Starting a critiquing group? New to critiquing? When people are just learning how to critique, I don’t throw a long list of items for them to consider. I start them off gently, a little at a time. We begin with listening to the author read his or her poem, story, etc. While they listen, they take pen to paper and note what they liked about the following items – by jotting down a word or two about each.

  • The beginning of the piece

  • An image or description

  • A phrase

  • The overall piece

  • The way dialogue was used

  • The main character(s)

  • The ending

I ask them to note where they got lost, had a question, or drifted off, or what they wanted to know more about.

Those new to critiquing will not be able to identify and catch each of these items, but the practice helps them develop an ear to listening deeply as the piece is read. If it’s a poem, have the reader read it aloud at least twice.

Give them a few moments to read over their comments and add to them, if they like. Then let everyone share what they wrote. This lets the critiquer learn from others by hearing what they noticed. We also start with noting what we like, because, in the beginning, that’s easier for both the critique and the reader.

This is a good way for a new critiquing group to begin. It provides a sense of community when the author reads her/his work and it pushes each of the participants to develop their skills. Often in new critiquing groups, members may be too shy (or too lazy) to write down many comments for their critique. By having them listen to the reading itself and hear what others say, they begin to feel more empowered to share their own views (or “pushed” to provide a more thorough critique).

As critiquers develop their skills, start adding new items for them to review and start noting what doesn’t work – the role of setting, the arc of the story, the effectiveness of the language, character development, etc. – and consider including a written critique. In my writers’ group, we explain what we are looking for in the critique (Does this passage between the mother and her son make sense? Can you follow the way the characters move back and forth in time? Is my language too flowery? Hit me with everything in your critique.) Then, if we want additional feedback, we post the item so we can get a more detailed, written critique.

Don’t try to take on too much when starting a critiquing group. Develop your team’s skills as you go along. That way everyone is more comfortable and able to participate.

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