In the ideal critique group, members write in the same genre. The advantage is they read a manuscript from the same perspective. It enables them to help one another with problems particular to their genre. They respect the critique from one of their own over writers who are not familiar with what their reading audience wants.
For recreational reading, writers tend to stick to their favorite genera—the one they write in. In a mixed-genre group they have doubts. Will the poet receive an adequate critique from a journalist who never reads poetry? Conversely, is the poet confident she can critique a children’s picture book? She lacks the expertise needed to evaluate it, doesn't she? Maybe not.
A writing mixture comprises most groups. Since, from a critique standpoint each writing type does present its own challenges; your critiques improve when you expand your reading.
Six Reading Suggestions to Improve Your Edits and Critiques
1. Read outside your genre, and when you do, read with a critical mind. If you write hot romance, pick up a contemporary novel from a Christian bookstore. How does its author handle love scenes? For an example of sizzle without smut, read “Just Down the Road.” by Jodi Thomas.
2. Are you a mainstream novelist? Spend spare minutes with popular magazines or essays for a month. Borrow an armful of picture books and read to a three-year-old.
3. Raise your level of attention to what you see in print throughout a typical day. If your style is literary, give business letters extra attention. When you use the Internet, notice what grabs you and what you find annoying. Have you noticed how much “computer help” is written in techie jargon? If given the chance, could you advise those writers on how to inform or instruct in plain English?
4. Pick up a readers’ guide to poetry to gain insight into the craft.
5. Notice travel guides. Compare them to travel advertisements.
6. Ask members of your group for a list of their favorite books. Chances are they will lead you to their genre’s classics. You’ll gain an idea of what those writers are aiming for, and you may gain new respect for that writing variety.
Learning takes time, but there is a payoff. As you gain knowledge of genres outside your comfort zone, expect a ripple effect: the analytic prowess you develop will give you fresh insights to your own work.
In the meantime, if your ability to make specific pointers is limited, you can lubricate a writer’s gears. Freelance writer, Gilda Bryant suggests this critique sandwich: encourage, make suggestions, encourage.
© 2012, Bernice W. Simpson