Optimize Your Critique Group Experience

Some of the People in My Critique Group

We have a lot of critique groups meeting for the first time next week, so let’s look at how you can optimize your critique group experience. The most important thing you can do is show up. I mean, it’s best to have your own work prepared and ready to share, but even if you don’t have anything, you need to attend, give feedback, and build relationships. When you join a critique group, you’re making a commitment to be there for the other people in the group. It’s one of the smartest investments you can make.

That's why, in addition to our instructor-mentored critique groups, we provide resources to help our students run their own critique groups.

Preparation

Writing and illustrating are solitary endeavors. You’re working on your own most of the time. Things you can do on your own include:

1) Generating ideas

2) Morning Journaling

3) Creative Walks

4) Master Studies

5) Remembering books you liked as a kid

6) Searching for an idea you can’t wait to make

7) Imagining scenes

8) Story Mapping

9) Drawing!

10) Making thumbnails

11) Character studies

12) Identifying your story’s problem

13) Writing down lines that pop into your head

14) Getting the whole thing down

15) Making a dummy

16) Looking at pacing and composition

17) Strengthening page turns

18) Evaluating how words work with pictures

19) Asking how you can SIMPLIFY

20) Eliminating unnecessary words and story points

With Your Critique Group

There’s so much that you can do on your own that you might be wondering why you need a critique group. Well, you need feedback. The most important thing you can do when someone else critiques your story is to listen. Don’t get defensive or blow off criticism. After all, you don’t have to take anyone’s advice on how to improve your story. Just listen, take notes, and express appreciation.

And then, you should probably ask some questions. So, let’s talk about some questions you might ask your critique group:

1) What excites you about this idea?

2) What scenes come to your mind?

3) What’s the heart of the story?

4) Where does the tension grow from?

5) What’s at stake?

6) What makes this story special?

7) How does the story relate to kids?

Other things you can cover, either as the one critiquing or the one being critiqued are:

1) Brainstorming ideas and possible story plots

2) Identifying the story’s hook or It-Factor

3) Evaluating the basic elements of story

4) Asking clarifying questions

5) Reading the story aloud to refine words

6) Drawing together

7) Flipping through page turns to work on pacing

8) Seeing where you can add more contrast

9) Evaluating the words and pictures

Different Strategies for Different Stages

Your critique group is there to help you, and you’re there to help them. It’s important to be sensitive to where people are in the process. In the beginning, people are more open to input and story ideas. But if they’re in the middle or the end stage of working on their story, they don’t need a lot more ideas. They need help refining what they already have.

And while you should listen to all of the critiques, you don’t have to apply everything to your story. You don’t need to chase all of the different possibilities. You’re still in charge of your story, and you can say, “Thank you. I’ll take that into consideration.”

But you do want to listen to what other people are saying and feeling. If more than one person tells you something isn’t working, it can be important to look at WHY it didn’t work for them. But then it’s up to you to find a way that resonates with you and your story to fix it.

More Critique Group Shenanigans

Are Critique Groups Worth the Time?

If you're in a critique group, please share your critique group experiences in the comment section. You don't have to be a Storyteller Academy student. We're just starting a conversation.

Blog Contributors

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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9 thoughts on “Optimize Your Critique Group Experience”

  1. I am part of a critic group. Some people have experience in the PB world, some have none…
    I have this story that I was asked for from a publisher as a sequel…
    My first attempt was a fail, so I am trying again a few years later (don’t know if they still want my sequel!!!)
    So I am anxious to do the best PB… and I have sent my story along the last 6 month to different members of the group.
    Each time I listened to the critics and used them on my story… Well… along the way people understood less and less the story!
    At the same time, the people had less and less experience… (I don’t choose the people who critic)
    In all this process I have lost confidence… Hard hard hard!!

  2. Our critique group is all that is listed above but the friendship and laughs that come with it are a big bonus. We meet via skype every four weeks. I live in Canada while the other two members live State-side. We have never met in person but oh the bond we have built over writing picture books is ‘ninja-worthy’! We learn so much from each other, allowing our MS’s to grow … valuable is so many ways 🏅🎖🏆❗️

  3. Learning how to critique well takes time. Writers need to take time to learn how to critique as well as learning the craft. It will help in revision as well..

    1. I agree! But I don’t think they need to wait until they feel confident critiquing before they join a group. You learn by doing.

  4. I have my first attemp book, I want a critique book but I do not know if I need to create one or join one ( I do not have any links for joing). I sent my book to friends who has little kids and they help me.
    I am looking for Improve my book.
    Thanks

  5. Our group was just assigned. Thank you, Myrna! I am so excited this sounds like it will be a most rewarding and fun experience. Here we go…….

  6. A three step method for critiquing put forth by Sheila Bender in her book Writing and Publishing Personal Essays has a lot of potential to circumvent the natural defensiveness we feel when getting feedback from others. One of her suggestions is for the one critiquing to use” I” statements only. for instance instead of saying You are a bit too wordy in this section say I feel overwhelmed by the amount of words you used on that page. She also suggests no talking back when the critique is happening –it is your words and pictures that have to tell the story. Once the critique is over you can ask clarifying questions. The three step process includes Velcro words, Feelings and curiosity. Always been fascinated by this method check it out!

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