Here’s an important guideline I’ve learned after watching too many fiction writers crash and burn in a critique meeting:
Don’t bring an unfinished first draft of fiction to a critique.
Just don’t, no matter how tempting it is. Because either the critique group, or you, or both, is going to be sorry you did.
Sure, you might be part of the 5% of writers who can bring in unfinished work and survive unscathed, but I bet you just wasted your critique group’s time. Why?
Because when fiction writers bring unfinished work to a critique meeting, it’s like overhearing people doing a Rorschach test. The readers end up wasting time hypothesizing about the ending since they need that information in doing the edit of the first few chapters, they can’t look deep into foreshadowing techniques, and in the worst cases they get stuck asking questions for thirty minutes the writer can’t answer like “Who was the murderer?” or “How does it all end?”
The other, more subtle, danger is to the manuscript itself. Bringing an unfinished manuscript to a critique group is like going to see a vampire to solve your high blood pressure problem. You can end up with a lifeless manuscript with all the juice sucked out of it, or lose the energy that drove you to write the manuscript because you’ve already gotten the reward of having people react to your story.
However, depending on the type of writer you are, you may be able to talk about your plot and characters to other people before the first draft is finished. The results tend to be split–half the writers are energized by sharing their thoughts and get the draft done quick, half get the energy sucked out of them and have trouble finishing. Decide if you want try out both ways, and see which one works best. Good luck.