Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lord Save Me From Critique Groups by Duffy Brown

While others girls dreamed of dating Brad Pitt, Author Duffy Brown longed to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom. She now has two cats, Spooky and Dr. Watson, and conjures up who-done-it stories of her very own for Berkley Prime Crime

Duffy was an Agatha nominee this year for best first book (Iced Chiffon). She's third from the left in this photo with authors Stephanie Jaye Evans, Erika Chase, Mollie Cox Bryan, and Susan M. Boyer.

Her new release in the Consignment Shop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime is Killer in Crinolines.

"When Reagan Summerside is asked to make an emergency bowtie delivery to Magnolia Plantation for a wedding, she finds the groom facedown in five tiers of icing and fondant, a cake knife in his back and her good friend and UPS driver accused of the murder. Can Reagan find the real killer without winding up in the local swamp as alligator meat? Will Walker Boone badass attorney and once upon a time gang member help her out or will he feed her to the alligator himself."
Duffy will be giving away a Killer in Crinolines tote to two lucky visitors who leave a comment on today's post before midnight Mountain Time tomorrow (Sunday, May 19th). Be sure there's a good trail to your contact information to qualify.


Lord Save Me From Critique Groups by Duffy Brown

Critique group is two words, two parts. The group part builds your story; the critique part ruins it. Brainstorming with others develops, creates and unites; critiquing destroys frustrates and separates."

There are boatloads of how-to books out there on the basics of writing and lists of workshops that can hone skills, but when it comes to writing your story, it must be one-hundred percent told in your voice. If you let a critique group at your story you get book-by-committee. It’s sliced and diced and put back together to suit them, not you. Nothing fresh and new comes from working with a group. Fresh and new and exciting comes from deep inside the writer.

Critiquing is like throwing a rock through a window. The original work is shattered. Brainstorming is like throwing a rock in a pond. It lands and the ripples start building from small circles to every widening ones that seem to go on forever. The brainstorming group forms a pool of creative energy where great ideas feed off other great ideas. Goals, motivation and conflict of the story are explored in ways you never even thought about.

Brainstorming an entire story doesn’t mean someone else writes my book. It means you come with the basic premise, characters, maybe a beginning and end and some turning points. You bring these ideas to the group, ply them with chocolate-chip cookies then write down their ideas as they suggest ways to fill in the rest of the story. Do this in three stages--the opening and beginning of the story, the middle action and turning point, the climax, black moment and epiphany. You explore what makes the story unique, the characters unique, what hooks fit and how to best pitch the story to an editor.

You can take notes but a tape recorder is better. You write down and take into consideration all the ideas, even ones you think will never work. What sounds crazy now may very well be what works the best when you’re actually writing the story. One idea often sparks another idea that you’d never have thought of on your own.

In brainstorming, the most important things to remember are that there are no wrong ideas, no one insists their idea is best or someone else’s won’t work and pass the cookies.

Brainstorming doesn’t have to be for an entire book. Maybe its the beginning or end or a scene that needs help. Perhaps a character’s gotten into a mess and you don’t know how to get him out of it. Maybe he needs to get into a mess and you’re looking for the right motivation.

A fun and incredibly productive way to brainstorm is a brainstorming weekend. This is not a vacation; this is work. In fact, when you get back you’ll need a vacation. Being with other authors lets you see how they plot and create wonderful intriguing characters that bring their stories to life.

Brainstorming is far better than critiquing. It’s a positive experience, not negative in any way. Editors say, write the book of your heart—not hearts. It has to be your story told your way in your voice. When that editor buys your book, the most important thing they buy is your voice. The way you tell the story...not the way the group tells the story.


You make some very good points, Duffy. I belong to a critique group and have gained a lot of ideas and support from the members over the years. The occasional bouts of frustration come when a member forgets to "suggest" and instead pushes her own point of view with a bit too much enthusiasm. We need to know when to listen, and when to stick our fingers in our ears and sing "la la la la la la."

To learn more about Duffy and her mysteries, visit her website. She can also be found on Facebook.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Duffy.

Duffy - Thanks for sharing your experience with critique groups and brainstorming. I think every author has to find her or his own way to get 'other eyes' on the work and get new, fresh eyes. Critique groups can work very well for some. But even simple brainstorming with a friend, in an informal way, can give an author great ideas.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Duffy for a most interesting post. Really good to read.


Sharon Himsl said...

This was good advice. Thanks! I'm working through 10 critiques right now and all 10 had something different to say!

Duffy Brown said...

I think it's really critical who you turn your work over to. I was at a conference this weekend with editor from Harlequin and EC and both agreed when I made this statement above about critique groups. Only the editor knows what she/he wants and a lot of your "voice" is written out of the work.

julie barrett said...

safe travels, GL on your release!


Brenda Rumsey said...

Thanks for sharing your experience Duffy. I think this is true especially for us new writers. Once a manuscript is finished, I will find two or three people I trust to read it and consider what they say, but not until I write the words "The End".

John Paul McKinney said...

Thanks for the thoughtful advice. It sseems like an important distinction, one that allows a writer to keep their own creative voice.

Julie Luek said...

Great advice -- going to have to bookmark this one! Thanks, Duffy and Pat.

Dean K Miller said...

Hmmmm...certainly an interesting point of view. It would be fun to see one idea go through both processes and see the differences.

Emily R. King said...

Brainstorming IS better than critiquing. I'm going to remember that!

Anonymous said...

I can't say I agree. I don't want my critique group to brainstorm my ideas for me. I want them to help me "pull the weeds" when my thoughts are down. If brainstorming comes in at that phase, it may be helpful, but brainstorming sounds more like book-by-committee than critiquing does.

The best groups I've been in have been very clear that the writer owns the piece, and each of us comes to it as a reader. A reader with more writing knowledge than the average person, but still a reader. None of our comments require a rewrite, and all can be discarded. When something makes too many readers go, "Huh?" however, or if a reader says something that on 2nd look resonates with the writer as something that could be improved, then you want to look at it. We also focus strongly on what is going right in the story.

It's the writer's responsibility to not let critiques turn into book-by-committee.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Duffy, thanks so much for being my guest and talking about this most interesting topic. I've toned down my own critiquing style in the last few months, and it's precisely because I don't want to mess with my critique group members' voices.