Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Critique Crime?

I've belonged to two critique groups for more than ten years and there's a question I've never resolved, so I'm going public: if you appropriate specific word changes suggested in a colleague's critique, do you feel like a plagiarist?

Now I'm not talking about general critique comments. I'm talking about swapping your specific words, phrases, or sentences for those suggested in a critique line edit. They found the perfect word or phrase. You didn't. And now you covet them! Do you filch?

Or how about when a critique suggests how to end your story with a pow instead of a thud? And even gives you the sentences to do it? Do you rip them off?

Is this acceptable? Do we ask our critiquer for permission? Or do we just steal their perfect words, figuring that perhaps colleagues have kidnapped from our critiques and in the end it's all about helping each other be better writers?


  1. Interesting point, Gale. I know as a critiquer, it's my own private policy NOT to re-write a person's work. Not my job. I try and point out weak spots, or what's not working for me, but I don't think I've ever "re-written" anyone else's work. At least with novels - shorter pieces, pbs and poetry is a different story though. Sometimes, a one word switch is exactly what is needed.

    On the flip side - I've often wondered if following suggestions from fellow critique members makes your novel a collaborative effort? Ultimately, I think NO - since it's not the critique members who sit down day after day and craft the story along with you. (but just in case anyone would like to join couch is pretty comfy, and I'll make the BIG pot of coffee) Yet I do find critiques helpful and relevant. Just the right comment, may sometimes open your eyes to a path you might never have taken.

    I guess that's what acknowledgements are for, lol! Great post!!

  2. I say, "Of course it is acceptable." They wouldn't have made the suggestions if they didn't want you to take them up on it.

    And no need to feel any guilt about it. Hopefully you have given them suggestions which are just as good and they have incorporated your words :)

  3. I agree with Robin - that's what acknowledgments are for!

  4. When I'm critiquing manuscripts, I have no qualms about suggesting word changes, line-edits, alternate endings, anything I feel can strengthen a crit-mate's work. Maybe it's because of my background as a magazine editor--it's in my nature.

    Unlike with magazines where writers had to accept my editing changes contractually--nyah, nyah--with fiction manuscripts, I'm only making suggestions. It's up to the writer to use them or lose them.

    I like to think of my edits--the ones that are spot-on, anyway--as little gifts for my crit-mates. No theft involved.

    Btw, I just love receiving similar gifts from my crit-mates too.

  5. I plead not guilty, your honor!

    I always believed those words were given to me with no strings attached. Just like the commas and quotation marks.

    And in my defense, your honor, I've been known to offer words as gifts, too. And I've even gone so far as to suggest that certain exclamation points be forever donated to a charity of one's choice.

  6. Gale, so glad you brought this up. Only yesterday did a group mate suggest an alternate ending to a novel I'm working on. (Usually, we don't do this, but this particular group mate just can't help himself. And personally, he's such a great person with a lively personality that he can get away with it without offending anyone). Anyway, I loved the idea. The problem is my darned ego which is telling me "Duh, you should have come up with the idea yourself!" But then again, maybe I did. After all, I'm the one who wrote the story and sprinkled the plot with all those clues and hints that led up to my group mate's suggestion. Maybe sometimes it just takes a fresh (and caring) set of eyes to point out to us what's right in front of our face. A long time ago editors used to serve this function. Maybe a critique group is the next best thing, if not better.

  7. So the consensus seems to be that accepting specific suggestions is okay.

    And perhaps an acknowledgment would be a thoughtful gesture if your critique group's contribution was stellar.

  8. Sometimes I'll point out weak word choices in a critique and offer stronger suggestions - when they actually end up being used by my partners I feel flattered! So I don't think CPs consider it plagarism from the other end, do you?

    On the second point - my manuscript was rejected by two editors specifically citing the ending as disappointing. My CP came along with such a brilliant fix that I wanted to smash my head into a wall, but I still had to put them in the time and effort to type out the additional 10 pages. She's definitely getting an acknowledgement if that thing ever gets published

  9. And as long as we're discussing endings...

    My MG's ending was totally changed by a suggestion from Gale. So much so that I added an entire subplot that strengthened the whole darn manuscript!
    An acknowledgment upon publication? Oh, yes. Most definitely.