Critique Groups for Better Rewriting
The important fact to embrace as you join a critique group is to know without equivocation that you are a writer and like all writers, you need editors. Critique groups are, in essence, your first editors. You need them to be tough and unsparing in their criticism of your work, but also to buoy your spirits a little by kindly pointing out the good points, too.
I once toured the National Geographic headquarters Exhbit Hall in Washington, D.C. One exhibit was set up as the editor’s office. On the desk was a manuscript filled with blue editing marks. That was an eye-opening moment for me. That manuscript must have been in good shape to be accepted in the first place. Even so, the editor found numerous places where improvement was needed.
I also worked as an editor for the government, editing the writing of professional and experienced writers. What I learned was that everybody’s writing can be improved.
As a member of a critique group, you are in the fortunate position of getting the help you need. As an example, one of the best pieces of writing advice I received was in a critique group. Chapters of my novel were under discussion when one man boomed out that my writing was “nothing but talking heads.”
He was looking at pages of dialogue with no indication of any action or emotion. Even the attribution was left out in many cases. I took a long, hard look at that. I found that when I added action and emotion to dialogue, those scenes became richer and more interesting.
Now I try to visualize the scene as if it were a movie. The director would not have two people sitting in chairs carrying out a dialogue. How boring would that be? The actors need to be doing something and that something could convey character and emotion as well as enliven the dialogue. A character could fidget, flick imaginary dust off his trousers, look at his watch, or get up to stare out a window. Watch what a director does to the characters during a dialogue in a play or movie.
Conveying the character’s emotion during a dialogue is also important. We’re all leaking bags of emotion. What are the characters feeling during the dialogue? Find ways to convey that. A character can frown
, nod, laugh, or raise an eyebrow. A person doesn’t pick up a gun or hear bad news without feeling something. The POV character’s internal dialogue can tell us a lot about his/her own emotions.
I am very fond of the brief anecdote about Michael Caine, who grew impatient with another actor in a scene they were rehearsing. Caine finally said, "We're in the business of emotions; shouldn't you show some?"
As authors of fiction, we're in the business of emotions, too.