By Ali Cross
A friend of mine, and member of my critique group, recently brought a concern to my attention—she feels my critique comments, and those of several other group members, is out of line.
She writes LDS contemporary youth/crossover fiction. No one else in our group writes in her genre, and none of us even read it, so we are definitely not knowledgeable about the demands and expectations of her specific genre. Oftentimes, she finds, we criticize her character’s motivations unfairly because her characters would not behave like the characters in our historical LDS fiction or YA fantasy/dystopian stories.
And she’s not wrong.
You really can’t criticize a genre you know nothing about. Which has led our little group to examine how we can best serve our group members even when we don’t read/know their specific genre. It turns out the solution may be something as simple as word choice—and a healthy dose of humility.
How we speak to one another during a critique session can make all the difference in how our comments are perceived—and determine their helpfulness. Rather than say, “Your character would never act that way,” we should instead say, “I don’t understand why your character is behaving that way.”
The first example is judgmental and isn’t open to discussion. The second example reserves judgment and allows for differing opinions.
And that’s where humility comes in.
If you don’t know a genre, you can’t speak definitively on the subject. You have to allow that perhaps you don’t know how that LDS boy would act in a specific situation because he’s not the vampire boy you’re accustomed to writing, and reading, about.
Perhaps you have the good fortune to belong to a critique group consisting of members who all write and read the same genre—but most of us are not that lucky. Usually a group consists of a variety of genres so humility and care are necessary as we work together.
This week my critique group will be meeting and we’ll have the chance to practice choosing our words more carefully as we edit each others' work. I have a feeling this approach will do all of us a lot of good.