Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Critique Groups are Best When They're in Your Genre

I was on Stephanie Dray's blog the other day (she's the author of Song of the Nile) and read her article If You're Serious About Historical Fiction. She talks about how important it is to have members of your critique group who are familiar with your genre. It got me thinking about my unfortunate experience with cross-genre relationships.

When I was in college, I took a class that was basically a critique group for credit. The students wrote all kinds of things: short stories, YA, sci-fi. It was exciting to learn from such a diverse group of writers. None of them read historical fiction, but I didn't see that as a problem.

Little did I know that when people don't like history, quality writing will not change their minds. My critique group felt swamped by facts and wanted me to slow down and explain everything. I added several unnecessary chapters just to clarify things which I eventually got rid of because they served no purpose.

(I wrote about being upset because I had to cut the first two chapters out of Sacred Fire. They weren't there originally; this group convinced me to add them.)

After I took the time to thoroughly describe everything, they complained about the book being too long and wordy. 

Then the professor kept trying to fact check my work when she know nothing about Roman history. Once she told me to change the high priest's name because it didn't sound Roman, and his character was based on a real person.

It didn't take long for me to get frustrated.

I'm not saying these people were too stupid to like history by any means. Their advice on the writing craft itself was very helpful. However, they were criticizing my genre instead of my book, and because they didn't like my genre, their critiques would always be negative and unhelpful.

When I started to work with other historical fiction writers, their advice changed everything.  Not only did they recognize when something wasn't working; they knew why it wasn't working and how to fix it, and then they gave me examples from other historical fictions they had read.

Granted, I've worked with a few fantastic beta readers outside me genre. I think it's good when your book is more polished to have different kinds of writers read your work to make sure it's accessible to a greater population. Yet my book would not be what it is today (such as it is) without the help I received from hist-fic writers.


  1. I agree. Voice, dialogue, setting, character frames of reference, even external forces effecting characters are differ across genres. Of course we want to appeal to a wider audience as you state, but when building the foundation of our manuscripts, I agree -- it is key to have the input of someone who knows your genre well.

  2. There are many things about writing craft that can be helpful across all genres, but there are certain expectations in various genres that are unique to it and so it's helpful to have like-genre writers to crit given the familiarity of certain quirks.

  3. Nothing worse than non-historians who speak with authority


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