1. thedarkknight
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    thedarkknight Member

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    Does writing reviews make you more critical of books you read?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by thedarkknight, Dec 31, 2012.

    This is kind of funny.

    I've posted several critiques in the review section. I've read many others there. I haven't posted any of my work for review yet.

    But lately when I'm reading modern published novels, I find myself being overly critical. I'm thinking "they would never get away with this if they had posted this in the writingforums review section."

    One book I finished last week was a classic in it's genre and published about 20 years ago. It had long paragraphs of description, a weak main character, and the story didn't really start until half way through the book. The first hundred pages could have been pared down to about 25. All in all, it was a strong, well written story. But what about grabbing the reader from page one? What about writing 100 word paragraphs to support one line of dialogue?

    Another book I read lately was pretty good and fast paced (NYT best seller list), but the writer was using some gimmicks to create false suspense that I think he would have been called out on if he had posted his work on this forum.

    Then I was watching a movie last night and picking it to pieces. I have NEVER noticed "plot holes" in movies before. I usually just go along with the premise and don't ask questions.

    But instead I was finding leaps of logic, wooden characters, timing issues, clichés galore, unrealistic plot twists, lame dialogue, and just plain factual nonsense. The inconsistencies were terrible. One place was described early in the movie and when it was shown later, it wasn't anything like the earlier description.

    So I still enjoy a good book or movie, but my standards have obviously changed.

    Has anyone else experienced this?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i've been a consummate literary and movie nit-picker since earliest childhood... it just seemed to come naturally to me, to the disgust of friends and family... :(

    in the many decades since i became a professional writer and editor, i do have to admit it's become even more of a habit that i can't break... and even when i'm enjoying a good read or an engrossing flick, i can't help muttering about every little goof and glitch that jumps out at me...
     
  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    To a point. I try to be fair about critiques - it's hard to judge something out of it's context or time. What's acceptable then might not
    be acceptable now. Or even in style.
    I did read a few self published books recently and found myself cringing over
    several obvious mistakes the writer made. I thought, can't you see how glaringly
    wrong these are?
    I don't know if my standards have changed - I come from reading Archie comics - still love
    'em. Entertainment is entertainment. If you let your standards get too high you won't
    enjoy anything. Make criticisms that are fair but agree to overlook them if the work/movie
    is fun. It's like a relationship. No one is perfect.
     
  4. Sam M
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    Sam M Member

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    My family hates watching movies with me - I often tear films apart. Now if I watch particularly badly written films (ie: any action/Armageddon movies), I catch the bricks that are thrown at us (some writers call it foreshadowing) and predict the second half of the film. I've had some reasonable success with this venture.

    I find it very difficult to simply enjoy a film for what it's worth. Books are a little easier. Although, I am starting to notice cliches and lazy writing.
     
  5. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    It heightened my ability to spot clinkers, but I noticed from the moment I started revising my own work that I was looking at the works of others with a finer critical eye. Lord knows I gave myself enough raw material for practice!
     
  6. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I just quit reading books because none can live up to my expectations anymore. The other things is, if a movie comes out and I have already read the book, I can't enjoy the movie because it doesn't compare. There just is no happy ending here.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    That's a little extreme, isn't it?

    I actually think constant reading made me more critical more than anything else. After reading a lot, you start to get a sense of what works and what doesn't.

    I also find that I'm more critical of certain writers and less critical of others. For me, a writer's reputation makes a difference, and I'm much more likely to actively look for poor writing, bad dialogue, plot holes, etc. in the writing of, say, Dan Brown than I am of Cormac McCarthy.
     
  8. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    I'm not a natural critic at all, I need to put my 'critic hat' on to do it and critiquing on forums hasn't changed that. If I'm enjoying a book or a film I get totally absorbed in it, and I'll only notice if something seriously gets in the way of my enjoyment.
     
  9. Oswiecenie
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    Oswiecenie Active Member

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    Yes, it makes you more critical and raises your standards. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. If you find that you can't enjoy some novels or movies anymore, you are most likely reading/watching crap, plain and simple. So it's time to take out the trash and go for the good, enjoyable stuff.
     
  10. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I'm a natural critic. It's something I can't help but do, but writing reviews does allow me to think about why certain things are the way they are, and what problems are more important than others. So. Yes, is the answer.
     
  11. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, it make you more aware - and that is a good thing!
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Truly. Finding weak passages in published works helps you recognize weaknesses in your own writing, and even helps you not commit them to paper/bits in the first place. Even better, finding jewels of expression in other people's work will expand your repertoire, and you will also find more pleasure in appreciation of the author's skill.

    I always find that seeing clearly is always far more fulfilling than misty, passive perception.
     
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  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    One thing we have to be aware of is that forums like this, and many books on writing, are more focused on what not to do than on what to do. I think the reason for this is that it's easy to state some "rules" as though they are absolutes that must never be broken, because the rules are simple and it's easy to spot when a writer breaks them. ("Look! He used an adverb! He's got a long way to go." Or, "That sentence is fifty words long! Nobody will ever figure out what it means. Terrible writing." Or, "That paragraph tells instead of showing. What godawful prose. Wait - what's the difference between showing and telling again?")

    We are teaching each other to spot "flaws" rather than to appreciate a story's strengths.

    Every great work of literature I've ever read has had some of these "flaws." Yet they remain great works of literature. Obviously, these works have strengths that far surpass their weaknesses, so we don't even bother noticing the weaknesses. I think we should concentrate more on developing our strengths as writers than on avoiding what we see as "flaws." Most of the time, these flaws aren't even very important. We don't quit reading a book because the writer committed the sin of putting an adverb in a dialogue tag, or used a semicolon, or wrote a long sentence. We quit reading a book if we find it boring. You can get away with all the flaws in the world, pretty much, so long as the reader keeps reading. Many big bestsellers prove this. I've only read a few pages of one of the Twilight books, but I think the author broke every rule there is in those few pages. I can't argue with her success, though.

    So the only real rule is "Don't bore the reader."

    Maybe we should all make a concerted effort to find good things to say about the works in our Writing Workshop rather than pointing out the flaws. We can easily carry being critical too far.
     
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  14. Quille
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    Quille Senior Member

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    I find some books grab my attention and I whiz right past grammatical flaws, while with others I cringe at all the it's that should have been its. Plot flaws are less easy to ignore. One book I was reading told me exactly how it was going to end when I still had at least 1/3 to read. I put it down and never picked it up again.
    How much the flaws bother you may have to do with your purpose in reading that piece. For me it's usually about what happened, if I'm racing through to find out, I don't even see the flaws. Something I am truly thankful for.
     
  15. Teodor Pravický
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    Teodor Pravický Senior Member

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    I'm making review for a movie every week. Sometimes happens that audiobook comes or I visit a theatre. I never criticize anything else than a story itself. Sometime mention the names or something.. mostly in the positive way, but still. I'm so focused on the story, flow, ideas and stuff that I don't really care about anything else.
    It seems that it is like the topic says.
     
  16. Cerebral
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    Cerebral Active Member

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    This was a great post.

    Also, about the OP's observation that many of the flaws that are pointed out in works submitted in the Writing Workshop are prevalent in even the most successful authors' works, I have an analogy that may explain how one should receive reviews. It may not be helpful to you, but it helps me. As someone who loves prize fighting, I'm always eager to point out exactly what professional fighters like Fedor or Tyson did wrong in the ring. In the gym, you're taught to keep yourself covered at all times, to keep a distance, avoid looping punches, etc. Both mentioned fighters trained this way, but didn't actually stick to these rules religiously in the ring. Both rushed their opponents, let down their guards and threw wide punches that completely exposed their face and body to punishment. But it worked for them.

    By focusing on what not to do and why not to do it, it can help a writer recognize when it would be actually beneficial to break the rules. Sometimes, as was the case with both Fedor and Tyson, following strict rules could actually hurt your game.

    Also, whether it's fighting or writing, I enjoy critiquing everything I read or watch. I think it actually helps me; although, I agree that sometimes it's better to focus on what others do well, instead of trying to find flaws and holes. That way you can incorporate their good ideas/methods into your own stuff.
     
  17. bmacd
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    bmacd Member

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    I've definitely noticed this the more I write. It's probably a good thing, though, because it makes you more conscious of the things you're doing in your own pieces.
     
  18. Fei.Fei
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    Fei.Fei Active Member

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    YES.

    I mean, I'm not even allowed to post my stuff yet but I've read other critiques and seen people's work picked to pieces- in a good way. But sometimes tres harsh, I gotta say. I never looked at a novel the same way again ;) Even when my friend gave me a piece of his stuff to read I just felt like a b**** cuz I found errors in every line. I'm nowhere near being an accomplished writer, I'm just getting started but I'm starting to think my stuff is utter rubbish lol, oh well, I'll just post it and see what y'all think. Don't get me wrong, I actually think its a good thing having higher standards, right?
     
  19. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    Totally agree. A lot of the 'great' writers use language rather than just write words. They break the rules and the result is a more interesting read. (You do have to either know the rules or have an impeccable feel for what you're doing to get away with it though). And for most readers the story is the thing.

    There is a tendency with a few people to 'enjoy' the mistakes of others without giving due acknowledgment to the strengths of the piece. There are lots of aspects to a piece of writing, they should all be taken into consideration.

    A pet hate I have is the decrying of popular writers as 'poor writers' without giving reason for that opinion. It always smacks of jealousy to me. On this site Dan Brown and JK Rowling are regular targets, and yet they have proved popular with millions. They must be doing something right. Good for them.
     
  20. johann77
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    johann77 Member

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    Comment removed
     
  21. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    For me, it’s the continuous reading and writing that keep me critical. I too, have recently read some self-published work and cringed at the lack of respect for proper SPAG and character development. Almost, like a 1st draft was created, never modified and sent through kindle/kobo publishing without a second thought as to what the readers would endure. I also believe that having readers and writers alike provide feedback on my own works not only improves my writing, but my review/critical skills.
     
  22. Solitude
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    Solitude Member

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    Yep. Since I started to seriously critique people's stories about seven months ago on a different website, I've become a more critical reader. In general, I'm a critical person. I've seen the result of what happens when you ignore constructive criticism, and it's not pretty. I'd much rather tear apart someone's writing now so that they'll be a better writer later than have them go on without ever improving.

    I agree with the idea that sometimes it's beneficial to break the rules and experimentation is satisfying when done well. Without experimentation and alteration, literature wouldn't ever evolve. Other times, rule breaking appears to come down to laziness and/or a lack of proper editing. Most readers tend to care about the story more, anyways, but that's still no proper excuse for 'bad' writing.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    An actual experiment explores outside a single rule, habit, or convention to discover what the costs and benefits of the adjustment. I agree that most so-called rejection of rules is nothing more than being too lazy to learn them, or rebellion for the love of anarchy.

    Rules and guidelines were developed to help writers navigate a wilderness of choices, not to pin them down. Centuries of literature have developed into patterns that work far often than their alternatives, yet still permit almost unlimited expression. As writers develop their skills, they learn not only what rules they can breach, but when and why, and at what cost.
     
  24. SunnyE
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    SunnyE Member

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    I've always been one to notice certain things in books that bug me (ie: grammatical errors, over-usage of certain words or phrases, unrealistic dialogue, etc.), but since I started writing seriously, I've noticed I tend to pick up more on bigger issues like plot structure, character development, etc. I haven't done a ton of reviews, but I can only guess it would make it worse. But truly, if the book is really well-written, I get engrossed enough that I don't notice the problems, big or small. That's the sign of a great book I suppose.
     
  25. NellaFantasia
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    NellaFantasia Member

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    I've been critical for a long time, long before I began critiquing other people. For me, if a book has a lot of things wrong with it then I can't enjoy it. Needless to say, I nitpick a lot of books. Even authors I adore reading I can still find things about a certain book of theirs that had me cringing or rolling my eyes.

    That being said, being critical has also given me an appreciation for things done well in books. Just like terrible execution can make me throw a book across a room, great character development or a shocking plot twist or even just a nice flow to the story which brings up raw emotion can make me rave about the book. I love reading, but I'm not like most people who read strictly for entertainment value. I read for the art as well.
     

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