Critique Group: It's Not Just About Critiques

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

    Does your critique group do more than critique? Has your writing improved since you've been a member? If you answered "no" to both of these questions then maybe your group ought to consider taking a class together.

     "Too expensive," you say? It doesn't have to be. Let me explain.

     The gals in my critique group and I are very serious about our writing. We welcome what we laughingly call "brutal" critiques, not because we like to be cruel, but because we all want our ability to craft a good story to grow, so we're honest, straight-forward and we don't mince words.

     Three years ago we decided to enrich our group beyond critiques. Instead of one critique partner sharing a great book on craft, we decided to learn together. We all purchased copies of Ursula LeGuin's book, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Naviagator or Mutinous Crew, read it chapter by chapter, and completed and discussed the exercises. 

I must admit, I was not happy with the suggestion of studying the book, at first, but as we worked our way though the lessons, I could tell that my writing improved. We all felt it. So it was only logical that we would find another book or class or workshop to study when we finished Steering the Craft.  

     We were intrigued when one of the partners found a course available on DVD from called, Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft, given by Professor Brooks Landon, Professor of English, Collegiate Fellow and Director of the General Education Literature Program at the University of Iowa.

    Could it really be true? Twenty four lectures with activities on building sentences? Sounds boring, right? Well it might have been if we hadn't done it together. Even so, one critique partner read the lecture each week unable to endure the DVD.

     Professor Landon loves long sentences. He points out that many feel long sentences are bad, but in his opinion, "a long sentence isn't bad because it's long, it's bad because it's bad." He lectured about cumulative sentences in all forms, the rhythm of cumulative syntax, coordinate cumulative sentences, subordinate and mixed cumulatives, cumulative syntax to create suspense, balanced sentences and balanced forms, just to mention a few.

     We painstakingly went through each exercise stretching the course out over a two year span and little by little the quality of our sentences grew. Whether cumulative sentences eventually show up in our writing remains to be seen. But it's safe to say, that after 24 lectures on building great sentences, we're all much more aware of how we write and what we write.

     Will we find something else to study? Most likely, because our critique group is about more than critiques.

     How does your critique group study the craft of writing?

     Read more about critique groups in Kristin Lamb's latest post, Franken-Novel, Perfectionism & The Dark Side of Critique Groups,






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Hi! I’m Sandra Warren, a writer with very eclectic writing tastes. I’ve been fortunate to have publications in multiple genres including children’s, gifted education, parenting, how to, poetry, journal, educational activity guides and biography as well as audio and video production. I'm a city gal recently transplanted to the mountains of NC where glorious mountain vistas inspire latest renderings.

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