When Your Critique Group Disagrees…

by Addie Boswell
Published on: June 24, 2013
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thumbs-up-thumbs-down-hiGiven two versions of the same story, chances are your critique group will diverge. And though you’re lucky if the split is 80/20 and there is a majority opinion, you may still feel more confused than reassured by the process. A case in point:

Recently I asked the Scrivas to critique 4 versions of the first chapter of my YA novel. (Version 4 being the latest and greatest, Version 1 being the oldest and most polished.) I gave simple instructions to the Scrivas: choose which version works best and edit that one.

Ready for the feedback?
ScrivaOne: I like Version 4, but only if that new character is going to be in the novel more. Otherwise, I’ll take Version 1.
ScrivaTwo: I like Version 3, but can you add in the new character from Version 4?
ScrivaThree: I like Version 1, but want more sensory details
ScrivaFour: What if you combine Versions 3 and 4?
ScrivaFive: I like Version 3, but can you take out the flashback?

The only thing I know for sure at this point is that Version 2 gets cut. (Hooray!) Now, how do I make sense of the rest?

Keep Talking
The best part about critique disagreements is that they lead to longer and more complex discussions, and that discussion almost always leads back to the heart of the story. After more talk, I realized the Scriva preferences were based on a few things. For example, the prose is tighter and faster-paced in versions 1 and 3 and I could apply that to 4. And the questions about my new character made me reconsider how important he is to the story arc. While I left disappointed I didn’t get my ‘easy answer,’ after some reflection, the critiques all started to make sense.

So which version did I choose?

None, so far. The conversation made me realize that I need to finish my other major edits and then revisit the beginning. I put the comments on hold to continue the messy business of chapters 2-30. If only editing was as simple as sorting laundry. Or picking ripe strawberries. Or thumbs up/thumbs down.

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