Thursday, 23 January 2014

Writing Buddies and Critical Friends
I think it's fair to say that writing can be a very lonely business so I'm very fortunate to have some good writing buddies, including some on-line, to accompany me on my writing journey. They act as critical friends looking at stories and chapters and give invaluable feed-back. Yesterday, I met Helen for lunch - meeting up usually involves some sort of food and drink! - and we came round to talking about what were the best ways to help each other in our writing. What makes a good critique? How can our comments help us to improve our writing? What things do we look for when giving feed-back?

When I was teaching, I used to encourage my pupils to read their partner's writing and act as a critical friend. Back then, I used 'Two Stars and a Wish'. The children had to pick two things they really liked about the writing and then choose one feature that would improve it.

But what about us as adults? Does that sort of approach work for us too? 

When we entered a short story competition before Christmas, Helen and I had both paid a small addition to the entry fee in order to receive feed-back. When we looked at the critiques, the judge had started with comments about what she considered to be good about the writing and then went on to give helpful advice about how the stories could be improved. We both felt that by having had those positive comments too we were able to work on what was wrong with the writing with more confidence. Is that because we are novice writers perhaps and will our shoulders get broader as we make progress? 

It's important, however, to say what the first impression is on a first read because surely this is what an editor or a competition judge does. Does the story grab the reader's attention? Is there anything that can be said from that first read to help the writer improve the story?

Here is my list of things to look for when giving feedback:
- Do the characters appear real? Can I relate to them?
- Does the story flow and read as a whole? Does the ending satisfy me as a reader? Perhaps there's a twist?
- Does the dialogue match the character? (Many of my characters sound the same so this is a fault of mine, I think.)
- Doe the story keep the reader's interest all the way through?
- Is the POV consistent or is there some head-hopping?
- Do the characters have some conflict to resolve?
- Is there more 'telling' than 'showing'? (Another thing I really have to work on!)
- Are the tenses consistent?
- And then there's the proof-reading and spotting the typos........ 

If you have a writing buddy, how do you help and support each other? What do you look for in a story or a chapter?


  1. I confess my feedback tends to concentrate most on the areas which I feel need improvement as that's what I most want to learn about my own work. I sometimes forget to say the rest is good.

    I think we need different things at different times. Encouragement is important for very new writers, later on we need to know where we're going wrong so we can put it right.

    1. Yes, I can see that. Even when new writers like me give and get feedback, though, telling what works is no help without pointing out the areas that need to be improved upon. I have learned so much over the last year from valuable feedback I've received and I like to think my stories are getting better - albeit slowly!

  2. I think writing buddies can be good for different things. My writing friend Tracy and I meet up once a month to set goals, discuss our writing and encourage each other. We don't critique each other's work as I think this would spoil things. We just like to put the writing world to rights and eat tea cakes!

    1. Sounds ideal, Wendy! I met my writing buddies at a short story course and when it ended we started meeting up to support each other. We don't have tea cakes but usually have lunch or coffee! Sometimes it's just two of us - last week Helen and I set ourselves the goal of writing a piece of flash fiction of 300 words. Val couldn't make the meeting last week so today we met and talked about our writing.