Posted On May 29, 2013 by Print This Post

Lord Save Me From Critique Groups with Duffy Brown

Participating in a critique group has its pros and cons. Author Duffy Brown gives us her candid take on crit groups and the benefits of brainstorming sessions. 

Wonderful to have you back, Duffy!

Critique group is two words, two parts. The group part builds your story; the critique part ruins it. Brainstorming with others develops, creates and unites; critiquing destroys frustrates and separates.

There are boatloads of how-to books out there on the basics of writing and lists of workshops that can hone skills, but when it comes to writing your story, it must be one-hundred percent told in your voice. If you let a critique group at your story you get book-by-committee. It’s sliced and diced and put back together to suit them, not you. Nothing fresh and new comes from working with a group.

Fresh and new and exciting comes from deep inside the writer.

Dianne_Castell_(Eq)Critiquing is like throwing a rock through a window. The original work is shattered. Brainstorming is like throwing a rock in a pond. It lands and the ripples start building from small circles to every widening ones that seem to go on forever.

The brainstorming group forms a pool of creative energy where great ideas feed off other great ideas. Goals, motivation and conflict of the story are explored in ways you never even thought about.

Brainstorming an entire story doesn’t mean someone else writes my book. It means you come with the basic premise, characters, maybe a beginning and end and some turning points. You bring these ideas to the group, ply them with chocolate-chip cookies then write down their ideas as they suggest ways to fill in the rest of the story.

Do this in three stages–the opening and beginning of the story, the middle action and turning point, the climax, black moment and epiphany. You explore what makes the story unique, the characters unique, what hooks fit and how to best pitch the story to an editor.

You can take notes but a tape recorder is better. You write down and take into consideration all the ideas, even ones you think will never work. What sounds crazy now may very well be what works the best when you’re actually writing the story. One idea often sparks another idea that you’d never have thought of on your own.

In brainstorming, the most important things to remember are that there are no wrong ideas, no one insists their idea is best or someone else’s won’t work and pass the cookies.

Brainstorming doesn’t have to be for an entire book. Maybe it’s the beginning or end or a scene that needs help. Perhaps a character’s gotten into a mess and you don’t know how to get him out of it. Maybe he needs to get into a mess and you’re looking for the right motivation.

A fun and incredibly productive way to brainstorm is a brainstorming weekend. This is not a vacation; this is work. In fact, when you get back you’ll need a vacation. Being with other authors lets you see how they plot and create wonderful intriguing characters that bring their stories to life.

Brainstorming is far better than critiquing. It’s a positive experience, not negative in any way. Editors say, write the book of your heart—not hearts. It has to be your story told your way in your voice. When that editor buys your book, the most important thing they buy is your voice. The way you tell the story…not the way the group tells the story.


What works for you? Critique groups or brainstorming sessions? 


Join us on Friday, May 31st, when author Vonda Sinclair presents: Building Sexual Tension. 


Killer_in_Crinolines_bestDuffy’s latest book, KILLER IN CRINOLINES, released in May 2013. 

When Reagan Summerside finds a groom face-down in five-tiers of icing and fondant, a cake knife in his back and her good friend and local UPS driver accused of the murder she must find the real killer without winding up in the local swamp as alligator meat.

Will Walker Boone, pain-in-the ass attorney and once-upon-a-time gang member, help her out or will he feed her to the alligators himself?


Bio: Duffy Brown loves anything with a mystery. While others girls dreamed of dating Brad Pitt, Duffy longed to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom. She has two cats, Spooky and Dr. Watson, and conjures up who-done-it stories of her very own for Berkley Prime Crime.

Iced Chiffon, out October, 2012, is the first book in the Consignment: Murder series. Duffy writes romance as Dianne Castell, is a USA Today bestselling author, won Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, HOLT-Medallion Award, has been on the cover of Romantic Times Magazine and the Waldenbooks Bestseller list.

To learn more about Duffy, visit her website.

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14 Responses to “Lord Save Me From Critique Groups with Duffy Brown”

  1. Hi Duffy,

    I’ve done brainstorming and ideas do pop up from everywhere. Critique groups have been a miss for me. I had four people read my first chapter: two loved it, two hated it. While they battled, I read a book.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | May 29, 2013, 6:46 am
  2. Hi Duffy,
    So very true. I love brainstorming because it allows people to have ideas that I can then (if I wish) interpret. Critique partners are great but the group scene can leave you feeling more confused than ever.

    Posted by Louise Reynolds | May 29, 2013, 7:20 am
  3. Hi Duffy. Thank you for being here!

    I’m lucky in that both work for me. On the critique side though it was a hard fought battle. I’ve had critique partners who have paralyzed me and it was an awful experience. It took years to get to the group I’m with now and it works beautifully. I think it’s all in finding the right people.

    On the brainstorming side, those same critique partners and I meet somewhere twice a year and lock ourselves in a hotel room for 3 days. As you said, it’s exhausting work, but we get so much accomplished and we have fun doing it.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 29, 2013, 8:07 am
  4. Morning Duffy!

    Right now I could use a brainstorming group! =) I swear my brain has turned to oatmeal I’ve been in a variety of critique groups as well, and I agree with Adrienne, it’s all about finding the right people….some will tear you down and some will enhance….they’re your support group, more than a critique group. That’s a much happier word…=)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 29, 2013, 9:41 am
  5. Hi Duffy!

    I’m with Adrienne…finding the right crit partners is key for getting constructive feedback, but I love brainstorming ideas because input from others opens up new possibilities I would have never considered.

    Thanks so much for being with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 29, 2013, 4:34 pm
  6. I LOVE brainstorming – I just wish I was able to do it with my writing friends more often. I think it’s very tricky finding critique partners that encourage and inspire you, but who can also let you know if your story is going off-track. Maybe the day will come when I’m confident enough to submit a story that hasn’t been critiqued, but for now that’s out of my comfort zone.

    Critiquing is HARD, and there’s a real art to offering constructive criticism without killing the author’s spark. I would never want a CP to rewrite a scene or put it in their own words, but I find it helpful if they say, “I don’t like your heroine much in this scene,” because I don’t always realize the way a scene will appear to a reader.

    Duffy, you are 100% professional, and I’m impressed with the way you can work out all the details of your plot and characters and then fly with it. I LOVE the Consignment Shop mysteries, and I loved your romances, too. Whatever your process, it definitely works for you!

    Thanks for this great post – now I’m itching for a writer’s retreat with lots of time for brainstorming! (It won’t happen this summer, but maybe in the fall.)

    I miss you!!!!!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 29, 2013, 6:12 pm
  7. Oh, Becke, we miss you so much here in Cincy. You are an amazing author and have such terrific ideas. Love your plots! You are the perfect brainstorming partner!
    So glad you’re enjoying the Consignment Shop series.

    Posted by Duffy Brown | May 29, 2013, 11:25 pm
    • The Consignment Shop mysteries showcase your voice perfectly! I’ve got my mom hooked on them now, too.

      I’m excited – I actually made some progress writing tonight, although it’s going to be hard getting up tomorrow when my grandbaby arrives. I hope I’ll get more writing done tomorrow night. Little by little…

      Thanks so much for your constant support and encouragement. I love the writing community – I’m amazed and awed at the generosity of experienced authors with newbies like me. ((hugs))

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 30, 2013, 1:43 am
  8. I think you know when you’ve got the right critique partners when their influence isn’t just constructive technical support but also brings an element of brainstorming with it.
    Anyone can say “I don’t like this” and leave you twisting.
    Likewise some people offer endless praise which may not be helpful as the market is unlikely to be as kind-hearted as they are.
    In my modest experience a good critique partner identifies problem areas and suggests solutions. She might say, “Your scene goal seems a little unclear. Have you considered this approach…?”
    Finding a good critique partner is as much of a challenge as finding a good partner in any aspect of life. You may have to kiss a lot of toads.

    Posted by Maggie Bolitho | May 30, 2013, 10:56 am

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