has become an annual tradition. We call it Chocolate Critiques, but the refreshments are optional. Most of our members have regular critique partners or groups, but this event serves a particular purpose, the evaluation of the first two pages of a manuscript, the all-important hook.
In order to finish at a reasonable hour, we limit entries to the first eight or nine received. Members email their pages to the coordinator, who removes the author’s name and emails the files to someone with access to a copy machine. Along with the two-page manuscripts, we print evaluation forms with 1 to 10 rating scales for several points: Opening Hook (does it grab your attention?), Characterization (do you know this character?), Setting (do you feel a sense of place?), Tone (is this romance? mystery? young adult? or whatever is appropriate for your group). and Do you Want to Read More? No strict rules, though: we write on the manuscripts, circle numbers on the scales, make notes on the evaluation sheet, whatever seems best.
Last night we had three readers, published members of the chapter who took turns reading the openings aloud. Then we took a few minutes to go over the pages, mark them up, fill out the evaluation sheets, etc. No discussion, and signing is optional.
This is a different approach than most writers use in their regular critique arrangements, and it can be quite useful. This time around we did nine openings. I didn’t have a horse in the race last night (not that we include any element of competition), but last year I picked up some good suggestions for fine-tuning my opening paragraphs.
This year’s batch varied in content and quality, as you might expect, but all were serious efforts. I thought one or two started about a page too early, and one did not seem to be in any particular point of view (but it wasn’t quite omniscient either). We didn’t have much trouble figuring out that the story about the professional basketball player came from our only male participant. Young adult and/or paranormal stories were popular this year.
In a relatively small group like ours, we find ourselves guessing at the identities of the writers, not always successfully. The process can remain as anonymous as the group, and the authors, prefer, and it’s a particularly good way to try out something very different from your usual style or genre.
Adapt the Chocolate Critique method to your own writing group, small or large, any or all genres. You may find help with your own manuscript, and who knows what you’ll learn from someone else’s.