Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Secrets of a Good Chapter One

Okay, you've decided you're finally going to sit down and write a book. You've always wanted to do it, but now you're actually going to type the words...Chapter One. You know what you want to say, but you're just not certain where to start.

How about...In the beginning...? Wait a minute that has already been done. So, what about...It was the best of times. It was the worst of times...? Used already. Then there's the good old standby...It was a dark and stormy night... Okay, so I was only teasing, but my point is your beginning needs to be orignal. Not something from a book you've read before, nor a quote from a movie. Of course, you already know this. But while we're on the subject avoid cliches as much as possible. That said, let's move on and discuss the secrets of a good chapter one.

The first secret is start your book at the point where change comes into your character's life. This change can be many things: a stranger, a murder, a missing person, an illness, a new love and etc. But whatever the change is, it should affect the protagonist's status quo. It can be good or bad, but whatever it is life will never be the same for your protagonist. The second secret, this change will affect your character's everyday life, so you have to also set up his/her world. Before your story started your protagonist had a life and you need to show us a glimpse of it. A tricky thing to do, but if done just right you'll evoke empathy in your readers and make them want to follow your character to see how he/she will handle this "change" through the book. And please don't forget to show how the protagonist feels.

A couple of weeks ago in my writer's group one of my friends said, "Kathi's a head person." I wasn't sure what she meant by that, so I asked her. She said, "You're always telling us to write our character's inner thoughts." I thought about that for a while, and she's right. I do like to know what's going on in the main character's mind because that shores up motivation for their actions, plus builds on emotions--emotions of not only the character's, but the readers as well.

After you show a glimpse of your character's everyday life and the change that has happened you need to apply the third secret, the continuing result of the change. This will carry through to the end of your book.

To show you how these secrets work I'll give you an example: your protagonist is a thirty-six-year-old waitress, who has always dreamed of owning her own bakery, but she's in a dead-end job with no prospects of saving enough money (this is her world, her everyday life). One day her friend tells her of a cake decorating contest and the winner will receive $20,000 (enter the change). But there's an entry fee, and she'll have to take time off work. If her boss were to learn of her plans, he'd make sure she worked a double shift on the day of the contest (danger and conflict). She starts saving (continuing result). Notice we added danger and conflict. Does that remind you of another writing tip from a few weeks ago: want, tension and outcome? It should. They are all working together in chapter one and helping you set up your story.

There now, you have some of the secrets of a good chapter one.

Do you know other secrets to a good chapter one? Please feel free to share them, and I'll add them to the list.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Finding Characters on the Bus

by Rebecca Talley

My super cool husband recently took me to Hawaii for a second honeymoon and it was awesome. I loved every minute of it. Hawaii is gorgeous and the best part, besides the ocean, snorkeling, surfing, food, luau, and sea turtles, was that there was no snow. No snow in sight. just warm, perfect weather.

My husband decided he wanted to see (and bodysurf in) the big waves on the north shore of Oahu. Since we were ataying in Waikiki and didn't have a rental car (you can walk to anything in Waikiki), this decision entailed riding a bus to the other side of the island (for $2.25 you can ride a city bus all over the island).

Though it took a long time, almost 2 hours to get there, the ride was a goldmine--at least for me. I have never seen so many characters assembled in one place. I wished I'd had my notebook to write down all the details of the people I saw. (I live in rural CO and never, ever ride public transportation). Who knew such colorful people rode a city bus?

There was the 70-something woman in a short mini skirt and high heels, carrying a dog in a little cage thing. She had long red hair and lots of jewelry. I imagined she was trying to recapture her youth, trying to look young and beautiful because the man in her life left her because of her aging body.

Then a 20-something local guy decided to befriend us. His coarse language made my ears turn red, but he was full of great information. He told us all about where not to go in Hawaii. I imagined he was a surfer, looking to avoid the responsibilities of life, just wanting to find that perfect wave.

Another woman with dark hair tied up in a ponytail, told us she'd moved to the island a year ago. I noticed that she as well as the other local guy had a speech pattern that included "yeah" after most of their sentences. I imagined she came to Hawaii looking for peace and to get away from the pressures of her job as a prosecuting attorney in Los Angeles.

The most colorful of them all was a skinny Hawaiian guy with long, matted black hair that stuck up on top of his head. He had wild eyes and dark, dirty hands. He didn't say anything, but he pantomined fishing and then gathering the fish, I assume, into his net. He pawed at the air, close enough to me that it made me uncomfortable. I imagined that he'd taken one two many drugs and his brain was fried and he was reliving, in his damaged brain,  a time when his grandfather took him fishing.

The next time you get stuck on creating a character, consider riding the public bus or train. You may see people who become characters in your next book. And, don't forget your notebook!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Elements of a Story

What makes a good story?

Think about this for a while, don’t answer right off. While you’re pondering think about the stories you have loved. You know, the ones that instantly pop into your mind whenever anyone asks you “what’s your favorite book?” What is it about that story that you admire? Is it the protagonist, the circumstance, the purpose, the adversary, or the catastrophe that appealed to you? There’s a pretty good chance that it was all of those things because a good story juggles all five:
  • Protagonist
  • Circumstance
  • Purpose
  • Adversary
  • Catastrophe
It would be rather blah to just have a story about a character living in perfect circumstances and never wanting anything, never overcoming something and never living through a crisis of some type. What’s the point?

As writers our job is to tell the best story possible and to do that we use all five story elements. Yep, all of them.To get you going, see if you can write a paragraph that explains your story using all the story elements.

For example I’ll use my book, The Forgotten Warrior.

Sydney Morgan (protagonist), a sixteen-year-old girl with a black belt in karate,
learns (circumstance) her mother has cancer and is forced to tolerate her absentee father (adversary) who comes back into her life. She can’t forgive him for leaving, plus she’s worried (purpose) about her mother and little sister and has to take care of them. Just when she thought things could not get worse, Syd is given a clear stone that sends her back in time (catastrophe). Syd’s desperate to find her way back home.

Of course, there’s much more to the story such as she meets Tarik, a stripling warrior, and falls in love. She also meets Chief Captain Heleman, who asks her to train the stripling warriors to fight. But through everything that happens to Sydney, the five elements are the pulse that beats throughout her story: protagonist, circumstance, purpose, adversary and catastrophe.

You’re probably thinking that was easy for me because my story is already written. Okay, let’s plot a brand new story using the five elements.

Protagonist – Jesse, a sixteen-year-old girl,
Circumstance – has no idea who her parents are. She’s lived in one foster home after another.
Purpose - Jesse wants to belong to a family. The Davenports’ are her last chance. They do volunteer work at an assisted living center and take Jesse with them.
Adversary – As Jesse listens to an elderly woman trying to recall a memory, Jesse is suddenly thrown into the scene in the elderly woman’s mind.
Catastrophe – A shadowy figure threatens to kill Jesse if she intrudes on the woman’s memories again.

Okay, this is a story I’m toying with right now. I have a basic idea and know where I want to end up. Story elements help reinforce and flesh out the character’s inner and outer conflict, which will continue throughout the entire book until the very end.

Do you think using these story elements will help you as you write your book?

Let me know what you think, and give it a try.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh, It's Only An Ebook . . .

I've always considered myself a reasonable, pretty low key person. I enjoy life, I enjoy my family, and . . . I enjoy writing. As an author, I've had some neat experiences. I have books published by traditional publishers, I've self-published, and I've released books in the now-popular ebook form. I have enjoyed each and every avenue and have learned much.
That being said, I had a comment addressed to me a week ago that really got my creative dander up.

I just released a romance novella ebook. It's one I've rewritten a couple of times over the past few years, and because of life and other projects, it took me a while to get it just the I wanted it.
Oh, I was proud of it when I finished and I was excited to finally release it to my millions of fans (in my mind, at least) hoping the story would touch some romantics out there.
I started advertising and marketing it, talking to many people about it. One day I had a lady say to me:
"Hey, I'm so excited to read your new book! Where can I get it?"
I replied, "You can order the ebook from my website, then either read it on your computer or print it up and stick it in a folder."
"You mean it's not published?" she asked.
"Yes, it's published," I replied. "I published it. I wrote it, I set it up, and you can buy it. I'd say that means it's published."
Her expression changed and she said, "Oh, but it's only an ebook."

Now, because I'm as meek as a lamb (people who know me think otherwise) I bit my tongue and let the comment slide. I smiled, or rather, I winced, and swallowed the bitter bile her words produced.
Only an ebook? Only an ebook, she says! This is my baby being cast aside! Saying it is only an ebook is like saying, "Oh, your child only came in second," or " Oh, your ring is only a cubic zirconia," or "Your child only got a B+ while mine got an A." It's like saying, "Your son is only a scout while my son is an eagle scout," or "Your pearls are only imitations," or "You only have hair extensions, mine is real."

Come on! Why is an author of an ebook not taken as seriously as an author of a printed, published book? I love ebooks. I buy them all the time. There are some great authors out there who make their work available through ebooks. And they are making money! So my new book is an ebook. So what? Does that rank me lower on the totem pole of the writing world?
Absolutely not!
Writing is an amazing job. and whether your book is traditionally published, self-published, or self-published as an ebook, seeing the finished product is very satisfying. You spend countless hours working on a writing project. You write, you learn, you write, and you learn some more. Being an author is an ever-learning profession. There isn't an author out there who can honestly say his or her writing is perfection and there is nothing more they need to learn. Every author should be taken seriously. Every author should take their writing seriously.
And every reader should take every form of book seriously (unless, of course, it's marketed with a crayon-drawn cover, hole punched, and twisty-tied together.)

If you are a writer, everything you write is of value. Never stop learning and growing, and never, ever, ever give up. You can go as far as you want to go. And even if you never reach best seller status, just know that you have something important to say, and by saying it and putting it out there for the world to read, you have indeed reached your own personal best.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

From Disaster to Dilemma to Decision—How to Gain Control?

Recap of last week:

Three parts of conflict—want, tension and outcome.
Want: what does your character want.
Tension: how badly does he/she want it.
Outcome: should be a surprise (disaster) but could be pleasant depending upon where you are in your story.

So you’ve had the drama with a scene full of conflict ending with a disaster. What do you do between scenes of conflict? There needs to be something there, some kind of down time where your character can catch his/her breath and so can your reader. Always keep in mind that your reader has been through the grinder right along with your character, and they both need time to take stock of the situation. As your character thinks about what he/she should do next, so will your readers. They want to follow your character through the transition between conflicts. But there’s more going on here because transition is where you will control the path your character takes.

What will you do? Or, to put it another way, what will your character logically do? Always remember there is a process and it must be logical or you’ll lose your readers.

What follows disaster? Dilemma. Your character needs to regroup. To help with this, think about the five phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Will a character experience all five? It depends on your character and the disaster in his/her life. There very well could be denial and a good dose of anger. Bargaining may take the form of reasoning. I would caution against too much depression, but by all means if the situation calls for it show sadness. And then, at the end of all this . . . acceptance and a decision to act.

During this transition time always make sure the story is progressing down the path you need it to go. If you pave the path correctly the disaster, dilemma and decision will be logical and a path your reader is willing to follow right along with your character. How about an example of all this so you can see it in action?

We’ll use the example from a few weeks ago when we discussed “the push”. We had a man in his late thirties, who had just broken up with his girlfriend. His girlfriend leaving him is his disaster. Next he’ll go through some of the steps of grief, as he walks through his workdays in a haze. He experiences a good dose of dilemma for he is angry with his ex for leaving and sad that his dream of a family has vanished with her. On his lunch break he decides to go to the park. He sees kids on a swing, a boy with a dog and a woman with a stroller. Deciding to take a look at the baby, he stops the woman with the stroller.

NOW we’re leaving the transition and going into a scene. See if you recognize want, tension, and outcome (three parts of conflict). He gazes down on a beautiful sleeping infant. As he chats with the woman, he notices her beautiful dark, chocolate-colored eyes, her easygoing nature and her low, sexy voice. In their conversation, he learns she is the baby’s nanny. (Suddenly his “want” awakens.) The clock on the courthouse tower bongs. She immediately excuses herself saying she has an appointment and leaves. (Here comes tension and outcome in one big swoop.) (Another transition appears as he leaves the disaster.) He has no way of getting in touch with her (sadness), so he decides (decision to act) to go to the park every day at the same time in hopes of meeting her again.

Did you see the pattern of control, conflict, control? Can you have conflict, control, conflict? Sure. Once you understand this concept of conflict and control it will become second nature to you as you learn to think, live and breath through your characters as they travel through your story.

Next week let’s talk about the elements of a story.

May your writing muse be with you. ;0)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

English Mishaps

by Marsha Ward

Agent Nathan Bransford had a
blog post earlier this month about malaprop/mispronunciation/homonym errors. The comments are hilarious. Well, maybe not intentionally, but prolly because they point out errors that our so bad!

Some of the favorite, or should I say least favorite, errors the commentors see other's make in using the English language are using loose when a person means lose, choose/chose, lie/lay, their/they're/there, peeked/peaked/piqued, your/you're, and breathe/breath.

Also mentioned were the misuse of apostrophes, which drives me wild. A local sign acrost from my public library made me crazy until it was repainted due to weathering: "Condo's for lease". Condo's WHAT? Condo's bedrooms? Kitchens? Living rooms? Its enough to make a writer cry.

Note: my misuses of English in the above section are intentional. I know the difference between probably/prolly, are/our, other's/others, acrost/across, and it's/its. Really, I do!

Since I saw Nathan's blog on usage errors in English, I've been noticing and writing down egregious examples of such erroneous usage in printed work:

Shutter used in place of shudder, dribble used in place of drivel, diary used instead of dairy, viscous instead of vicious, hurtling instead of hurling, pummeling instead of plummeting ("pummeling through the sky"!), and whicker (an animal sound) used where the word should have been wicker (a type of furniture).

Some of these examples should never have made it past a competent editor.

Another thing that bothers me is weird use of common idioms like saying "doggie doggie world" instead of "dog-eat-dog world," doing something "on accident" instead of "by accident," and using "one in the same" in place of "one and the same." It's like hearing fingernails screeching down a chalkboard.

Then there was the email I received a week ago from an actual e-book vendor who should have known better: "The Oscar's aired this week and we have alot of the Academy award winner's movie tie-in eBooks featured at . . ."

Gahhhhh!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Building Characters Carefully


You might have many books about writing on your shelves at home. But here is one you may want to consider picking up the next time you go to your health food store . . .

[Wait. A health food store? Yep. You heard me correctly.]

I found this thick gem of a book while working on my doctorate in health. It's called, Homeopathic Psychology: Personality Profiles of the Major Constitutional Remedies. This thick textbook explores REAL major personality types.

Why would the emphasis on "real" be important for fiction authors? For this very reason: to make your book change from being a two-dimensional story with little black letters on an off white-colored page, to a three-dimensional world with characters in trouble, you must know how to construct characters that breathe, that are truthful to the human condition. To do that, you need to understand REAL human behavior.

It is one thing to study a book on writing and learn a few pieces about constructing a character. It's quite another thing to write in truthful manner about human trials and challenges, whether fictional or not. Which brings me back to this great psychology book I feel should be on the shelves of every fiction writer.

Dr. Philip M. Bailey spends 409 pages exploring the truth of human personality, giving 35 distinct characteristic types culled from years of research. When I first discovered this book, I was struck with the potency it contains for fiction writers to write truthfully about the human condition.

For example, one of those 35-personality styles that Dr. Bailey explores is medically called Natrum Muriaticum; it is a personality type that refuses to deal with emotional pain. Did you know that Natrum Muriaticums go far beyond the typical "can't cry," far beyond simple introverts, or those who avoid intimate relationships? Dr. Bailey elaborates that Natrum Muriaticum's pathology typically originates years prior to adulthood. Abandonment figures into their approach, but not just simple abandonment. No, Natrums experienced abandonment on top of deep sensitivities previously present as a child. Natrums generally had parents who provided physical means, but were not nurturers. Natrums typically have additional buried grief which leads to carved out feelings of intense loneliness. These feelings generally manifest later in adulthood as rebelliousness, recklessness, clinginess, or even a strong need to control.

Can you see how understanding the depth of human psychology, with all its various facets, can help you create a story world that is authentic and not predictable?

As we write the worlds that our characters inhabit, knowing "them" on a deeper level will help us to write true to human nature and the conditions that lead us to who and where we are. It is as we wield truthfulness that our readers subconsciously sense the poignancy of truth in our stories, no matter how far out the setting. It is then that our stories become classics, because they speak to the deepest of our human experiences.

Another personality type Dr. Baily refers to is Lycopodium. This is a personality style, according to Dr. Baily, which manifests bravado more so than any other personality. He describes, though, the source of this particular kind of bravado: anxiety. Hmmm, who would have "thunk" it?

The funnest treat this book offers for creative fiction writers is the description of physical appearance that typically attends each personality style. It's a bit astonishing at the research that has gone into this book. For example, Lycopodiums typically have "gaseous distension of the abdomen, as well as distended veins and haemorrhoids [sic]" (see page 113). Yikes. But how helpful to have these kinds of specifics as you are "peopling" your story world!

Years of study went into the writing of Homeopathic Psychology: Personality Profiles of the Major Constitutional Remedies. See if you can't find your own volume. It holds endless and fascinating possibilities for the next story you write.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Three Parts of Conflict


Last week we discussed time and your protagonist. I promised that today we would talk about conflict. Does each and every scene need it?


Yes, every scene should have conflict.

I break conflict into three parts:
  • Want
  • Tension
  • Outcome
Want—what does your protagonist want? Could be any number of things: a kiss, a baby, a new job, safety, a million dollars and etc. The list could go on and on.

Tension—has to do with how intensely your protagonist wants.

Outcome—should be a surprise: shocking, tragic, or pleasant.

Want, tension, and outcome create conflict.

If your protagonist is running for his/her life, he/she wants to live. Tension builds as want intensifies and skyrockets when you throw in a nasty villain hot on the trail. Plainly you can see want and tension. Outcome depends upon you, the author, and where you’re at in the book. Also what genre you’re writing. What about a novel that doesn’t have a lot of action? Where’s the conflict?

Okay, let’s take a look at a scene that seems devoid of conflict:

a woman sitting in a doctor’s office.

Not much going on to the naked eye. Let’s stir in some want:

Joy, and her husband, Les, have wanted a child for years.

Blend in tension:

A year to the day, Joy had started fertility treatments, and finally six months ago she and Les found out they were expecting a baby. Everything was fine until Joy realized she hadn’t felt the baby kick for several days. She called the doctor in a panic, hoping she would say nothing was wrong, but instead, she told Joy to come right in. After the examination, the doctor told Joy to wait in her office while she ran some tests. Needing something to do with her hands, Joy looks at a magazine, but sees nothing because her mind is too busy with worry. She checks her watch, but the time hasn’t changed. She should have called Les and told him what’s going on, but she doesn’t know. What would she tell him? The grim-faced doctor enters the room, sitting down at her desk. She looks squarely in Joy’s eyes and says…

Now depending upon where your story is—the beginning, middle or end—you will have different outcomes. If this is the beginning or middle you’ll want a good hook, something shocking or tragic. Depending upon the genre you’re writing for, you could even have the ending shocking, but if it’s a feel-good story you’ll want something pleasant.

I’ll let you finish this tale. What kind of outcome is Joy going to have? It’s up to you.

We’ve talked a lot about conflict and I’ve barely touched the surface, but I think you have the general idea. Conflict is want, tension, and outcome.

Next Wednesday we’re going to talk about the partner of conflict and that is control.

Just what you always wanted, control of the situation. ;0)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Time and Your Protagonist

Have you noticed how time is handled in novels? It’s very interesting how a minute can last for two or three pages and a span of years can be covered in a sentence. What gives? How does an author choose which moments to dwell on and which ones to skim over?

Time is something we all know. There are twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, and four weeks in a month. Part of the time you’re asleep and part of the time you’re awake. Those waking hours are filled with pretty mundane stuff. We exercise, eat, shower, go to work, come home, watch TV, read a book, go to bed and then the next day we do it all over again. These are the “comb-your-hair” moments in our lives, moments that everyone has but they are boring and no one wants to read about them. So, how does a writer pick which scenes to draw out and which ones to skim over?

A writer picks the emotional moments to dwell on, times of the heart. This can be warm-fuzzy moments; or it can be heart-thumping, on-the-edge-of-your-seat moments. Albert Einstein once said, “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it’s longer than an hour.”

To apply this to your writing, take a look at the following moment--
A nurse places an infant wrapped in a soft, velour blanket into the waiting arms of a joyful new momma, who is ready to take her new little one home from the hospital. The proud papa stands beside mother and child, love beaming from his eyes as he takes in the scene he thought he’d never experience. He had no idea how powerful the love of being a parent could be until now.

That’s a soft, warm-fuzzy moment full of emotion. You weren’t sure who the main character was until feelings came into play, the feelings of the father. This scene could go much slower as the father sets his eyes on that perfect child, describing each detail and how the infant looks like his wife, or his mother. This is a time to slow the scene down and focus on what’s in Papa’s heart.

Let’s try the heart-thumping, on-the-edge-of-your-seat moment--
A nurse comes into the hospital room with no baby in her arms. George notices a concerned look on her face, but says nothing to his wife, Marsha. The nurse asks if Marsha noticed the baby having trouble breathing at her last feeding. Shock pales Marsha’s face as she tries to think. She shakes her head and looks to George; her eyes framed with fear. As George takes Marsha’s hand, the nurse explains to the couple that their baby girl is having respiratory problems and a specialist has been called to examine her. They should know more soon. With that, the nurse leaves. The room spins as George fights the nausea churning his stomach. Marsha bursts into tears. George cradles her in his arms as he fears their dream of a family is in danger.

Okay, so we’ve put George on the stove, haven’t we? His minutes will be hours as he waits to learn what is happening to his child. He’s not having the usual “comb-your-hair” day. He is full of fear worried about the fate of his child. It doesn’t matter that he got out of bed that morning and had a bowl of oatmeal before going to the hospital. No, the moment to write about is this moment that is full of emotion.

In the first scene the emotion was different. Emotional moments--whether they are soft, warm and fuzzy or heart-thumping, on-the-edge-of-your-seat--are the times to write about through your protagonist’s feelings.

Now, should every scene be filled with tension and conflict? We’ll discuss this next Wednesday.

May your writing muse be with you…

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

And the winners are...

The Show Your Love for the Storymakers Contest ended Sunday night, and so that means it's time to announce the winners!

But before we get to that, a few stats. We had great participation in the contest, with 398 entries. And that meant that I had to change my method of picking the winner. No way was I going to cut out 398 little pieces of paper and write names on them. *feeling faint at the thought* So what I did was give every entry its own number on a list. Then I used random.org to pick two random numbers between 1 and 398.

Not only to prove that I was as fair as fair can be in choosing the winners, but also to show off this cool little trick I just learned involving screen shots, here are the two winning entry numbers from random.org.

(Perhaps I'm not very good at screen shots yet.)

The two winners are the names that coincide with entry #250 and entry #353. And those are...




Congratulations to Daron Fraley and Wendy Swore!!!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Writing Group Essentials by Carole Thayne Warburton

About a decade ago, I didn't know I was capable of writing a whole novel.The idea of keeping a story going for 300 pages seemed impossible. I knew I could write. I'd always had teachers commend my writing. I loved writing stories even when I was eight years old. I owe some credit to a third grade teacher who had us write creative stories and then mimeographed the pages and gave them to us. Ever since that first publishing experience I was hooked! It was my goal to get published again. After going back to school and getting a degree in English, I hoped to continue on with my development and so we formed a writing group. For our first meeting,I wrote a short, short story without an ending. I essentially had three interesting characters, a great setting, and a good premise and from there my first novel, "A Question of Trust" was born. Since then I've published a 2nd book and written three more that I hope will someday find a home. I owe most of my writing success to my writing groups.
Here's a few guidelines: 1. Take your writing group day seriously. This means to plan on having something to share each time. Your group can only handle so many times, of "I didn't write anything this time."
2. Whether you meet once a month, twice, or every week, try very hard to make it to most of your meetings. Put it on the calendar and plan around it.
3. Keep the group small enough that you can each share your writing and discuss it. I belong to two Critique groups, both with 3 to 5 members. You each need at least 30 minutes to share and discuss.
4. Plan on catching up with the latest news, but don't let this dominate your discussion. If you need to use a timer.
5. Don't let one person dominate. If it's you--cool it next time.
6. When critiquing always give more positive comments then negative ones. Most of us learn more from what we are doing right, than what we are doing wrong. Don't just make up a suggestion if you don't really think it. Bad advice is not better than no advice.
7. Be generous. If you know of good resources, contests, workshops, publication options, then share with the group.
8. Share in each others joys and sorrows. In one of my groups when I'd been rejected yet another time, the group had a little sympathy tea for me. It made me feel better to know they cared. When I got my first book published, I took my first group out to breakfast to celebrate. When someone get's published--be genuinely happy for them. Your time will come!
9. You can get over-grouped. In other words, if you go to so many writing groups that you are having trouble finding the time to write, then it may be time to cut back.
10. If you haven't found a group to join, then start your own.