So, what does critique mean, especially when it is associated with writers who form a critique group?
What we came up with was the following:
Critique is the umbrella that encompasses an overall review of a piece of writing. The review needs to focus on the big picture issues first. After looking at the issues of beginning, middle and end, the big picture issues are the arcs – plot arc and its association with the conflict arc; character arc and its association with the plot and conflict arcs. How do these arcs develop? Do things change – is this change clearly shown – during the process of interaction/movement? Is the character arc consistent with the personality of the character? Do they all work together as a whole? Is the POV main character the right one to show this story?
Then come the middle picture issues: scenes and chapters. What’s happening here – something has to happen (look at the definition of scene)? Is it relevant to the whole story? Is it deep enough to hold the whole story together? Do the beginnings, middles and ends of the scenes/chapters weave the appropriate structure? Is there a logical and emotional build to the ‘moment’ that counts? Does it work? This question relates to POV, arcs, goal, setting, etc. Is it in the right place, doing the right job, at the right time?
The small picture issues (and this is what most people think of when they hear the word ‘critique’): the paragraphs, sentences and words. This is the last piece of the critique – the editing, the proofreading, the distinctive structure of a sentence, the right word, the right grammar to produce the right emotion (nuance/subtext, etc.), the removal of redundancies/repetitions/ clichés, etc., rhythm to evoke – and always look at the consequences of having effect happen before cause!
The big questions: why is it here? what does it add? is it what this character would do/say? is it moving the story in the right direction? at the right pace? Are the verbs and nouns strong, appropriate, precise, specific?
You can see that the END of the critique process looks at things like spelling and punctuation – this is the end of the process. Remember the cause and effect rule (spelling, etc., are the effect, not the cause) – start the critique at the beginning – the big picture. If someone spends too much time quibbling about how things are spelled, how sentences are structured, how grammar is supposed to be used, you may lose the whole plot (story). These words may not be there at the final stages of the story, so leave them be until the big picture and middle picture issues have been discussed, considered, and decided.
Probably the most important thing to consider is: the person doing the critique will one day be on the other end – always critique the work, not the writer! Show respect for the work, ask questions, consider context, nuance, style. If you do that, it is much more likely the person who reviews/critiques your work will do the same.