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  1. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Friend gave hurtful advice. Thoughts, please?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by jc., Jan 29, 2012.

    Okay, so I sent a trusted friend of mine what I had so far for my Sci-Fi short story entry. I normally don't ask people to critique my work so maybe I'm just overreacting to what he said, but the 'advice' he gave me was very hurtful and I don't know what I should do/think? I'm crushed because I trusted him. I've known him for over ten years and he's always been honest with me. He's also an avid reader and even has a Masters in English, so it's not like he doesn't know what he's talking about.

    He basically said that it sounds like I'm "trying too hard to write well" and that he got the impression I was "constantly trying to dress up my writing instead of actually just writing well". He also said that my style was distracting him from the story.

    His 'advice' is that I stop writing the way I do and just completely change the way I write. Obviously not his exact words, but the message that I got.

    I know that I'm supposed to have a tough skin. I was prepared for constructive criticism, but I feel like he basically told me I can't write at all and that all the work I've done so far to get to where I'm at now (skill level wise) was a waste of time.

    ----
    Sorry for the crybaby novel. What I'm trying to ask is how would you react/take his advice?
     
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  2. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Absolutely never think the work you've done is a waste of time! It never is.

    Did he offer any concrete suggestions for improvements? Or was it all general comments?

    If the former, I'd look at them on a case-by-case basis: see if you think he has a point or not, if you can take something on board to implement into your work, or not. Any review will be subjective. Try to separate his opinions from the 'facts'.
     
  3. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Thank you for the prompt reply. He did give me some usable advice, mostly SPaG related stuff that I did agree with. I don't know about the other comments though. I feel like I've been slapped in the face. It just hurts to believe that someone I trust could possibly feel that way about my writing. I never claimed to be good, but now I just feel like my stuff is complete crap.
     
  4. eXpendable
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    eXpendable Member

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    Don't start an argument, doesn't seem worth it. It sounds like he was genuinely trying to be helpful, but just didn't realize that he was perhaps being slightly insensitive. Something that is easily forgivable. You should just have a chat with him, let him know that you were taken aback by his critique and want some more pointers on how to improve. Defend your writing style but don't be closed off to any of his suggestions; as you said yourself, he is a Master. I think you have maybe over-reacted a little, as would anyone presented with that I guess, I think what he's trying to get at is that you need to spend more time reviewing your writing.
     
  5. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess even though I take writing itself very seriously I am pretty casual with the criticism I receive. Most people tell me exactly what I was thinking anyway, because I'm quite harsh on some aspects of my writing, so it makes it easier for me to hear when they say it because I have already been thinking it for some time and just feeling too lazy to try and improve it before I send it out for critique. (bad practice, I know: if I cleaned up my stories better I'd hear more of what I need to hear :p) The rest I don't let get to me, because what am I even meant to do with it?

    Something like that is such a big and general piece of criticism it's hard to even know where to begin, which is why I would dismiss it and want to concentrate on smaller things. You can't just tell someone their whole approach to writing sucks: you have to nurture them through it step by step, pointing out the individual errors they make and hoping that as they learn the small improvements lead to bigger improvements which shape the piece as a whole to not be so bad. It is just not helpful to say something like that.

    Your friend, though, I'm sure didn't mean to hurt you. He probably thought you were a strong person who was serious about your writing and could take any critique levelled at you. The fact he gave rubbish criticism with no help attached is his problem. :p But don't let it get you down. People who just tell you to make broad changes without offering in detail advice to follow on how to improve don't know what they're talking about. Maybe he just didn't get on with your writing style and other people will? It happens. He just made it sound like it was a fault in your writing, when in fact most people have at least one brilliant renowned writer that they cannot get into and hate the style of. "But it just looks like he mashed words together on the page!" they wail, against the sound of millions of admirers.

    My advice is to get a couple of second opinions. If they all say similar, maybe someone will say something helpful too. Or maybe some of them will actually think it's quite good. >_<
     
  6. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Thank you for your reply.

    I don't plan on starting an argument because he's still a good friend. I guess I was just really shocked by the advice he gave me and am still trying to make some sense out of it. It's never crossed my mind that my writing could come across that way, and now I'm wondering if that's really the way I write and if other people in the past (teachers, friends) were just too afraid to tell me? I feel very confused and kind of self conscious about my writing now.

    I did ask him what about my writing made him feel that way and he told me the entire thing I sent him was an example. I'll give it a few days and ask him to elaborate once I've cooled off a little I guess...
     
  7. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    You're probably right. I think what really threw me off guard is that it's never crossed my mind before that my writing could seem that way to another person. I never thought my writing was perfect, but a flaw like that is so huge. How could I have missed it? Why hasn't anyone ever told me about it before?

    I am considering having some other people read the same sample now just to see if they feel the same way. I definitely want to improve if that's the case but gosh, if what he said is true I wouldn't even know where to start with all of it.

    If my writing seems fine to other people, it would still suck that the one really experienced writer I know in "real life" hates it. I guess that'd be my luck though, lol...

    Thanks so much for your reply.
     
  8. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    It does sound a little like you were expecting more praise, rather than what you got. And I didn't think the comments were really hurtful - he gave you what you asked for. What I hear him saying is that you're over-writing - ie, trying too hard to write a great book instead of just telling the story. That would mean at worst, a revision - like no writer does that! ;)
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It isn't a constructive critique, because it tells you nothing about what may have been wrong with the writing or what specific things you can do to fix it.

    Your friend is probably not a writer, so probably has no clue why he didn't like what he read. If you think he does have enough writing, ask him nicely if he can be a little more specific. Otherwise, your best bet is probably to drop it and accept that for whatever reason, your writing did not work for your friend.

    Never take a critique personally. Even if it were deliberately mean spirited, you might be able to get some specifics that would help you make positive changes. At worst, you get nothing, and lose nothing.
     
  10. twelveninetysix
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    twelveninetysix Member

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    Definitely don't take it to heart. If he'd been more specific, for example "I think your metaphors are too cliché" or "you need to expand more on the emotion" or something similar, then fair enough, it's his opinion and you need to decide if you care enough to change it. But as it is, it sounds like the style doesn't really work for him personally, which means absolutely nothing because, trust me, it's impossible to keep everyone happy. Either ask him to elaborate or just move on and find someone else who likes your style so they can give you more specific criticism :)
     
  11. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Hello, thank you for your reply.

    I wasn't really expecting praise. That would've been awesome, but I was expecting his advice to be more helpful. I wish he had just said "you're over-writing" because that would've been a heck of a lot nicer than what/how he said what he did. Who knows, maybe I am oversensitive. Maybe I did take his comments the wrong way. It's just he didn't give me the impression that I just needed to revise. I felt like he was just telling me writing style sucked, period, and that I should re-learn how to write.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that's not what i got from what you said he told you... i have said much the same thing to many of my mentees who seem to be trying so hard to sound 'smart' or 'literary' that they make little sense, and/or their work doesn't read well... the difference is that i provide examples, so they'd get what i was referring to and could know how to work on correcting the problem...

    you may have taken what was said the wrong way and are perhaps too sensitive to accept what may be sad, but true about your writing style, or he could be wrong... why don't you post an excerpt from what you sent him here, so we can let you know if he was at all right, or totally out of line?

    love and consoling hugs, maia
     
  13. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Hello. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

    He's studying with the hopes of becoming an English professor so he does love to read, but I guess I wouldn't really consider him a serious writer so that may be true. From what I know he mostly writes academic papers. Either way though, you're right. I need to just learn how to distinguish between a constructive and unusable critique, and develop a thicker skin. On the bright side, I thought for sure his comments would make me MORE afraid of getting critiques but it's actually having the opposite effect. I now want to show more people and get more opinions.
     
  14. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Hi there. Thank you for being so sweet.

    Everyone here has been so patient and understanding and I am starting to feel much better. I am definitely going to ask him to be more specific with me, or at least to elaborate more on his opinion... but regardless of what he says, I'm going to try and get my work out there more and see what other people have to say about my writing. If he just doesn't dig it, then fine. Hopefully other people will. If he is right though, then I've learned a valuable lesson.
     
  15. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Hello. Thank you for your sweet comment.

    I really wish he had been more specific and detailed. Instead he just pretty much said, "You need to learn how to write, all of this is written very badly" and expected me to get it. Idk, I guess because of his schooling he's used to proofreading papers and maybe expected me to react the same way his other classmates would. Oh well, I'm getting over it now and just want to work on the problem.

    And I'll post the first two paragraphs. I would post more but this is an excerpt from my contest entry. Sorry if there are a lot of errors. He's the only person so far I've showed any of my work to.

     
  16. twelveninetysix
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    twelveninetysix Member

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    Hmm. It doesn't seem so abhorrently terrible to me :') The actual points of interest you picked up on are spot on, however personally I'd try and cut down on the adjectives a little. Definitely I'd never use more than one at any given point and sometimes cut it out together - instead, try and choose a noun/verb that more wholly describes what you want.

    For example "A newborn's deafening cry sent a reverberating echo". Whilst "cry" doesn't really imply that it's deafening, it still implies that it's loud. If the loudness it really important, you could call it a "scream" instead. Similarly, the word "reverberating" is somewhat redundant because that is what echo's do. You could say the echo "reverberated through the dark and empty halls" if you really wanted to, although in that case it might be simpler to just say it that it "bounced". Alternatively, if it's important that the cry is really deafening, you could say instead that "the newborn's cry echoed deafeningly throughout The Swan's dark and empty halls."

    Some details and descriptions are spot on, for example the "steady breathing and rhythmic beeping" are useful and interesting because they tell us that the scientist is calm and not flustered. However some details can be inferred. The description of her as "attractive" is fine because we didn't know that, but "unemotional" is less important - we can infer it from what you said about her workplace and to be frank, the fact that she is experimenting on a newborn child. If you wanted to you could say later on, for example, "...a blunt prodding tool in her right, her face an emotionless mask," or mention the fact that her manner is "professional" or something similar.

    That's a lot to think on and it sounds pretty harsh, but only because I'm really focusing on the negative side of things here in order to try and unravel what your friend might have intended. There are some great ideas here, for example, mentioning LEDA is a detail that might have bored the reader, but it works because the name "Lunar Engineering Department of Adaption" draws you in and makes you wonder how it relates to a newborn child. Some of what I've said is pretty standard writing technique but some of it, again, comes down to opinion, so take from it what you will. I'm certainly looking forward to reading more about this experiment.
     
  17. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    twelveninetysix, thank you SO much. I don't think you were being harsh at all and I'm actually relieved that I finally got some detailed help. I'm looking through the rest of my story and do notice that I can be a little redundant, and I definitely overuse adjectives.

    Also, the reason I mentioned she was unemotional is because a little later in the same story the reader learns that the child is actually hers (not really a spoiler). I think I will take your advice with the emotionless mask though. Also, the LEDA thing is in reference to the little boy--whose name is Castor. In Greek mythology Castor is the child of Zeus and Leda. There's a reason for all of this that is revealed much later, but for the sake of my draft I threw it in in hopes that I'd find a better place for the info dump later.

    Overall your review has helped me a lot. I have a lot of things to think about.
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree, pretty much, with twelveninetysix. You use a lot of adjectives and adverbs, and that does make it look like you're trying too hard. That's what your friend probably meant. Also, you might try to work the "Lunar Engineering Department of Adaptation" in a little more naturally, rather than just sticking in there in parentheses.

    Also, not to get too technical, but I'd change "computer diodes" to LEDs, or simply indicator lights. Most diodes don't blink; only light-emitting ones do.

    And if I were you, I'd look up a proper medical term for the "blunt prodding tool" she uses on the baby. A surgeon wouldn't make an incision with a "sharp cutting tool", he'd use a scalpel. You get the idea.

    Keep going, though. I'm interested in your story!
     
  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just from these two paragraphs, it sounds like an intriguing story, and I'd probably want to read further. But I agree that some of the descriptions are unnecessary. To go a bit further on the baby's crying, for instance, if you say it echoed you don't even need "empty" halls. It wouldn't echo if they weren't empty.

    On the other end of the spectrum - "a blunt prodding tool" sounds like you really didn't know yourself what it was. It could be long and thin (like an unsharpened pencil) or short and stubby (like a thimble). Was it metal? Electronic? The same with "chemical smelling room" (which, btw, should be "chemical-smelling", otherwise the room is smelling chemicals) and "laboratory’s medical apparatus". What kind of chemical smell was it? Sweet? Acrid? Was do you mean by apparatus? A table? A machine? I'm not able to picture these in my head at all.

    Middle ground ;) - "When she appeared to be confident with the information she’d gathered" - how did that manifest itself? Did she smile? Nod? Narrow her eyes? Sigh? Do a little jiggle? This is one of the places to remember the "show don't tell" thing, and give us a little more insight into this woman (more than being told she's attractive, blonde, and unemotional).

    I'd also cut those long sentences into shorter ones - it not only makes it easier to read but builds the tension level.

    Hard (if not impossible) to judge a story by the first two paragraphs, but I do get an inkling of what your friend might have meant. The atmosphere/tension builders are just a tad too much, and if the story continued in that vein, it would get a bit hard to read. But if you can work on those descriptions - get rid of some, adjust others - and try to let the mechanics do a little more of the atmospheric work, it could alleviate some of the problems I'm seeing here.
     
  20. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Thank you very much for your honest opinion. I admit I have a lot of work to do in regards to the moving stuff around and cutting stuff out, but it definitely helps to get another writer's input. Your critique is a lot easier to accept and is more specific than my friend's.
     
  21. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Hello. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and critique my writing. Everyone, including yourself, has been EXTREMELY helpful and I really can't thank anyone enough. I feel much better and the critique is actually helpful and easy to understand. You've really helped me zone in on where my problem areas are (where I'm over-describing, where I'm being redundant or repetitive, where I'm slacking, etc). Suddenly my friend's 'advice' makes sense, and doesn't make me all sad. :)

    On a lighter note, I laughed at the bold text. That's very good to know.
     
  22. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    it's funny...we tend to put stuff out there (writing-wise) as if we have somehow arrived at our final form...and then people sometimes critique as if we have to have arrived as well...the entire process is a journey...boo! cliche!...but it's true...i laugh at the things i put together through my twenties and suspect that when i reach forty i will do the same for the stuff i am producing now...however...that is okay...i still treat my current work as if it is ready for the big leagues, and know that i can only improve...
     
  23. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Hello there. :)

    I definitely agree that it's a journey and learning process. I'm always learning something new--if not about my writing, then about myself. Even if the process sometimes makes me want to rip my hair out or throw my computer out the window, haha. :) But it's always good to learn, just like you said.
     
  24. CH878
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    CH878 Active Member

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    I can actually relate to what you're feeling. I gave a piece of my work to a trusted friend to review (he's got equal if not better literary skills than me) and all he could say was that it wasn't long enough and was far too fast paced. The problem is, they look at it from a reader's point of view, not a writer's, so you have to do a bit of interpretation, and also remember it's far easier for people to be bluntly critical than constructive.

    As for the extract you provided, I'd really just echo what other people have said. It just gives the impression it was written as a piece of coursework, rather than to be published. Reduce the adjectives a bit, bring in more symbolism and don't necessarily think that you have to tell us everything about the characters, show us what they're like through what they do and what they say.

    But most of all, don't sacrifice your style because of what other people say. If you want to take your narrative one way, then do so, and there will be a readership out there who'll like it.
     
  25. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Hello. I agree with everything you said, thank you. I was feeling pretty crushed (yes, I'm a crybaby) after my friend's advice but everyone's really helped me get into my head that he was trying to be helpful in his own blunt kind of way. Now that I've grown up a little (haha) I can appreciate his honesty. If he never told me this, I would've never found out that I was doing all of these things wrong. He could've told me in a nicer or more helpful way instead of dropping a bomb on me but at least it forced me to seek out help.

    Also I know what you mean about the not sacrificing my style thing. I want to learn more about writing and progress as a writer so I can *improve* upon what I have, but I also don't want to completely drown out my own voice. I guess that's what the learning process is about though, finding our perfect balance or whatever.
     
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