will read just about anything, as long as it is well written or gives me insite into a time, place, era, or imaginary world.

  4. Some years ago, a writer friend & I realized a critique group was exactly what we needed, but the other groups in the valley didn't have openings. So we started our own. It was a struggle to find & keep other members for the first few years. One thing I learned is that good writers aren't necessarily good critiquers, and vice versa.

    A local writers club will often know of other writers looking for partners, or you might run a wanted ad. If you can't find local writers, there are many online communities that sponsor critique groups. The possible danger there is that the anonymity of being online can result in some folks being blunt to the point of cruelty. There are tactful people online but it may take a couple tries to find them.

  5. I'm in a wonderful critique group - Warehouse Writers in Kendal, Cumbria. Very useful to get lots of different opinions to form a concensus on any bits I'm not sure about.

  6. I have always had only one comment about writing. Write what you know.

  7. It is a great idea Dixon, wish there was one locally here where I live. But I relay on friends from facebook and family.