The discussion remains on the writing itself—NOT on the writer, or the story they’ve chosen to tell, but on strengthening the words on the page.
No blaming or mean comments! I call this flaming. I would leave a group immediately if that kind of behavior took place. And not return.
Start by commenting on the writing strengths you’ve noted. Occasionally in new writers, strengths are hard to find. But you can. Look for them.
Then move into areas where the work can be improved. Be KIND. You are speaking to yourself here.
Meet weekly as possible. I think five is a good maximum number of people, particularly if everyone is bringing writing each week.
In the three critique groups I’ve been in (one for five years, one for twelve, then I moved to another state and I’ve been in this one for three years), we bring up to ten pages of double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point print outs, with one inch margins, for everyone, including a copy for ourselves. The double spacing allows room for comments, and my favorite, + signs for language I love. The font, font size, and margins keep everyone writing to about the same length.
Each person reads their work out loud, and the others make written comments as they read. After the reading, each member offers verbal comments as well. These are best received in silence. No arguing! It’s only one person’s opinion.
Judgment has no place here: (such as “this is wrong”) Discernment is valuable: (This paragraph conveyed more anger than I think you intended.)
No disclaimers or apologies about your writing! Be brave. Allow it to stand on its own.