1. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Critique vs personal opinion

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by jazzabel, Mar 23, 2012.

    Two people will never write the same sentence, let alone a paragraph or a story. But I keep seeing people re-writing other’s work in such a way as to impose their own creative vision, under implication that the way they re-wrote it is necessarily better.

    I think it is important to acknowledge the difference between real critique and a personal opinion.

    Competent and useful critique consist of getting into the writer’s head, understanding their thought process and then whilst remaining true to their style, helping them correct some errors. Because, critique is not an exercise in how I would write something, but how what the writer already wrote can be improved.

    For example, one of the tricks to writing an engaging narrative is to vary your sentence length. The idea behind it is that by varying the rhythm, we are adding to the interest and better flow because if three or four consecutive sentences are roughly the same length and structure, the rhythm becomes repetitive and repetitive quickly loses our attention.

    To critique pieces by compulsively shortening and summarising every thought is easy but not necessarily helpful because creative writing is not a competition in sentence length or in using this or that method to emphasise various things like internal dialogue and such.

    Imposing our own style on someone else is not helpful to them, at the best of times it can lose us respect as a critic, at the worst - make the writer lose all confidence.
    The beauty of literature is its variety, so we shouldn’t get carried away or put our own ego before the needs of the person who put their work up for a critique.

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    What do you think?
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  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    Sometimes it is the only way to show what I mean. Usually i make the point that it is only an example, and I'm not intending to mess with their voice. However, when removing words would make a huge difference to the tension in a horror scene etc the easiest way to show how that works is to just do it. It is when I do it anyway intended as a comparison only and for the writer to use that to make a decision on their own work, and tends to be just to illustrate one idea - like cutting out words, changing the flow, adding conjunctions etc

    I agree with you though. Nine times out of ten I do it in such a way people don't find offensive the people I beta read tend to stick with me, because I do indepth crits and don't mess with their style. However, it took practice at both getting and giving reviews to become inoffensive ;)

    Personally, I'd rather receive that kind of review where someone messes with the voice (I can ignore them and know what they are talking about). What I hate and find the most destructive is the shopping list of faults with no idea how to improve them. As an inexperienced writer and before I learned to get those critiquers to respond to exactly what and where they were the ones I got most down about, because I knew the problems obviously existed but I didn't know enough to correct it or dismiss it as opinion.
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, that's a really good point, any error should have an example of how to fix it, otherwise how is one supposed to learn! But what annoys me is when people compulsively impose their own voice on perfectly decent paragraphs, where nothing was really wrong. That can be quite confusing :)
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    It should only be confusing if you think theirs actually looks better rather than different ? In which case it might be worth working out what they did better. If they haven't explained why they are rewriting just take it as opinion rather than example.
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    No, I was actually referring to reading some critiques and thinking how the proposed changes sound worse than the original :D That's confusing. When it sounds better it's ok ;)
  6. Gonissa
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    Gonissa New Member

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    Eh, they're just giving their opinion. If it helps the writer, it helps. If it doesn't, it doesn't. Maybe this is an annoying thing to do, but as a reviewer, I think it's okay to comment on something another reviewer has said. I mean, if reviewers don't, but give differing opinions, then it's harder for the writer to sort them out and figure out which is right.
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    lol I get that and I do agree confusing reviews are the worst (after shopping lists). Sometimes I spend days scratching my head wondering if to change it or not. Often I realise they had a point just not the right one and it does lead to some tweakering.

    My detectives were a good example - someone mistook from my paragraph my MC, Tim, for a bunch of cats. I kept asking my usual group and we couldn't see the problem. Then penny dropped the rest of us had read the other stories and knew Dempsey, Makepeace and Tripod were cats lol As it was the opening paragraph she was right it needed to change.

    Sometimes I've had a sentence rewritten (and it can make me really mad - it's like how dare you molest my baby, handbags at dawm) and whilst their example is worse it sometimes makes a good point, unintentionally about what is wrong with paragraph or sentence.

    Those that wholesale rewrite my work however should be taken out and shot at dawn ;) - then I calm down and pick through the review.
  8. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I agree with you Jazz, to a certain extent. There is a fine line between correcting grammar/rhythm/flow and messing with someone's individual style/voice.

    My cousin and I are both writers, but we make terrible writing buddies. He writes fantasy, and I write historical fiction. He's from oop north, I'm a 'posh southerner'. He never had any formal literary education, I have an English degree and a masters in Classics. Our individual styles are poles apart, but whenever we read each other's stuff we both find it hard to resist 'correcting' those aspects that make us different. (We do much better at simple brainstorming of ideas though)

    On the other hand, I beta for my best friend who is dyslexic. Over the last 8 or 9 years I have learned which aspects of her writing are style/voice, and which are just products of her dyslexia. She doesn't mind me correcting the latter, but I've learned to leave the former alone. It was a hard won lesson, and there were many bloody battles along the way, but now she is so much more open and willing to share with me that it was really worth swallowing my literary pretensions and just going with it. :D
  9. doghouse
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    doghouse New Member

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    Unfortunately, critiques are subjective.

    It's up to the author to decide what is useful and what is not.

    I haven't crit on this site yet, but I do crit regularly. Personally, I don't (or rarely) give direct examples of changes. I'll either give indirect examples or hint at changes that could be made. I do cross out words, setences, and even paragraphs :) ... but every comment I make, I try to explain why I made that comment.

    If it's not grammar and spelling, then it's opinion.

    Take all critique with a pinch of salt.
  10. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Member

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    To be perfectly honest, I often can't tell the difference between critical and personal. To me, my style just sounds right. When I tell others the way I would word a sentence, I am not doing so to impose a different artistic vision on their piece, but because I genuinely feel my way is better. That sounds arrogant, I know, but it's just the truth. I know my style isn't necessarily better than anyone else's. I would have told Hemingway to use longer sentences, and I would have screamed at James Joyce to use commas. But the bottom line is that art is subjective. I can't give you an objective opinion on the best way to write a sentence; even the rules of grammar are sometimes bent. I'm stuck with my personal taste, and while I DO acknowledge that the rewordings I offer are only my opinion, as the writer, you should not expect anything different. No one is going to give you the magic answer of how to make your piece "perfect." Everyone is going to offer a different suggestion based on his/her own biases. Which suggestions you take will be based on your own personal biases. There is really no such thing as an objective opinion in this case, and while we would always do well to keep the points you have brought up in mind, it's important to acknowledge that all critiques are based on opinion.
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    Even grammar and spelling can be opinion to a point ;) It is possible to deliberatly abuse a word.

    I've had people correct my malaprop lol and I'm like NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Bessie really does say defecate instead of deceased etc but only when around people she perceives as 'posh' and she tries to sound like them. I'm trying on this rewrite to do away with the scene where my malaprop meets my overblown language character though - it did work but it was a lot of work. And some crits were determined to change both of them.
  12. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    You're gonna have to explain that one, as I don't see how a verb and an adjective can be confused in a malapropism when they perform different functions in a sentence. :confused:
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't really find reviews all that useful. I prefer to have one or two whom I trust, and then show my work to them only. Unfortunately I know very few writers. I'm quite stubborn and if I don't think there's anything wrong with something, I just won't budge, really, unless a number of people are echoing the same point - then of course I'll rethink. Someone once tore my work apart to the point where I thought I should just give it up - and the person even said I should just trash it all and stop wasting time (I have not forgiven said person, but since it was an online critic, it's not like I have to live with facing the person!).

    Sometimes people will tell you your work is trash just because they don't happen to like your style, or the imagery and metaphors that you're using. I often like to use metaphors and images that sound slightly out of place - something that doesn't make sense at first glance but that is actually fitting to the situation or atmosphere - and the critic just kept saying it doesn't make sense, that it's all rubbish. And then I found an editor who said he loved my voice and he loved how I used language in such a different way.

    In short, take the review if it's helpful to you. If what was said is unhelpful, simply ignore :D it can't hurt to ignore unhelpful reviews. So much of it depends on you being intuitive to what is good or bad writing and such a thing is so subjective that it's just better to carry on the way you are and hope for the best haha!
  14. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Member

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    I agree with you, but I do worry that my critiques come across as arrogant or unhelpful, because I'm a newbie critiquer and use examples as I can't find the words to make my meaning clear. I know that my examples aren't direct improvements, but I'm hopeful that the author sees what I'm suggesting so if they agree they can come up with an improvement themselves. I suppose critiquing is just another skill that can be improved with practice (unless someone's the type that just likes hacking at people's work for fun!)
  15. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    Sorry have a faulty d button I missed the d off the end.

    A malaprop is just someone who misuses language. The sound is more important than function. OED gives the example he danced the flamingo. In the particular example she was unusually flustered having just seen someone she thought she had murdered.
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis magnetismus Contributor

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    My view is generally the same as what you've expressed here.

    When someone does a line-by-line critique, essentially rewriting what the original author has done, that's a red flag to me. I find those critiques almost universally unhelpful and I think writers should be leery of incorporating such rewrites into their work. In most cases, those kinds of critiques are given by amateur writers who do not know how to critique a work. There are exceptions, of course.
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  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think it's arrogance at all to suggest something you think is better. If you didn't think it was better, why suggest it? I use examples all the time in my crits; with new people, I always include "Maybe something like..." so they know it's only a suggestion. With my 'regulars', I just give the example and they know I'm not demanding they change it.

    I think the main thing with online crits (as on a site or forum) is that you have to get used to how certain people do things. Some will get very detailed, others less so. The only ones that really bug me are the ones who think being nasty is equated with being helpful (the 'get a thick skin' idiots). I tune them out completely as egotists. Other than that, I try to ignore the style and concentrate on the message. But in the end, it's your story and you decide how it should be written.
  18. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    It's good practice. Learning the difference because sometimes even with an agent/editor etc comments can come that leave you scratching your head and wondering on what planet they live on.

    Also with the interactive nature of the internet. A number of published authors have ended up 'arguing' with reviewers and it hasn't done their reputation any good at all. This way you get the practice of saying thank you for that and I'll take it into consideration. Turn internet off and call the snot that dared say that about your precious work for no reason all the worst expletives you can think of ;)
  19. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Yes, usually it involves using a similar sounding word, but in that case you are using another word to fulfil the same function in the sentence as the one it substitutes for, so they are usually at least the same part of speech, i.e. one adjective substituted for another that sounds like it but means something completely different, such as: 'many slaves were emasculated even before the American civil war ended' instead of 'many slaves were emancipated'

    In your example, flamingo and flemenco are both nouns.

    If the two words you're switching aren't grammatically equivalent the sentence will make no sense.

    AND... coming back to the OP's topic, I just used an example to illustrate my point. Wasn't trying to rewrite or change the style, just demonstrate what I was on about. That's ok, innit? :D
  20. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    And in most cases that was what i did but in this case she was repeating a sentence heard earlier by her 'idol' and has taken the whole conversation she overheard out of context. Not knowing the meaning of the word she has misused it - the reader is left in no doubt about what she means. However I suspect the poisoning won't be happening so the scene is coming out ;) It just bugged me when one particular critic kept correcting her word - it must have been clear what she meant because the words they suggested were correct. It was a year ago I wrote it that is the only sentence I remember.
  21. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hey everyone, thanks so much for such useful comments and discussion. I always think it'll be rude if I don't answer every poster, but if I did it would just hog the discussion, so I just wanted to say there's a lot of useful points even if I only answer to a couple :)
  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Nakhti: reading your emasculated/emancipated example, I thought it'll be emasculated/emaciated :D It just goes to sho just how subjective reading can be (and how much I need to eat my lunch)

    @Elagiasma: that's a good point about authors embarrasing themselves by arguing with online critique. Even though I am one of those people who can't keep their mouths shut (I now, you'd never have guessed :D) I always admire when people are cool and just completely ignore the hateful comments/critiques.

    @Mckk: aww, that review muct have felt horrible! Good for you that you stood up for yourself. Like you said, not every critique is worth it ;)

    @shadowwalker: totally agree, it really does take time to get to know your critic as well,. Good point :)
  23. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless New Member

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    Yep. I try to always use something like "For example" because I'm aware that sometimes I don't make a whole lot of sense when I can't remember the accurate terms.

    I take any suggested change in mind, figure out what they've exactly done and decide how much it actually works. Even those that would change the complete voice, there's something under that that they're trying to get at. I guess I'm trying to say to figure out what they're think is better about their words if they don't explain it.

    I think every critique has some usefulness, just some not as much as others, even if it's to see how someone else would have done it so you can go "I still like mine better"
  24. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Even an uneducated housemaid would instinctively know that the word she was using was a past tense verb and would therefore substitute a different past tense verb instead - not knowing the grammatical term for it doesn't mean she doesn't understand the use. But I take your point - if someone doesn't know what type of word they're substituting, let alone the meaning, they might not substitute one that grammatically performs the same function.

    And.... ok now I'm spent :D
  25. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Usually people critiquing offer their own example of a sentence to SHOW what exactly they think the work in discussion is lacking. No one expects you to use their sentence, or even the style in their sentence. What do they expect is to see the issue that caused them to rewrite your sentence in the first place addressed.

    Style or no style, when a reader passes his eyes along a sentence or paragraph, and finds himself taken out of the immersion because of something clunky or awkward in the passage, there's an issue. If a reader says he had to reread your sentence three times, there's an issue. Often I find that people taking criticism will confuse style or 'artistic vision' with just plain bad writing. I am guilty of this myself. But when three or four people are critiquing you for the same things, you've got to stand back from your own writing and recognize it might not be differences in style thats the problem, but your own ability to execute it.

    We've all read various authors and have all seen a wide array of styles and those authors always pull them off. It might not be our favorite type of writing, but we can't say it doesn't work. Writing is not just a science, its an art, and novices are bound to make mistakes in both regards. Maybe their writing only has objective errors, or maybe it has less easily defined flaws that at their level they fail to grasp. Either way, we don't see these errors in high quality works, regardless of their 'style'.

    I'm glad the OP brought this up because it addresses an issue with novice writers, myself included, and how to handle critique properly. No matter how enamored you are with your own work, maybe even especially if you are enamored with your own work, you have to respect when your readers, especially when its more than one, have a problem with your writing. You don't have to respect their advice or their examples, but you have to respect that something in your writing disturbed them. Once you're an established author you can afford to brush off other people's complaints and yell 'artistic vision' all you want. Till then its just vanity to assume that people fail to share your vision rather than there being an actual flaw in your writing.
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