1. Laverick
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    Laverick Member

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    Can We Make This Less Painful?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Laverick, Jul 9, 2009.

    Reviewing can be painful. Especially for the writers being reviewed.

    From the reviewing side, editing is tedious work and takes time. All that effort and you end up a "devil's advocate".

    Writers take the blow from the other side. It's painful to get a lot of criticism, maybe even overwhelming?

    There is a way to make reviewing less painful, for both the writer and the reviewer.

    I don't think writers always want in depth critique. Here's how I see it,

    Reads:
    Some writers just want reads and general feedback on their story. They aren't ready to handle detailed critiques. They don't want their story torn into piece. I know we're encouraged to give in depth critique, but it isn't helpful if the writer isn't ready for it.

    Technical:
    When anything is posted it is implied that the writer at least wants a grammatical review. I often see reviewers giving technical reviews. They are trying to make the story more understandable (trying to fix "mixed sentences") or editing the grammar mistake (usually punctuation). It would be a great deal of help to grammatical reviewers if writers realized when they needed to use correct punctuation. It takes some effort, but it's really helpful. The reviewer can focus more on the story and if everything makes sense.

    *One of the problems I see is run on sentences. Some of them are actually an entire, huge clause. While others are separate clauses. It's not that hard to figure out if you have a full clause plus extra. The clause is the basic sentence.

    Technical editing shouldn't be offensive. It may present the writer with a lot to fix.

    Content:
    Content kind of covers a broad range of things. I would say it's similar to a "Read". When I do content review I look into the story and what the story is about. Does everything happen in a sensible way, is it understood, is something missing, unbelievable? Content can include style, flow and tone reviewing. It works on the artistic aspects of writing and, as such, is largely opinion. If something is clear it doesn't necessarily need to be any more perfected. If a sentence is awkward or distracting, that's somewhat up to opinion.

    Since I see a lot of people giving grammatical reviews, I usually go for the content. (I end up doing both, because I'm a coma fanatic).

    In a content review, I mentioned that one of the sentences was distracting to a writer. The scene was a man approaching a young woman, with perverted intent. In the midst of this, the writer mentioned sympathy for the Main Character's animal. I told her I found that distracting. She thought it was important to the story and made the decision not to change it. It was a matter of preference and opinion. I said no more about it.

    If you want to make reviews less painful for yourself you should mention what kind of reviews you're looking for. Do you just want a read? Do you want your grammar reviewed or do you want content reviewed? If you say what you want in a review it will help reviewers know what to look for. If you get reviews that are off topic, you don't have to pay attention to them.

    Because of how forums format writing it would also help readers and reviewers to have a word count. In general, it's nice to give a word count. I can kind of estimate how much time it will take to read and review something if I have an idea about the length.

    Do you think we could make this less painful?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You could always prioritize the review to raise three to five points, with examples,instead if an exhaustive critique. Those three to five points, with explanations can help the writer far more than splattering the entire excerpt with red ink.

    It will help the critiquer, as well. You learn to focus on the most pervasive issues, rather than trying to fix the entire piece. Also, buy organizing an explanation and selecting the examples you use to illustrate it, you often find yourself with a clearer picture of the issue rather than just a vague "I know this isn't right, this sounds better though..."
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed.

    I think we have all fallen prey to the idea that writing a "good review" means pretty much rewriting the author's posted item.

    I know I've done it on various occasions.

    I sometimes get the feeling that even the posting writers look for the same in what comprises a "good review".

    I don't do this anymore because I really think it's egotistical. It screams of ME ME ME ME ME. It's like going to a friend about a problem and having them give you an example from their own life which is just the opening line to the friend taking over the conversation and making it about them. You know what I mean. It's happened to all of us.

    I try my best to be general at this point as to the help I give. I don't know how well this is taken. I sometimes wonder if the writer thinks I've given a halfassed attempt at the review.
     
  4. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I know I avoid giving critiques too often, because I always feel like I am being too nit-picky. I'll read a sentence, and then read it again and again, because it is awkward or something just isn't right with it. Then I will pick it apart until I can figure out what is wrong. By the time I do this throughout a piece, it's taken me an hour for a 500 word bit.

    I really try not to re-write the writer. But, I will give examples using their piece of how the wording could be better. I know I prefer people to give me examples of how they might change something, so I guess that is why I do it too.

    I know I'll start a critique, then erase it and not bother, when I feel I'm getting too anal about every little thing. But then, I have to stop and wonder, "Isn't that what I want when I ask for a critique?"

    I think if people specify what kind of review they are looking for, it would be much more helpful for us who are doing the reviewing. I often feel like I am going to piss someone off when I give a review, especially if they didn't want someone to tear it apart like a teacher or editor would. Some people just don't have thick enough skin for it.

    So it would be better if people put a classification on what they want.
     
  5. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I do think if someone only wants a specific type of review, then that would be helpful. However, I feel if your willing to post your work for others to read, you need to have some understanding that it may not get good reviews. In fact some people just may not like on any level. That is why I put on my big girl panties before submiting anything or having others look over my work. I personally only think a review is "bad" when they strike out everything, and rewrite it in thier own words. My reason being, if you as the reviewer rewrite the work, it is no longer the work of the writer. Other wise, even unfavorable reviews are worth while, in the long run. You may not like it at the time, but eventually, you will see thier point.

    So yes, if you only want a particular type of review, then say so from the begining, and it may be easier on you. (collective you) But know you could be missing out on some good advice in other areas.
     
  6. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    When I do a review, I give the kind of critique I'd like to receive in turn. If I note a recurring problem, then I'll make a point to go over examples, why it's a problem, and how it can be resolved. But I also don't set a quota on the number of issues I'm going to point out and leave it at that- perhaps I'm simply too much of a completest, but I feel I've not done the best job I can do if I ignore a problem.

    That said, I think it best when offering alternate sentences if they're intended as examples, and not 'the best combination of words possible'. My objective is to note ways writing can be improved- both the piece I'm critiquing and my own, not to insert my own style into another's work. I have abandoned reviews before where I felt all I was doing was saying, 'no wrong- this is the way.'

    As for writers who become upset over critiques- why are they posting their work for reviews if they don't want criticism? As long as the reviewer is not deliberately antagonising them of course.
     
  7. lilix morgan
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    lilix morgan Contributing Member

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    This is true. Most people who put up their work should know that they will receive both good and bad critiques, and they need to learn that not everyone is going to say that their work is perfect. Unless the person is being deliberately derogatory toward them, then the poster should accept the critique and take what they can from it, good and bad. I've certainly taken some bad ones over the years, and in the end it has bettered me and helped me improve upon my writing.
     
  8. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I agree completely with Agreen's post. I give the kind of review I would like to receive, which tends to be all over the place. Whatever issues there may be, big or small, I want to address them all. I don't want to be left in the dark about anything. In some cases, when critiquing, there are too many repeated mistakes to point out every one, and that's where I'd prefer to use Cogito's method.

    I've been on the receiving end of a lot of very thorough and excellent reviews (from Agreen, especially) and I've never once felt overwhelmed by the number of issues. I post with the expectation that I'll be given a lot to chew on, and for the most part, I haven't been disappointed.:)

    I give sample sentences and word replacements, sometimes without much explanation, because that's how I learn best. The actual words don't matter; the general thought behind the change is what's important, and this is usually evident from the change itself. Examples just instantly click for me. If it doesn't 'click' for the reviewee, they can always ask for clarification. Too much explanation can be a problem in itself, especially in a line-by-line critique.

    I think if the poster has a certain preference, they should say so. . . If they just throw their work up without giving any direction to reviewers, I'll give them the kind of review that I appreciate.

    If you just want to get a sense of whether your idea is 'good' or not, know that most people will say, "I like it," even if they didn't like it at all. You'll have a very hard time getting honest feedback on that score.

    Incidentally, some of my harshest critiques have won me good friends, here and elsewhere. I find myself reviewing a lot of work privately, which I'm happy to do.
     
  9. Laverick
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    Laverick Member

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    Hmm, I'm not sure how the point system works. I've given examples for corrections. Sometimes that doesn't seem to click with the writer.

    It seems like newer writers or people who haven't put their writing up for critique before don't know to take critique with a bag of salt. I don't want to offend writers and get them too caught in making everything "perfect". It's good to know there are tough writers, who know what to expect from reviewers.

    I've often had the problem of being too much of a nit-pick with reviewing in the past. The same problem as bluebell. I try not to be that way, but when I make examples out of sentences from the stories... then I start seeing the details...
     
  10. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    You know, this reminds me of a student that was in my first Creative Writing class in college. It was during the first few weeks and we had just reviewed how to give a critique, and we were talking about how to be a good writer, one must read a lot of other writers work. I hold this to be very true, as a person can not learn a craft without looking at other people's examples. (It is even that way with Jewelry making.)

    So this girl, I'll call her Sue, flips out on the board. Saying that she hates to read, but that when we get to our first short story, we'll she that she can write some pretty "damn good s#!t."

    Needless to say, I got her first story to critique. She went ape-s#!t on me calling me all sorts of names, saying I didn't know my head from a hole in the ground, and proceeded to post everything on the board and complained to the teacher and the whole class. The teacher and the class agreed with my critique of her work. So she quite the class saying we were all stupid.

    Some people, who want to write, don't have the gonads to take the criticism, because they are already too insecure about themselves. They don't have thick enough skin to handle the criticism and take it as outright rejection.

    I always look at a critique, no matter how harsh, or even personally attacking as it may be, and try to learn something from it. I've never bothered trying to get back at the reviewer by yelling, or calling them stupid. I take things that are personal attacks like water on a duck's back, and anything that is constructive, I pay heed to.

    I don't go line by line tearing apart every little thing, because most stories have good part, parts that work. Sometimes I forget to point that out though, and end up looking like a jerk because I am only pointing out negatives. Pointing out the positives is something I need to pay more attention to. We all need that little bit of encouragement.
     
  11. Gurari
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    Gurari Member

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    You are correct - there sometimes is the tendency to make it a ME ME ME review, especially when re-writing someone's work. However, I think that every writer's technique really needs to be examined for amateurish mistakes. Common mistakes like overuse of adverbs, redundancy, subject-verb agreement, etc. If the piece is chock-full of these types of mistakes, as a reviewer I believe it's important to point out the mistakes so that the writer can learn and adapt.

    I also think that one of the most helpful ways to point out mistakes of writing technique is to describe the issue and then illustrate the point with an example. Usually the example can be likened to what you said is an "example from your own life." The thing about the example is the intention behind it should serve as a parallel to the point, not as a gateway to say I can write your story better than you. This means that the reviewer has to adeptly communicate their example, and that the reviewed has to understand the point without judging that the reviewer is pea-cocking.
     
  12. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I'm just strange enough to prefer a tough critique. That's one of the reasons I seldom do online crits; you just never know if the writer wants pats on the back and big hugs or a serious review.

    In one of the face-to-face groups I belong to, we have requirements (not too unlike those here) that a new person attend one meeting strictly as a guest and actively participate in the crits for three meetings before they are allowed to submit their work for critiques. We have a fair number of people who attend the first meeting and never come back. One girl (mid-twenties, I'd say) was in tears and called us cruel and it wasn't even her work. We let everyone know going in, we're a hardcore crit group and don't pull our punches.

    With that group, I love it when I get a crit where someone is down to nitpicking word choices and grammar. That means I haven't got glaring plot holes, expository lumps, wooden dialogue, one-dimensional characters, scenes that go nowhere or Ambien passages.
     
  13. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    I personally like to just throw my work out there and see whatever reaction I get!
     
  14. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I love this! I just thought it was so funny. Been going round and round in my head since I stumbled across it yesterday. It's great advice, too, because it paints just the right attitude.:cool:
     
  15. Watts N. Aname
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    Watts N. Aname Member

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    I agree. I'm frustrated when someone reviews someone's work, takes exception with a sentence or paragraph, and only offers some vague, overly technical, or inane advice on how to fix the whole thing without a concrete example. I can't always interpret broad generalizations to fit a specific sentence and immediately know how to fix it.

    I also believe in tough love. If you like a story despite its flaws, tell the author that and as specifically as possible. People don't get better at writing by just reading praise all the time, they get big heads. So by not being critical we can actually harm other authors instead of helping them as we intended.

    So my answer to "Can we make this less painful?" would be, yes, we can grow thicker skin. That doesn't mean that as reviewers we act like insensitive jerks telling everybody their story sucks. We still need to follow the rule of constructive criticism.

    Which brings me to my own question, perhaps a topic for another thread, who is able to constructively help?
     
  16. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I agree with what you said. And I do think that makes a good question, but should probably go into another thread. :)
     
  17. vyleside
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    vyleside Member

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    when it comes to reviews, I like to give and receive tough ones. It can be a bit daunting when you've had about ten really positive reviews, then one that just rips everything to shreds, but it does put everything into perspective.

    For instance, when I write something, I "know what I mean" but I may have forgotten to explain the point to the reader.

    When I review something, I tend to give the sort of review I prefer.

    What I don't like is the kind of review my writing tutor gave me.

    I had made the mistake of hacking a 2000 word story down to 500 to fit an assignment. My tutor's review of it was, "Absolutely horrible. I hate horror and I don't think you should try to write horror. This piece has no merit whatsoever."

    It put me off writing for nearly a year. If he'd offered any form of constructive advice as to how to improve the story, it would have been a much more useful experience for me, so that's what I try to do when reviewing others' work.
     
  18. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    You make some good points--the one about thicker skin being probably the best. To your question about "who is able to constructively help," in my view, that falls to the writer him(her)self. The key to understanding reviews and critiques of one's own writing is that a writer simply must learn what resonates with his own writing objectives and what doesn't, rather than believing that anyone out there (including an editor) can offer up a piece of criticism that's going to define his own storytelling ability and turn his efforts into excellent writing.

    There's probably no better way to make a good story into a lifeless mess than to take every piece of great insight, advice, or feedback and blindly make the exact changes that have been recommended. More than any other lesson the writer must learn, I think, is that if he can't incorporate a piece of advice or criticism or insight into a better understanding of his own story, then that particular change in his writing will never make any important difference at all.

    Understanding how and why readers share their own divergent thoughts and views of a story--however vague, precise, technical, kind, or insulting--is not something to ignore, because some of these readers--and definitely not all--sit squarely in that audience the writer is hoping to engage. Sorting that out is something a writer must learn how to do, and it's not an easy road; it's simply a necessary one. And, yes, it requires some skin thickening.

    I think the review process--flawed as it inevitably is--is probably the one of the two best sources of education a writer (of fiction) will ever be able to get. The other is reading and studying and understanding the writing of authors he admires, himself.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Or, dare I suggest it, critique them.

    Every writer has off days. Even your favorite author will write passages that are murky, flat, lackluster. See if you can find them, and then think of how you would rimprove them

    They say that your performance in competitive games -- for instance, tennis -- improves vastly when you play against better players. You have to look harder to find the openings and take advantage of them, and you also learn to recognize and appreciate the brilliant moves as well.
     
  20. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Great opportunity, yes! I also learn a lot from discussions that include various viewpoints on published work I've read (I think you've got a forum for that here). Thinking about how someone else read something helps to give language to my own thoughts about why I liked something or didn't. And sometimes other readers' impressions will give me very big clues about why I entirely missed something someone else (maybe a lot of others) found crucial. It's hard to pinpoint (and learn from) something you don't yet have the words to understand clearly. So hearing someone else's view on a book can be very helpful in all kinds of ways.
     
  21. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    I like this idea. Some writers post their work thinking that it's really good, not that it is not, but obviously there is room for improvement MOST of the time. But writers, me being one of them, who post their work online don't expect that much of a detailed review, and if they do, it ends up decreasing their confidence when someone quotes their work with a bunch of red lines crossing out the original piece.
     
  22. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    jwatson,

    I think part of the problem writers have with critiques, especially detailed critiques, is wrapping their self confidence in other people's opinions.

    I don't base my self confidence as a writer on how harshly I am critiqued. I look at it as places I need improvement, and strive to make it better.

    Writers who base their self-confidence on what other's think are just setting themselves up for a blow to the ego.

    Even best-selling authors get their manuscripts back from the publishing editor full of red marks and things that need to be changed. I read somewhere from an editor, that newbies tend to think that established authors can just turn in a first draft and it is publishable. But, it never is. Most writers have to go through their own edits first, or have a professional editor read it, then edit some more. Then have a few manuscripts sent back and forth with the editors until it is publishable.

    We can't expect our short stories, or novel ideas, especially first, second or third drafts on here to not end up with lots of red marks or suggestions to make it better. Not all the suggestions work, because the critiquers don't know what was going on in our head, but most times, people (even newer writers) can find things wrong with a story.

    I don't know why writers look at it as discouraging, because to me it is a challenge. A challenge to make the piece better.

    I think it's all in our perceptions and expectations.
     

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