6.28.2006

Critique groups-ok to keep sharing ideas?

Dear Miss Snark:

First of all, thank you so much for this blog! It's an absolute gem and I have become completely addicted (I only discovered it fairly recently, and am now working my way through the archives).

To the point: I'm a member of a very good critique group. We all look at/comment on each other's manuscripts. That is, after all, the point, and is also one of the reasons I actually managed to produce something good enough to get an agent interested in the first place. I don't want to leave the group if (when, I hope) my novel is published; it is an immensely valuable resource for me, not to mention part of my social life, and I would certainly plan to run future novel drafts past the group for critiquing.

What is the Honourable Miss Snark's view on this situation in the light of possible litigation, accusations of stolen ideas etc? I should point out I am writing from the UK, where we don't generally sue as much, but still...I should like to hear your thoughts.


Generally it's not the people you know who are going to be litigous loons, it's the whack jobs who show up out of the blue with a conviction that your purpose on earth is to help them. Generally those people get weeded out of a critique group or the group folds.

It sounds like your group is rolling along nicely. I wouldn't worry.

23 comments:

Manic Mom said...

I think those who steal ideas are the ones who don't have anything good to say anyway.

As a writer, there's been times I've thought, "Man, I wish I thought to write that story," but never have I said, "Man I could steal that story and make it my own."

A writer is passionate about his or her own words; what's the point of stealing someone else's?

And there are a million stories out there on similar subjects: Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, yada yada yada, but there are also a million different twists to that same plot that makes reading so wonderful.

Sherry Decker said...

I also belong to a writer's group, and they are so valuable to me. We brainstorm ideas and help one another reword phrases, sentences or paragraphs. We give away great ideas to each other - no strings attached.

Elektra said...

That's what you think--I plan to sue eveyone on the COM, as soon as I can track them all down. Perhaps i'll get Nancy fay to help me out...

Ken Boy said...

'lektra,

All your idea are belong to us.

Watercolorz said...

Stealing ideas is like wearing someone else’s underwear, yuck.

Or maybe I need smarter friends ~W

Quick said...

I don't understand critque groups. Do you split royalties with them when you get published? Which I guess is the point of the question.

Janny said...

Over 20+ years of belonging to critique groups, of judging contests, and doing one-on-one editorial consultation, I've only had maybe two times when I wished I'd thought of the author's idea first. I ran into a couple of manuscripts that had excellent premises, really innovative, but the authors didn't develop them as well as they deserved...and I did find myself wishing I could have taken their premise and rewritten it. (!) I didn't, of course, but I sure wished I could.

Other than that, I have to side with the answer I first heard in an editor/author panel when the inevitable question came up, "How do I know when I send my work in to you, you won't steal it and call it your own?"

One memorable soul responded, "Trust me, I've never seen anything worth stealing."

I thought it was a crass response at the time; I now know better. Outside of those rare couple of times, I never saw anything worth stealing, either.

Oh, and quick...as far as the purpose of a critique group? IF you're not being facetious, and you really don't know...suffice to say that most of us don't go very far in this craft without having someone outside of our own heads and/or family read our work and tell us how it works. A bad crit group can be a nightmare, but a good one is actually worth its weight in royalties! (Not that we worry about sharing...we're all making our own.)

:-)

My take,
Janny

Diana Peterfreund said...

Of course you do! I also split royalties with my various English teachers. After all, they taught me to read and write. And I split with the writers of every craft book I've ever read (Stephen King's contract is particularly binding, so don't buy On Writing unless you wan to commit) and also every good book I've read, ever, since I absorbed so much about narrative structure, etc. from the good writers who have come before me...

No, it's a barter system. You critique their work. They critique yours.

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

I'm envious. A good critique group is hard to find and worth its weight in Mano Blahniks.

BuffySquirrel said...

Even if someone only hears about your published book, takes the idea, writes their own novel based on it, wins the Booker Prize with it, and then calls you an "inferior writer", there's nothing you can do. Ideas are free.

HawkOwl said...

Manic Mom - No kidding. Every time I watch The Chronicles of Riddick (which is a few times a week) I'm like "dang, why didn't I think of that?" Which is funny because I rarely read sci-fi and certainly don't write it. But as much as I wish I had thought of that, I have no interest in thinking of more along the same vein.

lauren said...

Hi-

I just had a quick question that seemed appropriate to ask here- How do I find a critique group? I've looked online by googling it and haven't come up with anything useful. If anyone had information on "how to find a critique group that's right for you[me]" please let a comment. And if this makes me a nitwit or if I should've researched the snarkives, a thousand apologies.

Sherry Decker said...

Quick said...
I don't understand critque groups. Do you split royalties with them when you get published? Which I guess is the point of the question.

Uh . . . no.

lauren said...
How do I find a critique group?

Advertise. Put up cards in libraries, book stores or schools. Or start one of your own by following the same process. Preferably, it's best to join or start a group where at least one of the other members is more advanced. You can learn from them. Initially, be sure to meet in neutral territory, like the library or coffee shop - you never know if someone really weird will apply and you don't want them to know where you live. I met my group members in a college class for advanced writers and we admired each other's writing. We meet monthly and take turns hosting the group in our homes. We've been together for 8 years.

Quick said...

Janny - I guess I was being a little facetious in asking if you split royalties. But the critique group concept is one that I don't think I've come across before. Initially I pictured, say, Hemingway or Saul Bellow or Patrick White consulting their critique groups. It seems like writing by committee.

diana peterfreund - I understand that our knowledge and writing skill is a product of all we have learned, it's just that for me, writing fiction is a solitary hobby. The idea of sitting down with a group and pulling it apart is just not something I've ever contemplated. I have a couple of friends who might read the almost final draft before I send it off, and I certainly listen to the opinions of editors, but other than that, I'm my critique group.

I'm not knocking it, and enough people swear by them so they obviously have a role, it's just an unknown concept for me.

I will cofess here that my knowledge is like Swiss cheese.

:)

Anonymous said...

You cannot steal ideas because they belong to everyone - check copyright law - but you certainly can steal creative work based on specific ideas. It is the writing (including outlines, plot structure etc.) that is protected not the underlying idea.

Anonymous said...

Finding a critique group: The way I found mine was through NaNoWriMo (nanowrimo.org). I know, I know, but really, this little group that has stayed together the last six months and produced many stories and a few short story sales is chock-full of talent and moral support. We've all learned a tremendous amount from each other, and I think that of the eight of us, at least three and probably more like five will become published book authors within a few years.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Dwight, don't make me jab you in the ribs.

Umbrella Girl said...

IMHO, it doesn't do a lot of good to just join a critique group - you have to find one that's right for you. If you write romance, don't think of joining a group where everyone else is writing thrillers. Try searching on sites like Absolute Write for others who write in your genre. I wasn't pleased with a group I joined, but I did meet a great writer there who introduced me to a third, and it has worked out great.

lauren said...

Thanks everybody!

Carol said...

This is my first time on this site and I have also been looking for a critique group with no luck. I have
written a children's book so I am looking for other children's book authors.

Rene' said...

For those of you who have been lucky enough to find a critique group: Would you share what seems to work best in terms of size/number of participants, how the process works, etc.?

BTW, if anyone is interested in volleying their women's fic/romance work around with me, e-mail me and we'll create our own critique group! :)

Anonymous said...

You really need two good groups: one to shred your story and one to hug you until you get the courage to put it back together.

Preditors and Editors has a yearly poll of crit groups. Look through them.

Other avenues:
If you write romance, join RWA. If you write mystery, join MWA.
If you write science fiction, join SFWA.

Anonymous said...

Rene
The original questioner here. The way my group works is by posting the stories to other group members at least two weeks before a meeting. Everyone then does a written critique and these are read aloud at the meeting with time allowed for discussion afterwards. The author isn't supposed to respond until all the critiques have been heard, at which point they're free to respond at will, of course. We have between 6 and 15 members at any given meeting, depending. We also have a timer, when it's a big group, and allow 3 minutes per critique (some people otherwise will ramble for hours). We always insist that a potential member attends at least one meeting before they submit anything, so they have an idea of what they're getting into (before we instituted this we had people who, shall we say, didn't seem to be expecting an honest critique, and didn't react well). It's a good group; tough but fair and very helpful. There's some excellent stuff on critiquing here: http://www.critters.org/diplomacy.html. For those looking for groups Critters has an excellent rep for SF/Fantasy, if you want an online group; Zoetrope is another one, their critique group covers all types of fiction I believe.
Hope this helps.