June 8, 2015

Lord Save Me From Critique Groups

By Duffy Brown

Critique group is two words, two parts. The group part builds your story; the critique part ruins it. Brainstorming with others develops, creates and unites; critiquing destroys frustrates and separates.

There are boatloads of how-to books out there on the basics of writing and lists of workshops that can hone skills, but when it comes to writing your story, it must be one-hundred-percent told in your voice. If you let a critique group at your story, you get book-by-committee. It’s sliced, diced, and put back together to suit them, not you. Nothing fresh and new comes from working with a group. Fresh, new, and exciting comes from deep inside the writer when she has an idea just bursting to get out.

Critiquing is like throwing a rock through a window. The original work is shattered. Brainstorming is like throwing a rock in a pond. It lands and the ripples start building from small circles to every widening ones that seem to go on forever. The brainstorming group forms a pool of creative energy where great ideas feed off other great ideas. Goals, motivation and conflict of the story are explored in ways you never even thought about.

Brainstorming an entire story doesn’t mean someone else writes my book. It means you come with the basic premise, characters, maybe a beginning and end and some turning points.

You bring these ideas to the group, ply them with chocolate-chip cookies then write down their ideas as they suggest ways to fill in the rest of the story. Do this in three stages--the opening and beginning of the story, the middle action and turning point, the climax, black moment and epiphany. You explore what makes the story unique, the characters unique, what hooks fit and how pitch the story to an editor.

You can take notes but a tape recorder is better. You write down and take into consideration all the ideas, even ones you think will never work. What sounds crazy now may very well be what works the best when you’re actually writing the story. One idea often sparks another idea that you’d never have thought of on your own.

In brainstorming, the most important things to remember are there are no wrong ideas, no one insists their idea is best or someone else’s won’t work and pass the cookies.

Brainstorming doesn’t have to be for an entire book. Maybe it’s the beginning or end or a scene that needs help. Perhaps a character’s gotten into a mess and you don’t know how to get him out of it. Maybe he needs to get into a mess and you’re looking for the right motivation.

A fun and incredibly productive way to brainstorm is a brainstorming weekend. This is not a vacation; this is work. In fact, when you get back you’ll need a vacation. Being with other authors lets you see how they plot and create wonderful intriguing characters that bring their stories to life.

Brainstorming is far better than critiquing. It’s a positive experience, not negative in any way. Editors say, write the book of your heart—not lots of people’s hearts. It has to be your story told your way in your voice. When that editor buys your book, the most important thing they buy is your voice. The way you tell the story...not the way the group tells the story.
Duffy Brown loves anything with a mystery. While others girls dreamed of dating Brad Pitt, Duffy longed to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom. She has two cats, Spooky and Dr. Watson, her license plate is Sherlock and she conjures up who-done-it stories of her very own for Berkley Prime Crime. Duffy's national bestselling Consignment Shop Mystery series is set in Savannah and the Cycle Path Mysteries are set on Mackinac Island. Connect with Duffy at her website and on Facebook:  Her latest book is a Consigmnet Shop Mystery, Demise in Denim.  

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