The formal critique is the most valuable tool available to the budding author. At its most basic, two writers will read over and make comments on a small portion of each other’s work.
They check for problems with, pacing, plotline and characterization as well as spelling, punctuation, and grammatical mistakes. To avoid discouraging the writer, critiques also note the positives. While this is much like editing, the material being critiqued is kept to below three thousand words in length.
This system is effective because the strengths and weaknesses of one author are complemented by that of another. Steve, who has an excellent knowledge of grammar, will clean up Sara’s misshapen prose. She, in turn will convert Steve’s stilted dialogue into sparkling conversation. Note that critiques are employed to analyse the submitted material, not to criticise the writer.
Critiques are a form of quality control meant to be employed as the material is being written. The writer will examine the critique and make changes he feels are appropriate. Then he incorporates the lessons learned into future chapters of his novel.
How valuable are critiques? I write a popular weekly serial for Kindle. Now that the first season is near its end, I have started drafting material meant to be published next year. I submitted the first installment to a writer’s website and requested a critique. To be honest, I expected positive feedback – after all, I am a profession writer.
That didn’t happen. The first critique noted a large number of mistakes and contained valuable advice which I used to clean up my work. I also will integrate these suggestions into future episodes.
The writer’s website I utilise is Scribophile.com. Its main purpose is to provide a location where authors can critique each other’s work. Basic membership is free although an optional premium membership is available.
Their system is quite simple. Karma points are accumulated by critiquing the work of other authors. Then the writer redeems these points to purchase the right to submit a portion of their work for critique. Once the material is submitted, it is placed on a queue and can be critiqued. Eventually the work will become spotlighted; those that critique the material will receive additional Karma points. It will remain spotlighted until three authors have written a critique on the work.
I cannot emphasise enough, the importance of the critique. The feedback it provides will continuously point out methods in which to improve the author’s skills.