It Takes a Critique Group

Today’s Wednesday Words topic is about the value of critique partners in the process of world building. When writing fantasy or science fiction, as I do, we need to create settings that are different in important ways from the reader’s normal experience. My story is set in the familiar contemporary world, until it is invaded by creatures from a parallel dimension of magic. I needed to establish my ideas about how the magic works in that parallel world, and how it interacts with our own world when they come into contact. I thought I had that all figured out before I even began drafting last summer, and I smoothed out the last wrinkles (ha!) in the first draft. Now, as I’m going through the revision, I have critique partners who read and comment on each chapter, and I’m amazed by how useful this is. It may take a village to raise a child, but for me it takes a critique group to raise a novel.

My critique partners ask the questions my readers would ask. Occasionally this is a question I planned to leave open at that point and answer later, but more often it’s just something I never thought of. There’s only so much leeway they will give me to wave my hand and say, “It’s magic!” The most wonderful questions are those that grow out of the facts I’ve already established, following them to logical conclusions that take me in new directions. Here’s one example: Early in the story I establish that time in this other dimension flows sideways to our own. What this means practically is that when someone is kidnapped into the other dimension and then returns, they come back at the same moment they left, even if they’ve been over there for decades. This is a cool idea and leads to some fun with verb tenses. However, later on I have my merry band of protagonists trapped in a bubble of this alternate reality that’s landed here, in our world, trying to get out. My critique partners reminded me that they should be worried about what’s happening to time out there. When they finally do get out, will it be the same moment they were trapped? Will it be a hundred years later? This is something they should have thought of, but since I didn’t, they didn’t. Without my critique partners I would have left that interesting complication on the table.

Writers, how do you get an outside perspective on your work? Do you have partners or groups you share with? What about online organizations like Scribophile or Absolute Write: have you tried them? If so, what was your experience? I’d like to expand the feedback I get, so any suggestions would be welcome.

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