I don’t know what I would do without my critique groups. One is composed of three to four members who have worked together at the Inland Area Writing project at UC Riverside. We are not so much interested in publication as in excellence of expression. We share ideas for education and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.
My other two groups have a maximum of eight members who are focused not only on excellence of writing but on publication. We meet to read our stories aloud, to offer constructive criticism, to laugh a lot, to lend support in the complicated processes of composition, and to share marketing news.
Over the years, we have centered on six main areas of manuscript improvement:
- Opening: Does your first page have a “hook” that pulls the reader into the story?
- Setting: Does each character respond to the sensory details of time and place? Will your readers feel as though they have stepped into the scene? Will they have a feeling of recognition of this imaginary place?
- Voice: Do all your characters sound alike, or does each one have a unique voice? Does your main character tell the story in a way that makes you feel you are walking in his/her shoes?
- Story Line: Does each chapter have that surge of upward movement that carries the plotline forward?
- Cliff Hangers: Does each chapter end with a situation that makes the reader turn the page to find out what happens next?
- Ending: Does the story have a satisfying ending –not necessarily happy, but hopeful?
We make it a point not to waste time talking about punctuation, spelling, or syntax – unless these things are crucial. It is easy enough to mark those corrections on the page. Instead, we spend our time focusing on the above six areas of manuscript improvement. Try this in your own group and watch your sales potential grow!
-Marilyn Cram Donahue