You can learn a lot of things by critiquing other people's work. Here are some things I've picked up:
1) Cliches abound. A favorite one is "Big time." Pick up the manuscripts of twenty aspiring writers and I'm betting you'll see that phrase, exactly as written, in at least 18 out of 20, if not all of them. I'm going on a hunt for it in my own manuscript and getting rid of it.
2) Details count. When done well, they give the story flavor. I have one CP who is fantastic with details. Her story is set in NY and everything she describes is dead-on, even little things that the average romance reader would never know if she got wrong. Kudos, Chicki!
3) If you're writing romance, it is necessary to build the sexual tension. Even if you're writing a really hot romance, it has to start somewhere and end somewhere and there needs to be progression in between. Another CP, Jenna, is very good at this. I think I need to work on it a bit.
4) The romance, however critical and central, is not the whole story. There needs to be a sense of something else going on, and that something progressing at a steady pace toward the final conclusion. This is part plotting and part pacing. I'd say our group has varying levels of skill in this area. We're all still learning but critiquing others work makes me more sensitive to this in my own. Of course, you don't want so much going on that the romance takes a back seat, which is what I'm afraid could happen in my story, now that I think about it. Something to keep in mind.
5) We could all use a good lesson in punctuation and grammar. Whatever mistakes we each make, we make them repeatedly, and they are different for each of us. I'm betting we all think we're reasonably good in this department. I don't mind saying that I think so of myself. Thus, employing a professional editor may be more necessary than nice to have. Can someone say comma, please?
6) Because I'm critiquing a chapter at a time on four different stories, it's kind of like watching a mini-series where the episodes are spread out rather than back to back. Somestimes it's hard to remember everything that transpired before. I find myself taking peeks at previous chapters. But I also find that the stories that stay with me best are the ones in which the characters are most memorable. Give me distinct dialogue, personality quirks, unusual habits...anything to distinguish the characters, and I'm more likely to remember the action of the story.
7) My favorite and probably the bane of my writing. Backstory. Weaving backstory into the story in just the right amounts at just the right times is both an art and a skill. Difficult to master. All of the stories I'm currently critiquing are for unpublished authors, although we do have some published folks in the group. Backstory dump is an affliction that many unpublished authors suffer. Some more than others, and I'm in this group too. All I can say is I'm glad and hopeful that we'll get better with time. One CP completely rewrote her first chapter, reordering the scenes and slashing most of the backstory based on previous group feedback. And it's a much better chapter now, Ann.
Critiquing is an education.
I'm glad it's Friday. I hope to get some rest and spend some time writing as well as beginning to put together a plan for the Christmas holidays. Yes, I'm one of the late ones.
What did you learn by critiquing others? How are you doing with your holiday plans?
Peace & Blessings,
Peace & Blessings,
Stay focused. Be deliberate. Believe.