How the Critique Works
Critiques take place at the 4th Thursday meeting for 90 minutes (after the completion of the 30-minute business meeting). Each member will have received an advance copy of the submitted manuscript so they will be prepared with benevolently honest comments. After the critique, High Country Writers treats the writer to lunch at the restaurant of the writer’s choice.
Who is eligible to have work critiqued
A member who has attended at least three (3) critique sessions. WRITER (below) outlines how to avail yourself of this opportunity. The CRITIQUER section describes what to expect from the critiquers. Expect critiquers to describe strengths as well as weaknesses.
Who is eligible to critique a submitted work:
Any member or non-member who has read both the critique guidelines and the submitted work. A non-member who participates in a critique is not credited with one of the three critiques required to submit material for a critique if that person decides to join.
1. Contact the Critique Coordinator (High Country Writers Vice President) to get on the critique schedule and to discuss the details.
2. Submit the following to the Membership Chair, Ree Strawser (email@example.com) no later than three weeks before the meeting at which the critique will take place: • A manuscript of approximately 20 double-spaced pages of 12-point Times New Roman with 1” margins and page numbers on the bottom.
A short bio, particularly about your life as a writer.
A digital headshot (or similar) if you have one.
A cover letter that brings critiquers up to speed about:
o Intended audience (Young adults? College students?)
o Tone (Satire? Humor? Serious?)
o Genre (Romance? Thriller?)
o Whatever the critiquer needs to know to understand the context of your manuscript (e.g., if this is chapter 4, what key points does the critiquer need to know from chapters 1 – 3 so this chapter makes sense?)
Any specific questions on which you want feedback (Is the reading level right for a junior high student? Does the dialog sound authentic?)
3. Make a one to two minute introduction to the critique, including the specific areas on which you would like feedback.
4. Critiquers are asked to mark up their copy of the manuscript and to leave it with the writer at the end of the critique. Not all will, so you may want to take notes. (The critiquer may also send the edited manuscript to the author using email.)
5. If a critiquer’s comment is not clear, the author may ask for clarification at that time or when all critiquers have finished, so state at the beginning how you want to proceed. In either case, be mindful of the need for the critique to keep moving so all critiquers have time to make their comments within the 90-minute format. Any discussion for clarification should be between the writer and the critiquer, not an open discussion among all the members.
6. As the CRITIQUER guidelines explain, comments are offered in the spirit of benevolent honesty, so:
• Have an open mind. The words are fresh to the reader, and the writer is often too close to the material to see what new eyes see.
• Accept all comments graciously and without argument. If the point is not clear to someone, it isn’t clear to them, and it may not be clear to future readers, either. Even when you don’t agree with the critiquer’s comments, the critiquer may have identified something that could use clarification in the manuscript.
• Make use of the suggestions that make sense to you and forget the rest.
• Remember that this is a critique of your story, not of YOU, and the manuscript is a draft.
7. The High Country Writers critique coordinator (vice president) is responsible for refocusing the discussion if it gets off track.
In preparation for the critique (prior to attending the critique):
• You will receive the manuscript and author’s cover letter by e-mail two to three weeks before the date of the critique.
• Write your comments on the manuscript that you will give the writer at the end of the critique. Use colored ink for easy readability. (Or use the "Track Changes" utility in MS Word that automatically puts your edits in color.)
• Arrange your ideas into a tactful, organized critique that includes strengths as well as weaknesses. Consider these questions as you identify strengths and weaknesses:
o Is the title working? Can you suggest a better one?
o What is the main idea of the piece and is it conveyed effectively?
o What is the tone of the piece (comic, serious, tragic, formal, informal, satiric?) and does it appear to be logical and true to the writer’s intent?
o How is the opening: Slow? Too quick? Confusing? Dull? Does it grab you?
o How is the piece organized (Flashbacks? Chronological?) and is the organization effective?
o Is the point of view established early and maintained consistently?
o Is there a good balance between showing and telling (action and explanation)?
o Are the characters and their dialog believable and consistent?
o Is there a recognizable, meaningful conflict? Is enough at stake for us to care about the outcome?
o How did you react to specific scenes or dramatic moments?
o Are the details specific enough? Would you prefer more or less description?
o Were all the scenes important to the story?
o Did the plot continue to move at an acceptable pace?
o Is the style clear and easy to read or does it come between you and the content?
o Is the central premise clear and the supporting evidence convincing?
• Rather than using discussion time for comments on grammatical issues, use recognized editing / proofing marks on the manuscript to convey your comments. (Or use the "Track Changes" utility in MSWord and send an edited copy to the author by email.)
o lower case, use a slash (/) over the capital letter
o upper case, draw 3 lines under lower case letter
o leave as it was, use "stet"
o insert a comma, use ^ with a comma under it
o insert a word or letter, use ^ with the new word or letter above it
o insert a period, put a circle around a period
o possible spelling error, use
o insert a space, use #
o transpose words, use a sideways "S" under the first word and over the second word
o delete a word, draw line through it trailing into a written letter "e"
o begin new paragraph, use a capital "P" with a parallel line before the "P"
o no new paragraph, use a sideways "S" to connect the end of the previous paragraph with the beginning of the next one
For the critique session
1. Each critiquer will have the opportunity to speak in turn without interruption or questions from other critiquers. Write down the points you want to make and save them until your turn or until all others have had a turn.
2. OPEN WITH SOMETHING POSITIVE. Remember what an accomplishment it is to get something in a form you can show fellow writers.
3. Phrase your comments and responses to the above questions provisionally: "I think," "It seems to me," "In my opinion...." It is more valuable to the writer to hear observations than evaluations.
4. Don’t argue with the writer or try to rewrite the story.
5. Be specific by pinpointing problems and offering suggestions, if possible, without trying to show your superiority.
6. If something offends you, remember that taste is subjective. We do not set moral standards. Free expression is the right of a writer.
7. Don’t monopolize the conversation.
8. It is helpful for the writer to know that several people have the same comment – a comment that may have been made before the discussion gets to you. In the interest of time, if the comment has already been made and you agree with it, briefly say so, adding only additional points or agreements/disagreements on points already made.
9. Simply pass if you have not read the manuscript or have nothing to add.
10. To maintain focus on the manuscript, refrain from injecting personal experiences into your critique.
11. Commend the writer on good points and conclude with something ENCOURAGING.
12. Submit your written comments to the writer at the end of the session.
High Country Writers (HCW) is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide support and promote excellence in writing and publication.
The Members of High Country Writers shall be persons seriously pursuing writing, or supporting publication with related services including, but not limited to, editing or design.
Membership is obtained by completion of an appropriate membership profile, and payment of High Country Writers dues. No person shall be denied membership because of race, color, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or national origin.
Annual membership dues are proposed by the Board of Directors and approved by the Members. Dues are payable by January 31st of each year. The initial membership dues will be reduced by 50% for members joining after July 1. Should any Member choose to resign dues will not be refunded.
HCW will meet at least once a month. All HCW Members are welcome to attend all meetings; time and place determined by the Board of Directors.
Members have full voting rights. A quorum will be 30% of members in good standing. If a quorum is not present, the vote shall be taken electronically via e-mail. The voting period shall be one week from the date of the e-mail with the decision made by a simple majority (50% plus one) of the votes cast.
The five (5) elected officers of High Country Writers are the President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary and Membership Chair.
The President serves as spokesperson for HCW; calls, sets the agendas for, and presides over all HCW Member and Board meetings; appoints, with approval of the Board, such committees as may be necessary; serves as ex-officio member of all committees except the Nominating Committee; executes HCW business as specified by the Board; appoints, with Board approval, qualified Members to fill any Board vacancies; coordinates all activities and fulfills any other obligations designated by the Board.
The Treasurer is responsible for collecting dues; notifying the President and Membership Chair of delinquent Members; keeping the Books of Account of HCW in good order; preparing regular listing of Members in good standing for the Membership Chair and providing an accurate up-to-date financial statement annually to the Members.
The Treasurer shall draft a proposed Annual Budget based on expected and past income and expenditures, and present it to the Board elect prior to November 30 of each year.
The Vice President performs the duties of the President in the absence of the President. The Vice President supervises the general work of the committees, and performs such other duties as the Board of Directors may direct.
The Vice President is Program Director, decides the monthly program, contacts speakers, and is responsible for press releases and other publicity directly related to HCW and its business.
The Secretary is responsible for recording meeting attendance, recording minutes of the meetings, providing the minutes to the editor of the HCW Journal and keeping HCW records, including copies of the HCW Journal and correspondence related HCW business.
The Membership Chair is responsible for processing new membership profiles, creating name tags for Members and providing the membership list for use by the Officers and Members.
Nomination and Election of Officers
No later than the close of the regular August Membership meeting, the President shall appoint a Nominating Committee to be comprised of at least two non-Board members and one Board Member
The committee shall recommend and solicit names for the slate of next year's officers, securing consent from each nominee, and present the slate at the regular September Member meeting. Nominations can be made from the floor at this meeting, providing the nominee consents to serve if elected.
The slate of candidates must be published in the October HCW Journal edition distributed prior to the regular October Membership meeting.
At the regular October Membership meeting voting shall be conducted by voice or a show of hands if there is only one candidate per office, otherwise by written ballot of Members present, a majority being required to elect the officers. The elected officers shall take office January 1.
The new officers, prior to taking office January 1, shall meet, as soon after the election as possible, to determine their goals for the coming year, to work on the next budget, and to appoint committee chairpersons for the coming year.
Terms for officers are one year from January 1 through December 31, but each officer shall serve until a successor is elected.
Board of Directors
The Board of Directors (Board) shall be comprised of the five elected officers and (ex-officio without a vote) the Immediate Past President.
The Board shall have the power to manage the business and affairs of HCW subject to these Bylaws. The Board shall at all times keep the best interest of HCW in mind.
The Board may designate any committee deemed necessary. These committees shall be under the direction of the Board, but shall not have the authority of the Board.
Three of five of the members of the Board are required to constitute a quorum at any Board meeting before business can be conducted, and a majority vote of those present shall be required to carry any decision upon which a vote is taken. Members may attend Board meetings and participate in discussions.
The Board by a three-of-five vote may submit amendments to these Bylaws to a vote by Members at a Regular or Special meeting. Rules and regulations embodying additional provisions not inconsistent with these Bylaws may be adopted by the Board. Such rules and regulations shall be written and shall be considered official HCW Policies and Procedures.
The Board shall meet in person when deemed necessary by the President or when requested by a majority of the Board. Other meetings may be conducted by telephone, postal mail or electronic mail.
The Board has the authority to vote on any business requiring action before the next meeting of the Members. The Board shall present reports of Board meetings to the Members.
The Board by a three of five vote at a regular or special Board meeting can remove a Member for failing to pay dues or other financial obligations due HCW, and or misuse or unauthorized use of HCW property and/or records, and or disruptive behavior.
The Board by a three of five vote at a regular or special Board meeting can remove a Director for cause such as disruptive conduct. If a Director is removed for cause that Member shall not be eligible to run for or hold office for a period of no less than two years from the date of removal.
A Director may also be removed from office for violation of the standards of conduct set forth herein by a recall election initiated by the filing with the Board of a Petition for Recall signed by at least ten percent (10%) of HCW's general Members. Upon receipt of such petition, the Board shall promptly schedule a recall election Member meeting. A Board member is recalled if a majority of the eligible Member votes cast in the recall election vote in favor recall.
All dues collected and other income of HCW must be used only for the benefit of the group. The fiscal year of HCW shall begin on January 1 and end on December 31. All HCW funds must be deposited in an account designated by the Board. The Board shall adopt an acceptable accounting system with the appropriate checks and balances to safeguard HCW funds.
The Treasurer and a Board-approved designee shall be authorized to sign HCW checks.
The Members shall be informed of the approved budget at the January Membership meeting and funds shall be disbursed in accordance with the annual budget.
Any expenditure not listed in the budget must receive a 2/3 approval of a quorum of the Board before being paid by the Treasurer. The budget may be amended by a 2/3 vote of a quorum of the Board when necessary. Such amendments shall be presented to the Members at the next regular meeting.
The Book of Accounts shall be open for inspection by any Member. The Books of Account shall be audited at least once a year by the Board or, upon a majority vote of the Board, may be audited by a professional.
Financial reports shall be submitted by the Treasurer to the Members no later than January 31 of each year.
Property of HCW
The name (High Country Writers), the acronym (HCW), the name of HCW Journal, and the HCW logo are the property of HCW. Normal, reasonable use of the name, acronym, newsletter name and HCW logo is permitted in conversations and correspondence (but not included as part of a letterhead) without Board approval.
The HCW Members List may be used only to promote or stimulate interest in HCW.
Any books, videotapes, audiotapes, HCW files, records, forms, brochures or other real property which has been given to, created by, or purchased by HCW shall be considered the property of HCW and not the property of any individual Member.
On approval of the Board or Appointee in charge of said property, any such property may be borrowed from HCW by HCW Members or may be donated to any individual or organization.
In the event of HCW's dissolution, all liabilities and obligations of the organization shall be paid, satisfied, and discharged, or adequate provision made therefore. Assets held by HCW requiring return, transfer or conveyance due to the dissolution of HCW, shall be returned, transferred or conveyed. Any remaining assets may be donated to one or more organizations with a primary mission related to writing, as determined by a majority vote.
Rules contained in the current edition of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised shall govern this organization in all cases where applicable and when they are not inconsistent with HCW Bylaws.
End of Bylaws
CORE Guidelines for Evaluating Exemplary Writing
The CORE ELEMENTS of exemplary writing (below) apply to nonfiction, fiction and poetry. Although the emphasis may shift and some items below may apply more to one type of writing than to another, precise vocabulary and varied sentence structure, for example, are as essential in a treatise on global warming as they are in a short story about first love.
Word choice is clear, specific, vivid, accurate, varied, and free of clichés and misused jargon. This is achieved through (for example):
Rich, vivid supporting detail that allows the audience to see, hear, feel, etc., your writing.
Verbs and nouns that don’t need adjectives / adverbs (scarlet rather than intense red).
One word when one right word will do (discuss rather than hold a discussion).
Language accurately reflects the setting of the writing (geographic location, characters’ age and education, historical period, etc.).
It achieves sentence fluency (the flow and rhythm of phrases and sentences) by using a variety of sentence structures with different lengths and rhythms to achieve different effects. Varied sentence structure means a combination of simple, compound and complex sentences and sentence lengths.
It follows generally accepted rules of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure, with only purposeful deviations. These include pronoun/noun agreement, subject/verb agreement, appropriate verb tense, possessive forms, parallel construction, comma placement, and (in formal writing) avoidance of contractions / slang / colloquialisms, etc.
Copy is free of mechanical errors and proofreading mistakes.
It achieves focus through word economy -- the absence of empty words like generally, the fact of the matter is, basically,….
It clearly conveys (and fulfills) its purpose, whether to inform, to persuade, to entertain,….
It uses predominantly active voice.
It effectively uses symbolism, foreshadowing, metaphors, alliteration and other literary devices.
It contains fresh imagery.
It re-examines the way we look at familiar ideas and distills complex thoughts and ideas into simple, clear language, be it about how to plant a garden, the savagery of war, or methods to reduce the federal deficit.
The product of excellent writing reflects the writer’s effective effort to deliberately evoke and retain the attention of the reader. It grabs the reader, engaging their attention, intellect and emotions.
All of the above should be suitable to the audience and the purpose.
Guidelines for Exemplary Nonfiction
These guidelines have the intention of describing well-crafted nonfiction in the broadest of terms. The guidelines should apply equally well to any form of nonfiction, including, but not limited to:
The various disciplines of knowledge (history, psychology, mathematics, astronomy, the social sciences, philosophy, etc.) in both their academic and popular forms
Memoires and diaries
How-to (cookbooks, woodworking magazines, training literature, owners’ manuals, etc.)
Speeches and presentations
Exemplary nonfiction will:
1. Show, not tell. Use facts and data to guide the reader to reach conclusions rather than browbeating them to a conclusion.
2. Be cognizant of traditions for the chosen specific genre of nonfiction. These formats have evolved (over centuries in most cases) and provide clarity for the reader. If one chooses to deviate, do so with great skill and for a specific reason, such as parody, pastiche, to cross genres, or to introduce an innovation.
3. Be enlightening, educational, eye-opening, helpful.
4. Make clear, bold statements of your goal, your hypothesis, your findings, your conclusions.
5. Demonstrate thorough research, awareness of controversies, alternative methods and opinions, the prior state of human knowledge on the subject to which you now add with your original work.
6. Encourage readers to re-examine their previous mindsets.
7. Help the reader to picture, hear, taste and move through the subject by use of well-crafted description of what happened, what could happen, what will happen.
8. Whether you write formally or in a casual style, engage human emotions and make the reader care.
Guidelines for Evaluating Exemplary Fiction Writing
Characters are authentic and multi-dimensional. Character behavior is consistent with how the writer has developed the characters. Growth and change are both desirable, and the writer has laid the groundwork for growth and change that is believable and consistent with plot elements. The writer provides relevant details and includes thoughts and feelings. The writer provides insight, perspective, and empathy with character(s).
PROTAGONISTS are unique in some way, with:
A compelling problem / challenge / quest, the ability to solve the problem (but not so much ability that there is no challenge),
Something to lose if the problem isn’t solved,
The ability to change over the course of the work,
(Usually) a flaw / weakness / secret.
ANTAGONISTS have a desperate wish to succeed, and the will to succeed -- and even the abilities to do so -- closely matches that of the protagonist(s). The antagonist may be a powerful concept or idea rather than an expressed character.
The stakes for the protagonists and antagonists are neither unattainably high nor inconsequentially low.
Characters’ motivation is clear.
Characters evoke an emotional response and invite the reader’s involvement.
Characters will be remembered after the work is finished.
Setting, description, and point of view
The setting is fully realized with relevant details woven throughout so the setting becomes so real the readers experience being there.
There is an appropriate balance between showing and telling.
Setting is accurately reflected in every element of the work, from each character’s backstory to clothing, slang, manners, vehicles driven, etc.
Word choices are vivid and precise. See also “CORE Guidelines for Evaluating Exemplary Writing.”
Point of view is appropriate and consistent.
Genre-specific conventions are followed. Deviations from established conventions are intentional and accomplished with skill.
Dialog illustrates character and moves the plot forward in a way that would sound like natural speech.
Characters have individual, distinguishable speech patterns.
Word choice, rhythm, etc., are true to the time period, geographic location, education level, etc., of the character(s).
Content conveys emotion and reveals relationships among characters.
Speakers are easily identified.
Careful writing and editing show clear control of grammar and punctuation. Digressions from standard usage or spelling enhance rather than distract from meaning and sentence flow.
See also “CORE Guidelines for Evaluating Exemplary Writing.”
Narrative drive is about building tension. The plot needs:
A central premise (“Power corrupts”, “Bad people can turn out to be good”).
An inciting incident.
Rising action. Conflict and tension increase suspense and give the characters a chance to prove themselves in a tough situation.
A climax: This turning point changes the protagonists’ fate.
Denouement. Plot resolution evolves logically from within story.
Writer maintains focus without introducing non-essential details, characters, plotlines, etc. There are no unresolved plots / sub-plots.
Within the basic story structure, conflict / tension / challenges are believable and consequences are credible.
Timelessness / Universality
The reader is exposed to something fresh, like a new way of expressing a truism or a description of an event from a unique perspective.
The story and characters appeal to the emotions, intellect, and spirit.
Guidelines for Evaluating Exemplary Poetry
Exemplary poetry will:
Be true to its form (be it a sonnet, sestina, free verse, etc.).
Have language that evokes emotion.
Be rich in symbolism and imagery.
Be “dense” – it will say a great deal in few words.