Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Three Tips on Finding a Critique Group

Critique groups are vital to a writer’s success. Family and friends can tell you they like your story. They might even be able to give you some suggestions on how to improve it to their taste. However, they might not be able to provide the right kind of feedback, or maybe they are uncomfortable telling you something is downright awful.

I’ve been a member of different critique groups for more than a decade. Some have been online or via email. My most recent group meets monthly at our local library. If you’re looking for a critique group, here are some helpful tips:

Decide what kind of group is best for you

This might be tough at first, especially if you’ve never been part of a critique group. Questions you might ask yourself are:

• Would I prefer an online group or a group that meets in person?
• Am I looking for a group where we write to prompt and then read what we wrote?
• Am I looking for a group where members read something they have previously written?
• Is it important to me to be in a group where all the members write in the same genre?

Ask questions

Before joining any group, don’t be afraid to ask questions of them too.

• How often do you meet? If it's an online group: how often do members submit?
• How many members do you have?
• Am I expected to read each week?
• How many pages do members submit?
• How long has your group been meeting?

Sit in on a meeting

If the group meets in person, contact the facilitator and ask if you can observe a meeting. This will give you an idea how the group runs, how the members interact with each other, and what type of feedback you can expect.

As to how to find out about actual critique groups: check out writing associations you belong to, attend a conference or retreat and network with other writers, or check in with your local librarian or bookstore manager. There are plenty of online groups as well.

Critique groups help you see your writing in new ways. They inspire you to continue when you're not in the mood. Consider critique groups an important support team no matter where you are in your writing career.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving, and Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Character Interviews and Questionnaires

We recently discussed that good writing requires engaging characters. In order to create strong, dynamic, realistic, and relatable characters, we must know them in and out. They must become as real to us as our own family members.

So, how do we do that?

One way is to complete character interviews and questionnaires. From physical descriptions to likes

and dislikes, from hobbies to memories, and from pets peeves to quirks, spending time with your characters in such a meaningful way will create the rich, deep, and complex characters readers enjoy.

If you look online, you will find a variety of character interviews and questionnaires from well-known sources.

The Ultimate Character Questionnaire from The Novel Factory

Gotham Character Questionnaire

The Official NaNoWriMo Character Questionnaire

Writer's Digest Novel Writing: 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters

No matter where you start --plot, setting, or character-- taking the time to get to know your characters will build depth and texture into your story.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving, and Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Outlining Method (Are You an Outliner?)

By Karen Cioffi

Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I don’t know if there has been a study of how many writers prefer each, but I know there are many in both camps. You know the saying, “different strokes for different folks.”

But, before I go on, the definition of an outliner is a writer who creates a written (or typed) outline of the plot of their story. A pantser is a writer who creates the story as she goes along – no outline. The story unfolds as she is writing it.

If I had to take a guess though, I’d say the majority of writers/authors are outliners (plotters).

The reason?

Creating an outline of a story before delving into it provides a foundation. It’s something to build upon. It’s like a map. You mark out your driving route. You know you’re going from Point A to Point B. You see the highways, roads, and so on between those two points. And, they’re all written out in your outline.

It’s interesting to know that there are different kinds of outliners. Some create full detailed accounts of getting from Point A to Point B. Some simply have a rough outline of what the story will be about – possibly that John is at A and has to get to B.

Jeff Ayers (a top crime writer), in his article “Doing What He Loves,” in the May 2009 issue of the Writer, says:

“Outlining allows me time to think. Does this ever happen to you--you're in line at the market, some pushy person cuts in front of you, you mumble something ineffectual or stupid, then when you're 10 blocks away the light bulb goes off, and you think "That's what I shouda said!" Well, outlining gives me the 10 blocks to think of something better.”

I think this is an excellent explanation of why writers use the outline method of writing.

In the article, Ayers explains that he spends lots of time outlining. In addition to coming up with ideas, it allows him to get better acquainted with his characters. This more intimate knowledge allows him to bring them to life.

As I mentioned earlier, outlining is like using a map. But depending on how detailed you make your outline, it can be more like a GPS. It can lead you street by street from your starting point to your ending point.

Even if you run into a detour that was unexpected, as in writing can happen, you have a guided system in place to get you back on track. And, if it’s very, very detailed, you even know where the rest stops are, where to eat, where the scenic sites are, and so on. It doesn’t leave much to chance.

Knowing every step, every detour, all the characters . . . there is a comfort in this method.

I’m much more of a pantser, but I have used outlines now and then. And, it certainly does offer a sense of security. But, with that said, I love to watch my story unravel before me. I love to watch characters develop and move forward. This comes with the pantser method.

It seems though that no matter which style you use, it’s not a guarantee of success or failure. Gail Carson Levine has some good advice in regard to this, “Quality comes from word choice, plot, characters – all the elements [of a good story].”

Which writing method do you use?

Outlining vs. Pantsing


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

You can check out Karen’s e-classes through WOW! at:

Friday, January 4, 2019

Character or Plot Driven

 Character or Plot Driven

         In writing circles, the battle rages on: Is a story character-driven, or is it plot-driven? One side states that character-driven writing focuses on the internal change of the character or characters rather than the events that take place. They state plot-driven stories focus on the happenings and external changes. However, how clear-cut are the two types of writings?

         According to the article “Character-driven vs Plot-driven Writing” by Dorrance Publishing,
            Plots that are character driven are commonly referred to as “literary fiction”
            due to the fact that they feature characters that possess multiple layers that are
            exposed as the story develops.
Note the author of this article says “plots that are character driven,” and plot means actions, happenings.

         The article sited above does state both character and plot are necessary for a good story, as does editor and writing coach Jeni Cappelle, “Every well-written novel must have a combination of engaging characters and a compelling plot.”

         Best-selling author and writing expert William Bernhardt takes the battle farther when he states the belief of character-driven and plot-driven being separate entities is a myth. He writes, “All fiction is character-driven.” [Creating Character, p 6] No matter what exciting happenings the writing may contain, it falls flat if the writer uses a flat, boring, or unbelievable character or characters. All good writings require “strong, dynamic, unique characters.” [p 11] As stated on the back cover of Bernhardt’s book, Aristotle wrote, “Action is character.”

         Everyone agrees that one must have both engaging characters and an attention-holding plot Bernhardt writes that combining imagination, insight, and first-rate writing skills creates the best characters. Great writers use the same qualities to develop compelling characters and electrifying plots. Both characters and plot combined take readers into a different world that exhilarates them and removes them from their own existences for a while and leaves them wanting more.

Sources, other than author’s own knowledge and expertise:
1. William Bernhardt, Creating Character: Bringing Your Story to Life.
2. Jeni Chappelle, editor and writing coach, “Plot-driven or Character-driven: Does it Really Matter?”
3. Dorrance Publishing