Thursday, April 29, 2010

Westside Writers Critique Middle Grade and Young Adult Novel Manuscripts at our Annual Critique Night!

Over 45 of us gathered on Wednesday April 14 to share and critique the first four pages of our middle grade and young adult novels.

We tried a different, symbol-based system to summarize "what makes a good critique." (Last month, for picture book critique night, we went with TACT)

This time, we went with


Which stood for

+ say something positive

? let the author ask questions

--> direct your constructive comments to specifics

+ end with encouragement

Again, the idea is that a good critique is like a sandwich - start and end with positives, let the author get their questions answered, and make your constructive feedback points kindly and tactfully.

We also brought up that the best way to receive a critique is to be a silent note-taker. Sometimes, your emotions are so engaged when hearing a critique it's hard to judge the feedback in that moment. A few days later, it can be very useful to look at your notes again, once you've had some time to think about it.

Rita reminded folks of the article "The Give and Take of Critique" by the amazing Linda Sue Park. Then we broke into 6 groups, each with 5 manuscripts as well as plenty of participants without manuscripts (because you can learn a LOT by hearing and participating in a critique - even of someone else's work!).

This month, we tried something new by having Lee call out the start and stop times for each manuscript's 15-minute interval. The evening flew by, the cookies disappeared, and we all learned a tremendous amount from reading, listening, and sharing + ? --> + feedback with each other!

Once again, it was a highly successful no-tears event, with the finale being a round of applause for everyone brave enough to share their works in progress.

We hope you join us at our next schmooze on Wednesday, May 12th at 7 PM, when we meet to discuss:

"Muahuaha! Villains, Antagonists, and Conflict"

What changes in your story, and Why? What obstacles, adversities, and adversaries do your main characters overcome, and what compels readers to care? How can you keep your antagonist from being 2 dimensional - or are you writing the kind of story that has no villain at all? Last December, guest speaker Paula Yoo reminded us of Aaron Sorkin's formula:

Intention + Obstacle = Conflict = Story.

Come figure out the "obstacle" and "conflict" portions of the equation for what you're writing! For writers of Picture Books through YA, non-fiction and fiction.

Get more details on where here, and you can RSVP to

We look forward to seeing you there!


Rita and Lee


  1. Rita--you and Lee are doing a fabulous job. I raise my teacup to you.
    Catherine Linka

  2. This is great! I wish my location of employment hadn't changed because these all look like great sessions to attend. Thank you for sharing the notes on this blog!

  3. Lee and Rita,
    Thanks so much for organizing and running such a full evening for so many writers! Having Lee announce when each 15-min period was up was a GREAT idea--such a simple idea, such a huge help for moderators (to keep each group under control) and participants (to protect each participant's precious time slot by making sure no one went overboard)!

  4. Dear Lee and Rita,

    LOVE the code and the whole tone of this evening. Thank you! I'm going to link to it for my UCLA Ext. students.

    Yay, you two!


  5. Ooh, and thank YOU, Caroline, for being such a great moderator on this night! Big shout out to all the amazing people who helped us lead groups this month: Caroline, Tanya, Charlie, and Graeme!! (And me and Lee!) :D

    Catherine, Stephanie, and April, thank you so much for the kind comments! + ? --> + feedback is great on manuscripts, but on a blog, +++ is the best. ;)