Often we novelists work in a vacuum, turning to family and friends when we need honest feedback. Our family and friends, wanting to support our efforts, tell us how wonderful our writing is.

We wish we could believe them.

The need may be so great that we submit our work to competitions, even inappropriate competitions, just to get some honest comments. Here’s a much better way:  Critique groups. I belong to two critique groups, one of the many benefits of membership in the Maryland Writers’ Association.

These critique groups taught me to avoid point-of-view shifts, talking heads, adverbs, and fancy attributions. “She said…” and “He said…” are just fine, thank you. They caught all those mistakes in continuity, where a character drinks tea in one paragraph and coffee in the next. They pointed out their puzzlement over a character named Shirl in one section and Tammy Lou in the next. They groaned over the sequences that didn’t make sense; the characters who didn’t ring true; the plot points that went awry.

I am grateful for their help.

Sometimes their critiques were harsh, if not brutal;  sometimes they reflected lack of experience and depth; sometimes there was a pull toward the predictable, calling it “more believable,” rather than the preferable unexpected.  Sometimes a group member might be overbearing or pushy or biased. I bore up. I needed every one of them to develop my writing so I could present it with confidence.

And so, I give a sincere and heartfelt thank you to every member of my critique groups, and I recommend them to you.