Monday, April 29, 2013

Critical Thinking

Today I took part in a critiquing workshop for writers of children's books. It was the first time that I had participated in any sort of group critique. I had no idea what to expect and I found it quite fascinating.

I'm sure that there are many different approaches to critique groups, and you may have had your own experiences. In this one, we allotted an equal amount of time to discussing each author's work. We spent a little less than one half of this time discussing things that we liked about the piece. Some of the second half was spent on things we thought needed improvement. The author was not expected to participate during these sessions. She (only women were present) then given the remaining time to address issues that had been raised and to ask questions.

I submitted the first few chapters of Book 4 of the Caribbean Adventure Series, Fury on Soufriere Hills. I was particularly interested in seeing how an American audience would perceive and understand the book, so firmly set in the Caribbean. I received a very positive response from the group. Interestingly enough, those positive comments will help me to strengthen the book just as much as the negative comments. For example, one reader said that she looked forward to reading more about Chee Chee's antics, the mischievous monkey at the center of the story. This made me realise that I needed to further reinforce his role in the story.

I found it very difficult to keep quiet as the readers discussed a particular area of the story that one lady did not follow. It was a section that I had wrestled with quite a bit and the discussion made me realise that I had not yet conquered that beast. Another lady had difficulty believing a bit of the action and I was very happy that I did not interject as another participant used her experiences climbing the Peruvian mountain, Machu Picchu to explain why the scene might seem confusing. Both ladies gave invaluable insight into how the scene could be perceived negatively and how I could solve the issue.

All in all it was a very civilised and extremely helpful afternoon. I hope that I made helpful contributions to the other authors. Perhaps I was fortunate in being thrown into a group that worked well, at least on this occasion, but it is something I would definitely try again and recommend to others who have not tried it.


Julie Luek said...

I read over and over why participation in a critique group is so vital. I'm sure it does take a lot of self-restraint to just listen when it's your book being evaluated! I can only imagine.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I have never participated in a critique group either, but judging from your positive experience, it might be something on my to be considered to do list.

Liane Spicer said...

I'm not a fan of the group critique, much preferring my reliable critique partner. I had to endure a group critique last year and it confirmed my feeling about this.

If the abilities within the group vary drastically it's a waste of time for the more accomplished writers. I imagine that in an evenly balanced group the experience might be more worthwhile. Either way, the secret seems to be knowing what to take seriously and what to ignore.

Eugenia O'Neal said...

Sounds like it was a good experience for you, Carol. I've found the online critiquecircle group to be very helpful though I haven't been active there in quite a while.

Charles Gramlich said...

In our critique group, one of the problems we have is how authors just can't keep from defending their work as it is reviewed. I try to remind them fairly frequently that if you have to defend it then something isn't working quite right. It doesn't help. we just had a proposal from one member to revamp our entire process so that writers would get 'more' time to defend their work. I just shook my head.

Carol Mitchell said...

Liane, I know what you mean. There was one woman who did not contribute a lot and who spent a lot of time defending some decisions in her own work with which everyone else disagreed. Let's just say that I was not interested in pursuing a longer term 'relationship' with her.

Charles, that is very funny, that someone would want to have more time to defend their book.

Eugenia, I have been wondering how an online group works.