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  1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Critique is not always pretty, and that's a good thing.

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by GingerCoffee, Jul 11, 2015.

    Do you want help or not? I'm venting. Yep. Deal with it. Or, don't read this post.

    When I take the time to give an honest critique (one that was asked for) and someone else comes along and says the writing was fine, it's just a matter of taste, (and by the way, that member said the writing was monotonous and not to his taste :rolleyes: ), and the person who asked for advice turns on me for insulting his/her writing, well fuck.

    When you tell a writer who is in the process of learning their craft that their writing is fine, nothing wrong, you're not doing the person any favors. Your mother can tell you your writing is great. Here, one should be open to learning, not looking for back-pats.

    It does no one any favors to say anything and everything goes, to say one need not apply any rules ever because there are always exceptions to every rule, to say telling is fine/exposition is fine, even when it isn't ... that's not helpful, to anyone.

    If you can't tell someone that their work is imperfect, then refrain from posting because when you tell someone that something which isn't good, is, you're doing harm. If you don't want to hear that your writing is not the perfect, just-needs-a-little-tweaking, jewel that you believe it is, do us a favor and note that in your OP.

    My critique group picks my stuff apart every two weeks. When I go to the meeting with my wonderful, polished six pages (because I am writing well most of the time now), I don't need them to remind me that my writing is good, I need them to tell me what I can do to make it better.

    I don't come back from the meeting deflated. I come back and carefully consider how I can incorporate their criticisms and improve. And then, often, I have some great eureka moment and think the changes I made make the piece even better.

    This week they said one of my characters was too much like a typical teen. But that's what that character was supposed to be. Then it came to me, there were things I could do to make the character still be a typical teen, but be one that fit the setting she was in which I hadn't done.

    If I'd gone away all deflated thinking, what's wrong with my character, she's who she is supposed to be, how would I have improved? Instead I listened to what they were saying and then it made sense.

    I'm a writer in the making, I'm not offended by anyone telling me what I could do to improve. I don't need anyone to pat me on the back and say how wonderful my writing is. There's a difference between being rude and giving tough-love feedback.

    OK that's it. I'm done venting.
     
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  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Here are my thoughts on this (these aren't necessarily direct responses to what you wrote; they're just things I thought of while reading your post).

    First, I get the impression that a lot of people feel obligated to point out things that could be improved even though the piece is already very, very good. It's like they go into a critique with the mindset that they absolutely must make suggestions about how the piece can be improved. Granted, it's very rare that a piece is "perfect" the way it is, but I've seen a few workshop pieces on WF over the years that I thought were perfect as written. If I think this is the case, I'll say so, and I'll give examples to back my opinion. There's nothing wrong with this. (To bring up a related issue, when you start making a lot of suggestions of how the piece can be improved, often times the original style and/or voice of the piece is lost. A lot of people giving critique don't realize this because it's easy to overlook. Just something I wanted to point out.)

    Second, the tone of the person giving the critique makes all the difference. I've seen some unprofessional critiques, and I honestly can't blame the OP for lashing out in such cases. However, if the OP lashes out without good reason, just ignore him/her and move on. It's not worth the time dealing with that crap.

    Finally, it's important to look at the writer's intent when critiquing a piece. I've seen some really good examples of the traditional rules being broken, yet a lot of people seem to be uncomfortable with this and constantly suggest changes that make the piece more "traditional." I think this just has to do with people not being exposed to different styles and techniques. My advice has always been to read anything and everything. Don't just read in one or two or three genres. Don't limit yourself. It'll help you become a better critiquer and writer.
     
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  3. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    :dead:
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Critique that points out flaws doesn't have to be ugly. In fact, it shouldn't be. One can make comprehensive critical remarks without destroying the writer's self-regard. When I critique a piece, I give my honest opinion in the interest of making the piece as good as it can be, and if the person chooses not to take my advice...well, then they don't.

    Several months ago, someone on this forum PM'd me and asked me to review something they'd written. I agreed. It was awful. I mean, really, really terrible. I had to really reach to find something positive to say. I was as gentle as I could be in my comments, made some helpful suggestions and wished the person good luck. Not only didn't I ever hear from the person again, but the last time I checked, (s)he had never returned to the forum.

    I'd add one comment to @thirdwind's excellent post above - aside from avoiding changing the style or voice of the piece, one should also be careful not to impose his/her view of what the story should be, or how a character should behave. I once critiqued the story of a good friend and took issue with how she had ended the story - specifically, how her mc had reacted. She read over my comments and then wrote back, saying, "Yes, one could write the story that way. But that isn't the story I wrote." She was absolutely right. Without realizing it, I had substituted my interpretation of how her character should react for hers, and I had no right to do that. And I've never forgotten it.
     
  5. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    It wasn't a critique request. It was a thread by someone seeking to understand if they were showing or telling.

    And if they are doing one or the other and you can prove it, nothing else need be said.

    "Showing here or telling?" is a closed question, like a yes or no.

    Everything else in that thread was unnecessary. Including the bits disparaging showing vs telling. Huh? OP wasn't asking "is showing better than telling?" Or, "How dumb and stuck up are those showing vs telling nazis?"

    Good grief.

    As far as I can tell only one person answered the asked question. That should have been the end of it unless they themselves do not have a clue what showing vs telling is. Pretty sure, however, they were spot on.

    One person brought up the interesting subject of filters, which IMO is closely aligned with the show vs tell phenomenon and useful in the discussion.

    Much of the rest sounds like drunk rambling and responses to that rambling, completely OT and irrelevant.

    Which can only mean one thing.

    This must be the Internet.

    :agreed:
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
  6. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    It should just come down to impulse control. You post a thing and people respond. You get all activated inside your body and you get swirling words in your head and you feel compelled (compulsion) to mash the keyboard. Take a step back. I post when I shouldn't sometimes, but I know in my right mind (right now?) that responding isn't necessary all the time. If there are trolls involved, ignore them. If you disagree with somebody, do you really need to say so? In most cases, it's probably better to go away from the computer and exercise, or call a friend, or have some tea -- anything but post. And here I am posting.
     
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  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Yes, I have no complaint with this. And sometimes people legitimately disagree that something needs fixing or could be improved.

    In the case in question, it was very clear the piece was not great, but besides that, the OP asked a specific question, which I addressed, and not in a harsh way at all.

    Keep in mind this was not in the workshop where I try to refrain from critiquing other people's critiques. But even so, in this case, my critique was challenged first.

    Sometimes, you (me anyway) have to address the repeating problems. One) people who say nothing's wrong because they seem to think it's rude to address any piece with anything negative. Like I said, if you want someone to pat you on the back, ask your mom to read your piece.

    And two) the one that drives me the most crazy, are the people who insist every technique, everything you try to help a fellow writer with has to be countered with, "no, you don't need that technique, that rule, that guideline." No matter what is posted here someone almost inevitably will come along and say, "no."

    The thing is, quite often that "no" is because the member doesn't understand the technique or the skill him/herself.

    If y0u tell someone their writing sample is monotonous, then claim it's just personal preference, how is that helpful?
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Exactly what I'm talking about.

    This is another common problem with critique that differs considerably from what I'm referring to. It belongs on a list of how not to critique, address the writing, don't try to say how you would tell the story.

    All of these things have two sides, undoubtedly. And as I said, sometimes there is a legitimate difference of opinion.

    But sometimes those two things I noted are clearly problems and they occur often in this forum. For that matter they appear in critique groups but it seems worse in the forum. Why do people immediately chime in with, ignore that rule, ignore that advice. There was even a post here that advised a person to ignore all rules of grammar because a writer could if they wanted to.

    No, a writer cannot, unless one doesn't give a rip about learning the craft of writing.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If one cares that a person is getting bad advice, one presents the case for their position.

    But when you do that and instead of a discussion or an exchange, people get mad, they get insulted. They can't support their position and they get mad about it. But that doesn't change the issue at hand, that is people who can't seem to say anything except, "the writing is good." And those that naysay any writing technique as unnecessary.

    Skilled writers are doing something right that unskilled writers are not doing. It can be described, quantified, and learned. There are skills, they shouldn't be dismissed every time one brings them up.
     
  10. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I wish! My Mum is far too honest. If she doesn't like something she says so. Eesh!
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    People chime in with advice on ignoring rules, because for almost any rule posed you can find empirical evidence of a good piece of fiction that ignores it. What gets lost in the discussion is that the writers who break a lot of the so-called rules understand the rules very well and know how to break them effectively. That's a different case from a new writer who is breaking rules in ignorance of them. I'm never one to tell a writer they can't do X, Y, or Z. You can do just about anything and make it work. But you have to know what you're doing first.
     
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  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Yes, and this goes along with the false assumption that if one discusses technique or 'rules' one must be saying said rule is an absolute, when that is not what was said.
     
  13. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Agreed. One must know the rules before one can learn how and when to break them.
     
  14. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh I don't mean you, I mean more writers. What I should have said is what Cognito put in a sticky. It's generally bad etiquette to respond to crits. Just read what people have to say and walk away. Some of it is really dumb, but some of it will help you break through into something better. To be fair, I'm drunk and was drunk when I posted earlier. Embarrassing. Goodnight.
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely. Every word. Yes. Yes yes yes....

    I especially like you pointing out that style differs from writer to writer, and some critique-givers aren't happy unless everything is written the way THEY would write it. It takes a certain degree of calmness in the writer to decide which style critiques are valid, and which are just an attempt to impose one style upon another.

    I think calmness is a trait all writers need to cultivate. If the critique-giver is rude and unpleasant, just thank them and turn away. If they're not rude and unpleasant (sometimes even if they are!) it's a good idea to consider what they say ...without seeing it as an attack on your worth as a person or a writer. All the power is with you, the writer—if you stay calm. You can learn from what people say, but it's up to you to decide if what they say is valid or not.

    I think I prefer to use the word 'feedback' rather than 'critique.' Critique implies the need to criticise. And this usually means fault-finding, which can turn into 'obligatory' nitpicking. Feedback, on the other hand, can be either positive, negative, or a bit of both. It's what you think/feel about the piece of writing you're dealing with. Suggestions for improvement, praise for what works, warning about what doesn't work, general observations, new thoughts ...these can all be incorporated into feedback.

    As for the critique-givers, you're right to mention tone. Snotty tone doesn't do much for people, does it? Even if what you are telling the person has merit, if you do it in an arrogant, snotty or vicious tone, it's going to weaken the effectiveness of your argument. If you truly want to help people, I'd work on ditching negative tone. The idea of 'tough love' is inappropriate when giving feedback to a writer. You can tell them flat out that the piece isn't working, but then tell them why you think that, and courteously offer some suggestions on what would make it work. If you can't make that effort, just leave the piece alone and move on to something else.

    I do think it's okay to respond to what other critique-givers say on a thread, but not to start a barney over it. Don't turn a person's workshop thread into a debate. In other words, say your piece, if you must, then back off.

    We all have our own strengths, weaknesses and preferences as writers/readers and critics. We can't help everybody. I know there are certain kinds of writing I simply don't respond to, because nothing I can say would be helpful. I either can't stand that sort of story, or can't think of any way to improve it. So I don't respond. Fear not. Somebody else will.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
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  16. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with most of this but there is one point I wish to point out.

    Not all reviews are right. Sometimes a reviewer questioning you is good or you questioning a reviewer. It is healthy for that to be a discussion. Blindly following advice does no one any favors.

    Though from what I see hear most of the people hear have the right mindset of learning. And you are right. I support your rant.

    I used to have an expression in Chess. "Every game is a win-lose. Because when you lose you learn why you lost an grow and that is a win to me."

    Now I am sad. You never reviewed any of my stuff. I wonder in what wonderful ways you would tear my work apart. lol. One day. One day. Or maybe my genre just isn't your thing.

    Have a nice day :D
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Critiques are not right or wrong.. They are an analysis of objective and subjective factors by a more or less unbiased reader. But that does not mean a discussion is a good idea.

    A critique operates best without prior knowledge of the writer's intent. A piece of writing is a one-shot attempt at communication. Under normal conditions, you don't have the opportunity to adjust how the message is perceived after it is delivered. Clarity must be present from the outset, unless ambiguity is your goal, and even then, the ambiguity should be keenly divided, not merely vague.

    The first impression is what you need most. Discussion tends to become a reason to leave it as it was, becomes rationalization. Instead, thank the critiquer for the feedback, and assume that each point is either on target or provides a clue to where you let the reader's understanding stray.

    Ultimately, the responsibility is yours to decide what to change and what should not. You don't have to convince anyone other than the publisher you are submitting to.

    It's possible that discussion will help clarify if the critiquer is unclear. Usually, though, you're better off trying out all the possible meaning in your mind, and don't stop at the first one that helps. Anything, even a miscomprehension of what the critiquer meant, that leads you to clarify or otherwise improve your writing, is a win.

    The game theory quote only applies to zero-sum games, i.e. situations where what one participant wins must be lost by one or more other participants. Critique is not a zero-sum game. Everyone wins. The critiquer gains insight into someone else's writing that very likely will apply to his or her own writing as well. And the writer receiving the critique gains first impression reactions that are unequalled in finding where the writing most needs adjustment or overhaul.

    And the harshest criticism is often the most useful. I once received a critique from someone who clearly created the account only to attack me. His critique was blistering, and was his only post, ever, but he found something everyone else had missed, because he was highly motivated to find bad writing.
     
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  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This would all be resolved and a non-issue if only people saw that giving critique is the path to enlightenment, not getting it.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Obviously if two reviewers disagree, they can't both be right.

    That doesn't mean one has to concede to something one knows is correct in the name of false equivalency.


    Goodness, with that compliment I'll have to take a look. :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
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  20. jannert
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    I agree with most of what you said, but I do have a question about the bit I quoted above. I assume it's okay to include a short synopsis of the 'story to date,'if the bit that is up for workshop scrutiny is not the start of the story.

    How many times have I encountered critiques that say things like "Who is this person? Why should we care about them? Where is this happening? I have no idea what's going on." Of course they don't know the characters—because they haven't read the first 5 chapters that came before! This kind of thing. If the writer doesn't give out this information beforehand, the critique won't actually mean a lot. It's best to bring the reader up to speed on what has gone before, if your snippet does not begin your story.

    That aside, I agree (mostly) with what you said, although it's sometimes helpful to focus the critique-giver on a particular aspect of the piece as well—a bit you know you're having trouble with. You can ask for this at the end of the piece, if you must. I assume people read the whole piece before starting to do their critique?
    [​IMG]
    But in general, you're right ...best to throw it out there without comment and see what you get back.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I do not. If you look at my critiques they are generally formatted in two parts. The nits & picks, and then the general impression. The nits & picks are done as I am reading. The general impression is done when I give the item a second pass.
     
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  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hence the flying pig emoticon....oop, he's disappeared!
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'd like to challenge the 'critique is only ever opinion' assertion. This is the problem I had with said exchange that led to my venting.

    Yes, clearly there is a lot of opinion in a critique. And what one person understands a concept to mean doesn't always agree with another's understanding of the concept, such is the nature of language.

    But not every line is so blurred that we can never say, "I'm sorry but this is wrong." Sometimes it is very clear, it's not opinion. That clarity itself may have blurred lines as to where on the continuum of certainty each draws the line. But the craft of writing isn't a bowl of all-opinions-are-equal mush. There's a difference between something unskilled and something skilled that some like and some don't.

    Take Twilight, probably second only to Harry Potter in terms of a marketing success yet recently voted the worst book of all time on Goodreads. The writing was not the best, but the book overall was liked by many. How one rates that book series would come down strongly on the side of 'opinion'. It lacked some writing skill, but not so much that it was unreadable.

    But there are any number of poorly written books out there where it's not just opinion, the writing lacks skill and the missing skill is observable. There is a bottom line out there where one's writing needs improvement and it's not a matter of opinion.

    I don't mean the paragraph in question was horrid, it wasn't. I don't mean the critic in question was completely clueless, he wasn't. What I do mean is sometimes it's not just opinion. There are actual writing techniques people haven't learned or maybe are in the process of learning. There are writing techniques some people do not have a good grasp on, let alone know if they are seeing the technique well executed or not.

    To suggest otherwise would mean writing skills are unimportant, everything we know or say is only a matter of opinion. It would mean there are no rules, no skills, not anything, just different opinions.

    And that simply isn't true. There are writing skills, they are identifiable, they aren't entirely opinion, and they are learnable. And when we discuss such writing techniques and skills, if we always acquiesce to an uninformed opinion, that may be fine for keeping the peace, but what does it say to the other people who are here to learn.

    I don't mean one needs to continue a debate. I agree that's not helpful. Better to vent somewhere else. ;) And one need not worry that walking away means some will think the bad advice was equivalent to good advice because they will eventually figure it out or they won't become good writers.

    But we should acknowledge that it's not all just different opinions, sometimes there is factual substance involved in that critique.
     
  24. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. I saw the little winged piggy there earlier and now it's just a broken image link icon. Strange.... :wtf:
     
  25. carsun1000
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    I suppose this thread is in response to the showing vs. telling thread I started yesterday. While I was just curious to find out about what I was doing (or not), reading this thread here tells me everything is interwoven. I got the gist and thank you all. I will keep working on what I am doing. I will consider all the advice given to better my writing, while keeping in mind how not to get bruised in the process....:):):).
     
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