Here's an attempted round-up of online Fiction forums. It's bound to be lacking in many respects, so feel free to add comments.
Why go online?
When online writers groups appeared I thought traditional writers groups would peter away. If local experience is anything to go by however, the opposite's the case. Nowadays, online groups and traditional groups happily co-exist and proliferate, though online groups have the advantage that they're open 24/7 and are available to people who'd have trouble getting to physical meetings.
I think that with poetry groups it's easier to keep more people happy than with fiction groups (the same difference applies to magazines). I only write a story a month, if that, and can barely provide enough material for a monthly traditional meeting. Most poets can manage at least one poem per month, and the text doesn't take 15 minutes to deliver so most of the meeting can be devoted to comment. Online fiction groups don't have these time restrictions. Even so, an online fiction group would need many members if they were all like me, to avoid long periods of silence (off-putting to prospective members). Most of these groups have hundreds of members, most of them inactive most of the time.
All of the online story forums offer the ability to post stories and comment on them. There are pros and cons of even this basic functionality. Downsides include
- Risk of stories/ideas being stolen
- Risk of not being published in magazines because the magazines might consider posted stories as being already "published"
Amongst the benefits are
- Getting feedback and marketing help (including help with international markets)
- Getting noticed by agents and editors
- Getting practise at writing criticism
How to choose a group
Like traditional groups, online groups can be dominated by a few people who post too many stories, post awful stories, or post aggressive crits. I think most online groups have rules and moderators, but you'd better check before joining in. Also look at how busy the site is.
With online groups, people will always have the text before them when they comment, and they won't have to react immediately. This should improve the quality of the criticism. Even so, sites are often lacking in Deep Crit (in the public sections anyway). Assess the quality of the comments.
Sites are becoming increasingly sophisticated, using features familiar to Facebook or Blog users, and replicating the better features of traditional groups. Options include
- A rating system
- "Story of the week" features
- Extra information (competition news, etc) and discussion Forums
- Genre-specifics forums and expert forums
- Some private sections, and the ability to create private sub-groups (which helps with the pilfering problem)
- Offline (real-time) chat to individuals
Some of these options might be especially useful to you, giving you a chance to use a site to do one-stop-shopping. Here are some sites that offer a wide array of forums
- Fan Fiction (fan-fic and the internet go well together. This is one of a number of sites catering for fan-fic)
- Absolute Write
- Writers Hub
- Every Author (flash, essays, stories, prompts)
- The Word Cloud (build your own sub-groups, competitions, events, publishing info)
- Writing Forums
- One of Us with a Forum
- WriteWords (see the groups)
The following sites focus more narrowly on story-writing
- Critique Circle (build your own private sub-groups)
- Fictionaut (rating system. Comments are short)
- Short Fiction
- Short Story Group (see their critique guidelines)
- The Workhorse
- Liberty Hall Writers
- Fiction Press (more a showcase)
- Zoetrope Virtual Studio
Some sites focus on a particular genre. Here are a few of the Flash Fiction ones -
There's also lesbian fiction, etc.