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Choosing A Critique Website | Crackin’ The WIP

This is part two of a series I am writing for my friends over at Crackin’ The WIP. Hope you find it helpful!

On Critiquing: Choosing A Critique Website

 
by C. Theuner

Hi! And welcome to part two of:

Oh, right. Keep meaning to change that banner…

Last time, we talked about what makes a critique. Today, we’re going to discuss the options available to those wishing to get involved with a critiquing community.

I’m going to be dealing exclusively with online critiquing workshops for this series. That’s not to say in-person groups aren’t valuable; they are. In fact, they have many advantages over their Internet counterparts:

  • They offer an opportunity to socialize with other local writers.
  • They’re better suited to dynamic discussions.
  • Meetings often involve alcohol (sobbing into a glass of scotch while lamenting story-ruining plotholes just isn’t the same without the camaraderie).

If you have the opportunity to join such a group, I’d encourage you to at least check it out. Sit in on a meeting, and see if it’s a good fit for you. But in-person critique groups aren’t practical for those of us who live in an area lacking an active writing community, who have prohibitively erratic schedules, or who, like me, are just antisocial misanthropes. If you have experience or advice pertaining to “real life” writers’ groups, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Fortunately, there’s an abundance of websites to choose from. So many that choosing one may seem overwhelming. For the record, you don’t have to choose only one. Some people have had great luck spreading their work and knowledge over multiple sites. Me, though? I’m a Critique Circle devotee. Since I joined in 2012, I’ve improved my writing, made wonderful friends, and become part of a community that encourages me, but can also give me a good kick in the ass when I need it. Were I splitting my time between two or more sites, I don’t think I could have formed these relationships. But is Critique Circle the right choice for you? Maybe. But maybe not.

When you’re vetting potential online writing groups, here are some questions to keep in mind. Often, you’ll find them answered in the site’s FAQ page, but sometimes you may need to dig a little deeper. Do the research. I promise you, it will be worth it.

Is my work protected?

Of all questions, this is perhaps the most important one. You’ll want a site in which your work is not searchable, or viewable by non-members. In addition to the concern of possible theft, many publishers won’t accept work you’ve previously posted online, even if it was solely for feedback. Do NOT post your work in a publicly accessible forum unless you have no intent of seeking publication. And even then… I wouldn’t.

Is the site active?

It won’t do you much good to post on a dead site! But, equally important, is there an active community for my genre? Submitting a romance to a fantasy-oriented site, regardless of how active it is, is unlikely to yield helpful results.

What type of feedback would I expect to receive?

This is a two part question, really. First, you must determine what sort of critique you’re seeking. Do you value brutal honesty? If it seems every critique on a website is little more than a pat on the back with no suggestion or criticism, it’s probably not the place for you. Are you sensitive to harsh feedback? A site full of budding Simon Cowell wannabees will serve only to discourage you. Do you want detailed line-by-line feedback/editing, or are you looking for broader comments about characters and reader reactions? Or both?

The best way to determine if a site is right for you is to make an account and, if the option exists, read some critiques. And not just one or two. Read several. Critiquers are all individuals, and no single critique is indicative of the site’s tone as a whole. but after reading a dozen or so crits you’ll likely see some patterns upon which you can base your decision.

How does the site work?

Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. With the more important questions answered, it’s time to look at how a site functions. Critique Circle, for example, uses a credit system – you gain credits for critiquing, and you use those credits to post your own work. Other sites use similar points-based methods, and some may even rely entirely on the honor system. (Note: No matter what site you use, posting without critting will be looked down upon, and will net you less feedback.)

Other things to look for: How are stories sorted? By word count? By genre? Do stories with fewer critiques have priority? Are stories “featured” on a rotating schedule?

And be sure to dig deeper for other unique quirks the site may have. For example, Critique Circle does not allow you to view other members’ critiques until after you complete your own. For me, this was a big selling point, because it means each critique I get on my stories will be unbiased by others. But suppose I wanted an environment in which critiques were more discussion-based, and critters could easily respond to one another’s points? In that case, CC would not have been the best fit for me.

How does the site look/feel to you?

Does the interface make sense, or do you find it cumbersome or confusing? How easy is it to find stories, submit critiques, post in forums (if applicable)? Can you do it all in a few clicks, or do you have to jump through hoops?

This question is based more on intuition than analysis. Don’t think too hard on it, and bear in mind that most sites will have something of a learning curve. But if a site mostly makes sense to you, and you’re confident you can learn everything else along the way, then full speed ahead. If your first though upon viewing the site is some variation of “wtf??”, then you may want to keep looking.

 

It’s unlikely you’ll find a site that is ideal for you in every way. The key here is to prioritize. What do you want most in a critiquing group? What features can you absolutely not compromise on? And what would be nice bonuses? If you’re a member of a critique group, I invite you to share your experience with us in the comments. How did you decide? And are you happy with your decision?

Thanks for reading!
-C. Theuner

Some Popular Critique Sites

  • Scribophile – All genres.
  • Critique Circle – All genres.
  • Ladies Who Critique – Specializes in women’s fiction and chick lit, but accepts all genres. This is kind of an interesting one… in the site’s own words: “Think of it like a dating website, but ‘The One’ is your perfect critique partner.” You don’t submit your work to the site – rather, you set up a profile and seek out other like-minded writers to collaborate with.
  • Critters – Specializes in science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but accepts all genres.
  • Internet Writing Workshop – All genres.

 

Rooms, by Lauren Oliver

roomsLauren Oliver has been on my radar ever since I read her excellent YA novel, Before I Fall. I wasn’t crazy about Delirium, and never bothered with the sequels. But when I heard she was releasing a horror novel for adults just in time for Halloween, I decided to give her another go. From the first few pages, I fell in love with Rooms, and it hooked me from start to finish. I was, therefore, surprised to see it receiving overall lukewarm reviews. Clearly it’s not for everyone. But let me take a few moments to explain why it appealed to me, and why it may appeal to you, too.

The premise is simple enough. Wealthy Richard Walker has passed away, and now his estranged family must travel to his country house, their former home, to put his affairs in order and claim their inheritance. Throw in a ghost or two, and you’ve got a classic set-up for a haunted house story (for similar premises, see; Mr. Humphreys & His Inheritance, House of Echoes, The Woman In Black, Thirteen Ghosts… actually, do yourself a favor and don’t see Thirteen Ghosts). But what makes this story unique is that it’s less about the characters’ (limited) interactions with the ghosts, and more about how they relate to one another. Rooms is, first and foremost, a family drama, and through all the twists and turns it never loses its focus.

Consequently, don’t expect many scares. This is not horror in the traditional sense. Although it has its moments of creepiness, the tone is more bleak than frightening. And that’s fine by me. The more I let the story sink in, the more unsettling it became. I couldn’t stop thinking about the ghosts, who are condemned to spend their afterlife within a house containing their most dismal and horrific memories. That’s a scary thought. Not scary in the same way as, say, Pennywise the clown. It’s not going to make you sleep with the lights on. It may, however, make you sleep a little less soundly.

So, is Rooms a horror story? Probably not. But that’s not the point. The heart of the book lies within the characters. Although this is Oliver’s first adult novel, it’s not a complete departure from YA. Sixteen-year-old Trenton is (arguably) the novel’s protagonist. And, man, “troubled teen” doesn’t even begin to describe him. He’s moody, judgmental, and spends most of the novel plotting his suicide. Free from YA restraints, Oliver takes the reader deep into his head. Sometimes, uncomfortably deep (and the head sitting on top of his shoulders isn’t the only one we hear from). His grittiness and vulgarity may well turn some readers off, and I can’t blame them. But, me? I looked forward to his chapters, even if I wanted to smack him upside the head more often than not.

Richard’s death brings out the worst in all of the characters, who are deeply flawed to begin with. Each member of the family, with the exception of six-year-old Amy, have their vices; Minna, Richard’s daughter is addicted to pills and sex. Caroline, Richard’s ex-wife, is an alcoholic. And Trenton… well, as I said above, it would be quicker to list what isn’t messed up with this kid. These characters are not always easy to root for, and, in the absence of a tangible antagonist, they are always either fighting amongst themselves, or fighting within themselves.

The ghosts, Alice and Sandra, serve as omniscient narrators, though both are biased, opinionated, and unreliable. They’re not afraid to call each other out, either. In fact, the first line we hear from Sandra is this (referring to the previous chapters from Alice’s point of view):

“I’m not afraid to say that what you’ve heard so far is a big honking load of bullshit.”

Do I even need to say that both ghosts are tremendously fun to read?

Told in both first and third person, past and present tense, by an ensemble of viewpoint characters both living and dead, Rooms is an ambitious novel. Like the tree on the brilliantly designed cover, a story such as this risks branching off in dozens of different directions, leaving the reader lost and frustrated. However, Oliver found a solution to this pitfall. Save for a handful of flashbacks, the entire story takes place on the late Walker’s estate. The constant setting acts as a counterweight to the frequent shifts in point of view and narrative style, and helps to keep the reader grounded and the story moving forward.

The book does have a few minor problems. Sometimes the prose is overdone, even bordering on purple. Take, for example:

“His motions are erratic, like a scarecrow that has just come to life and has to compensate for a spine full of stuffing.”

or

“Normally, Minna felt calmer after sex, empty, like the world after a blizzard — almost as if she didn’t exist at all.”

Excessive? Yeah, maybe a little bit. But, to be honest, I feel like it works, because these self-centered characters would use larger-than-life similes and metaphors to describe their lives. That’s not to say Oliver doesn’t overuse them – trimming a few here and there wouldn’t have hurt. But they’re appropriate within the context of the story and characters, so I never considered them to be a huge issue, even though they were distracting at times.

The book did leave me with a few unanswered questions (or, at least, questions I wish were answered in more detail). Overall, though, I found the whole journey from start to finish to be a satisfying and fulfilling one.

 

Recommended if:

  • You like flawed characters, family dramas, and dark humor.

 

Not recommended if:

  • You’re looking for edge-of-your-seat horror.
  • You have a low tolerance for vulgarity.

 

starstarstarstarstar

5/5

 

(On a side note, if you’re into audiobooks, I highly recommend giving this one a listen. Each character is read by a different narrator, and all of them are exceptional. Perfect casting, perfect performances. I was already familiar with Noah Galvin after listening to his terrific reading of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, but the others were all new to me.)

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