The ABCs and 123s of Critique Groups, by Virginia Law Manning

I’m a big believer in critique groups. I’m in four—two for illustration and two for writing. What I’ve learned is how important it is to be in a group with people who work hard. Not just at their own writing, but even more importantly who work hard at being great critique partners (CP).

So how do you become a great CP?

It starts when you receive the manuscript. You’ll want to know what age child your CP is targeting.

Next, you’ll want to read the manuscript TWICE with a pen in hand.

The first time through, read the work for enjoyment but when you get to sections that you like or don’t understand, that take you out of the story or make you want to put the manuscript down, make a small notation. (Do NOT spend a lot of time writing notes at this point.)

🙂    Something you liked or made you laugh

?      Something that confused you

     A bump in the road. Something that pulled you out of the story.

)        The moon is a slow section where your attention drifted


After you read the manuscript the first time, try to answer the following questions. They will help you focus on the big picture. (If you’re reading a few chapters of a longer story, not all of these questions will apply):

  1. Who is the main character MC? Describe the MC at the beginning of the story?
  2. What is the MC’s problem?
  3. How did the MC try to solve the problem?
  4. What were the obstacles in the MC’s way?
  5. What was the climax of the story?
  6. How was the problem resolved?
  7. Describe the MC at the end of the story? Did the MC change or learn anything?


Then read the story again and mark up the manuscript at the points where you can answer these questions. You’ll want to help the author see where there might be problems. For instance, did it take too long to get to the problem? Did the main character play a passive role in her story or was she actively trying to solve the problem?

The Delivery

  1. Type up your comments. Use the comments section for specifics within the text AND general comments at the end.
  2. Critique the work, not the writer. Never start comments with “you,” instead, refer to specific words/lines.
  3. Create an easy to digest critique sandwich, using specific examples from the text. Start your critique with what worked in the manuscript, next discuss areas that you thought could be improved, then end on a high note with more positives!
  4. In terms of the constructive criticism, be diplomatic. Avoid using strong negative language. Frame things in a positive light, “this scene would be more exciting if…”
  5. Leave your personal taste out of it. Critique the work and how well the author accomplished his/her writing goals.

I learned a lot from watching Heather Alexander’s KidLit College webinar “Be a Better Critique Partner.” Stayed tuned each month for more tidbits.

I hope you’ll leave a comment below, sharing some critique group wisdom or asking a question. I’ll randomly select one winner and offer a free, online private critique on up to 10 pages of one manuscript. You’re not obligated to accept. I know some people are already hooked up with great CP, agents or editors. Either way, I hope you’ll leave a comment!

Thank you and good luck!


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20 Responses to The ABCs and 123s of Critique Groups, by Virginia Law Manning

  1. Jan Hoffman says:

    How very awesome! It’s exactly what I needed to hear today for me and for the young artist/writers I teach. Thank you!

  2. Robin Jordan says:

    Right on target, Virginia! I’m glad you are part of our group as we hit our stride! I’m sure your tips will be helpful to all.

  3. Great post, as usual, Virginia! I have a great critique group, as you know, and they have made all the difference in my writing over the last year or so. Thanks for your insight!

  4. Helen Kitrosser says:

    Thank you for the helpful ideas, Virginia. I especially liked your markings for the first reading of the manuscript. The etiquette in critiquing that you described is vitally important to make a group successful. In my past crit groups, we would sometimes ask our CPs to remark on specific things in our MSS that we wanted to focus on like plot, dialogue, etc. I’m grateful for your enthusiastic entrance as our Critique Group Manager.

  5. MD Knabb says:

    Enjoyed this, Virginia. Your markings for manuscripts are great shorthand and you captured the essence of Heather’s suggestions. Thanks

  6. Glad to see you banging the drum for critique partners, Virginia! For me, I think it’s even better when you can meet, or skype, once in awhile because the verbalization of what works and doesn’t work often leads to gems that might not make it onto the pages.

  7. Emily says:

    Thank you for this column, I have not been brave enough to submit my “work” for a critique. You’ve given me a bit of courage, if this is the approach that most groups take, it looks more helpful than painful!!!

  8. Susan Sempeles says:

    These are terrific suggestions! I especially like the points about constructive criticism and diplomacy. My only previous experience with critiquing was in an online group where we each submitted so many pages at a time for the group members to read and comment on, by an agreed-upon deadline. We all were working on middle grade fiction, which helped because we had a good sense of the age group we were targeting. One person in the group was very experienced at critiquing, while the rest of us were not, and I learned a lot from her. Often I found her comments on another writer’s work sent me back to re-visit my own writing. The experience was valuable and I was disappointed that it had to end. Thank you, Virginia!

  9. Jill Proctor says:

    Thank you, Virginia, for your suggestions. I’ve been a member of several on-line critique groups. One thing I’ve found to be very helpful, when critiquing a member’s manuscript, is to refrain from reading the critiques of other members until I have completed my critique. I feel that allows for a much stronger critique. It’s too easy to be influenced by others. Thanks again!

    • I love this additional tip! I always do my critique first and then if I have time, I read the critiques from the other members. I learn from these critiques, but I also will say if I agreed with something they said (or if something didn’t bother me as much). Thank you for including this!

    • Congratulations, Jill! I randomly picked your name for the prize–a free online critique on up to 10 pages of a manuscript. I sent you a Facebook private message to let you know as well. Thank you!

  10. mermaidrain says:

    I have been involved in a critique group of one kind or another over the past 20 years. They certainly do help! And these are all really good reminders/pointers. =)

  11. Martin Segal says:

    Thanks for the critique tips, Virginia! Good questions to keep in mind during the critique! I also like the idea of shorthand notes so you don’t get taken out of the story.

  12. Martin Segal says:

    Thanks for sharing the critique tips, Virginia! These are great questions to keep in mind for critiques! I like the shorthand notes so you don’t get taken out of the story.

  13. Nadine Poper says:

    As I begin my first critique group myself, this is timely and extremely helpful. I will spend my first meeting going over your points to make sure we are all on the same page. Thanks for stepping up and already being awesome!

  14. Ali Earle Pichardo says:

    Virginia, I enjoyed reading this post. I especially liked the shorthand that will let you remain in the story. I will bring that to our group tomorrow. It was also helpful to see that we follow many of your other points with our critiques. I’m sure I will learn more from your former group membrs. I think critique groups are vital in helping a writer evolve into an author who will be published.

  15. Thank you everyone who posted a comment on this blog! I have contacted Jill Proctor who was randomly selected to win the critique. Thank you again!

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