1. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Have we forgotten the point of reviewing other members work?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by cazann34, Apr 6, 2013.

    I have noticed alot of members asking questions on one particular aspect of their writing. Example: Does it flow well? Does it sound believable? Does my MC seem real? I wonder about the merits of asking such questions. And are we really helping the writer improve if we only answer one aspect of their writing? Especially where it is clear they need help with other places.

    I for one prefer an overall review. I want to know everything. I need to know where I go wrong. And of course where I go right. Many of those who ask these singular questions do need help in other areas. But why don't they ask? Are they fearful of negative feedback? I for one tend to point out any errors I see (it helps me see such errors in my own work) not because I want to be mean but because I want to help.

    Have we forgotten the point of reviewing other members work?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is why I refuse to answer certain types of questions directly. I don't believe I am doing the querent any favors if I do, so I try instead to point to a different way of looking at the problem.

    I'm a firm believer in the power of giving critique, as a journey of discovery for the critiquer.
     
  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see the asking of specific questions as equating to a disinterest in receiving other thoughts and comments on the writing. Often, when one asks for a critique, what one might receive back is the dreaded "Yeah, it's good. I liked it," or "Good Job," or even something like, "The dialogue worked well," or some other particular comment that the writer might already believe or suspect is true. Even on some writing sites, critiques by other writers can be vague or just give overall impression, or they could be very specific, relating to only one particular aspect of the work. I think by asking the particular question, the writer is conveying what, in particular, he'd really like to know. I don't see it as indicative of a fear of negative feedback or a lack of interest in other constructive thoughts.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic

    I think it's good if the writer lets us know what he/she is trying to achieve with any posted piece.

    We can then direct our critique towards helping that particular writer achieve the goal they want to achieve. Otherwise, we just sit and nitpick grammatical errors, typos, and other pesky problems which may not be the core problem at all. (As one of my howtawrite books says, a premature concentration on grammar and spelling and sentence structure is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It doesn't address the core problem.)

    The story must flow, of course, but it helps if we know what direction the writer wants it to flow.

    It helps to remember we're not 'reviewing' professionally-finished pieces here. We're trying to help each other find, present and maybe re-invent our stories, poems, etc. A kind and openminded approach is what we should all strive for, when dishing out critiques. By openminded, I mean we should not try to force every writer to write in our favourite genre or style. We should help them find theirs, whatever it may be.

    In my opinion, anyway.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I must vehemently disagree.

    The mist effective critique is when the critiquer has no preconceptions, and can only infer the author's purpose from what is presented. For the writer, the responses from such an unbiased reader are platinum. The astute writer can discover from the responses what the reader perceived, and if it differs from the author's intent, where to clarify.

    Never give the critiquer a map.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although I think this point is valid, it is often difficult to do with respect to a small excerpt from a larger piece. So, if one were reviewing an entire novel, or even a short story (which is obviously entirely self-contained), I would agree. But here, often there is additional explanation required to get certain information about how the section that is posted works.
     
  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree with liz re: excerpts. I find them very difficult to critique because I have little or no sense of the whole story, or what the characters are like. I can go by what the author tells me - but that (ironically) isn't always clear. And if they don't tell me anything but just want my 'impression', many times it's totally off, and I recognize that when they come back and discuss/explain the context. Critiquing the whole work is much more effective, and there I agree with Cog - I don't want the author to explain anything. Their words should speak for themselves.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The one that never fails to make me roll my eyes and groan is:

    "This is what I am trying for...

    Please tell me how well I've succeeded."
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I tried asking for specifics - even on another site and I think I actually sabotaged my reviews by distracting them. I don't think
    I would've gotten such adamant, one sided advice had I just left well enough alone.

    On the other hand I kind of wish there was a bit of a template or guide to
    help everyone give more well rounded reviews.
     
  10. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    jannert
    Premature concentration? What is that? It sounds like some pseudo intellectual claptrap to me. So you are saying we should ignore the bad spelling, grammar and punctuation and find the 'real' meaning of the text. Whatever that might be? Or whatever the writer says it is? Can you cite this book and the author?


    Shadowwalker
    That's exactly my point. A piece of work should speak for itself. It shouldn't need an intro whether its an excerpt or a full chapter. If the writing doesn't explain what is happening the writer has failing in their task to get their point/argument across.

    A question I sent out into the void: when you post work do you only want one question answered (the one you asked) or are you happy for a full review? All replies very welcome.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would argue that problems in grammar, spelling, and sentence structure _are_ a core problem. A writer, IMO, should be working on these core skills until he gets them right with almost zero errors.

    Now, if the writer also wants to work on his storytelling skills while his writing skills are below par, OK, sure. But I object to the idea that basic writing skills are ever optional.
     
  12. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    If I posted a piece for a review (I don't do it here, but I have some beta readers), I'd certainly want all kinds of feedback the readers would be willing to share, but there might be something I especially want to know, like, is the character's motivation clear? I usually ask this kind of questions afterwards, after they read it and gave me their comments. But that's in personal conversations. On a forum, you never know whether the reades are going to come back again and answer additional questions when they have already given their review. Asking straight away might solve this, even if it distorts their view.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hi Cazann - Sorry, my mistake; it's not a book, it's an article. I knew this quote was fresh in my mind! I only read it a few days ago. It's actually from the current issue of Writer's Digest, from an article entitled Clearing Out The Clutter, by David Corbett.

    A longer quote from the article explains it better than I did:

    "Deep Cleaning

    "Aristotle believed that the skills that demonstrate a facility with language, such as style and characterization, are the easiest for young writers to master, and that only upon maturity do writers demonstrate command of the subtler techniques that lie beneath the surface of the text, such as structure. Regardless, it's often the surface that's easiest to fix, and a great many writers begin there with their re-writes, tuning up their phrases, tightening their sentences.

    "This is a mistake. It can too easily lead to what the author and writing instructor James N Frey likens to 'rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.' A manuscript with deep flaws in its conception of character, execution of plot, or simple logic cannot be fixed with polished prose, and focusing on language if your manuscript possesses these deeper missteps is wasted effort.

    "To revise successfully, you have to know what you're writing about, what your story is, your point, your premise, your theme, whatever you call it. You have to know what it is quivering inside the story that moves you, for that's the thing you're trying to share with the reader.

    "You often need to write through to a preliminary end to see this deep meaning remotely, let alone clearly. You may need to meander for a while to discover it; you may need to rethink certain passages or scenes to gain the more intimate understanding necessary to feel it deeply. But if you try to revise before this clarifies itself in your mind—or your heart— you can end up polishing doorknobs to empty rooms."

    .......

    By the way, ChickenFreak, I do totally agree that a writer must have basic writing skills if they're ever going to get anywhere. I actually don't know what good we can do here, with critiques, if writers can't express themselves at all. Such a shame. You don't want to be horrible to them, but they really don't have the tools to be writers, do they? Unless they are willing to go back to school and study grammar, it's probably too late for them. Pointing out all their mistakes probably won't help much.

    However, catching these unfortunate folk out isn't what I was driving at in my original post. I just meant that we should spend more time dealing with what literate authors want to say in their preliminary pieces, rather than jumping all over them with sentence changes, comma corrections, etc. We should try to help them see the forest they've created, as well as the trees. Cliche, I know ...but hey...
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that it can be reasonable for a writer to be focusing on one specific skill, to write a piece purely to test that skill, and to request that reviews be focused on that issue. "Skills" being things like realistic dialogue, or breaking a habit of purple-prose descriptions, or briefly and cleanly describing a character's movements, and so on.

    Now, if the response is, "Sorry, because of X flaw I can't even address your question," or "X is fine, but Y is such a big problem that I need to mention it anyway," then so be it.

    Edited to add: Now, even when trying to address a specific issue, I think that it's counterproductive to feed the conclusion to the reviewer. For example, instead of asking, "Can you tell that Josh is angry?" it would be wiser to ask, "What impression do you get of Josh's state of mind?"
     
  15. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I can't agree that it's necessarily a failing in the writer if the excerpt she posted needed an introduction - as Liz has pointed out, sometimes the excerpt is part of a novel, and you, the critic, would be without the necessary background/context in order to judge best whether the message of the excerpt has been delivered effectively.

    But I would agree with you if the writer is explaining things like "Ann and John are lovers" - something like this should certainly be obvious in the text.

    As for people who ask specific questions when they post work up for critique - I think it's a little judgemental to think they are only interested in that one question because that's the one they chose to ask. Usually people ask the questions they do because they're especially unsure or worried about it, or it is a problem they've been trying their hardest to fix and they already know it's a weak point, but are unsure as to whether they've managed to fix it. In those cases, they're especially interested in the question that they've asked. But really, I can't think of anyone who would actually be displeased or offended when critics point out other things to work out beyond the specific question asked.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, OK. I can come closer to agreeing there, though my process seems to require that I get pretty deep into the polishing before I realize that I'm polishing trash. It reminds me of advice for pruning trees. First, you may make dozens of cuts, cleaning up the outline of the tree. Only then does the now-clear view let you know that a major branch, one that you just spent an hour shaping, needs to go entirely.
     
  17. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Please....

    The proper word is "Critique" not "Review" okay?


    * major 'effin eye roll.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "Proper" is perhaps too persnickety. I do agree tehre is a difference, but no need to beat folks over the head over it,

    A review is a rating of a finished product, It's a consumer recommendation about something which is complete and not expected to change.

    A critique, on the other hand, is an analysis of the state of a work in progress. It;s a set of recommendations to the creator of the work as to how to improve it, to better prepare it for completion.

    For a review, the present state is all-important, to compare it against other products the consumer might choose instead.

    For a critique, the only importance to the current state is to find what most needs to change for improvement, and to select the direction to take for improvement. The current state is a point on a map marked, "You are here," so you can choose the compass direction to follow in order to reach the point marked, "Your dstination."
     
  19. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    My tolerance for grandiose assertions is growing thinner by the day.

    You never saw this 'til the E-publishing craze hit: now it's all "Review my ill planed and poorly written novel everybody...!"
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    But what I said was that excerpts do generally need some intro or explanation. An excerpt can appear to be a rambling nonsensical piece of self-indulgence - then you find out that it's from a character's POV who is normally very superficial and has suddenly had something traumatic happen that makes him actually look at himself and try to sort out his life and philosophy. Everything in the excerpt references other parts of the book - and then it becomes a powerful epiphany. The only way to give an effective crit of the excerpt is to have the context explained.

    I think when giving a crit it should respond to the author - I have posted writing to my betas and only wanted one thing addressed. I have posted other writing to my betas and wanted a full crit. I have had the same thing happen when I was the beta. If the author is only concerned with one or two things at this point, it's just wasting my time and theirs to go into a full crit.
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I like that! Well said. :)
     
  22. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Not if you take critiquing as a learning means, specially in a writing forum like this one. My approach when critiquing is very selfish: I usually did SGPT when I felt that I was weak in SGPT, specially on those stories where SGPT issues seem non existence. Then I learned about POVs, and all my concentration was on POV issues when critiquing, again specially on stories which seem perfectly fine on the first read. And so on...

    This may sound rude, but to the author I am simply saying, take it, or leave it!

    As a writer who wants critique from others I simply post the story with no (usually) or minimum introduction to the excerpts/story/piece. If I have any request in particular I have them at the end of the post hidden from view using the "hide text" features with a message above "Please read this after you have done your critique". Most of the time the unbiased critiques have already answered my hidden queries in their critiques

    *I don't know if the "hide text" feature is still there.
     
  23. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Learning through critiquing is great, but the bottom line is - a critique is done to help the author. The benefit to the critter is learning, which is why people should participate - but that benefit is not the purpose of the crit. If I have a question about the dialogue in a piece, and I get back a crit that dives headfirst into an elongated discussion of everything including the kitchen sink, there's a very good chance I'll skim over it, looking for any word on the question I asked, and then give a quick and curt "Thanks" and move on. Your learning experience has done nothing to help me - thus the true purpose was foiled - not to mention that you received no comments of value on your crit, so no real learning took place.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If that were true, there would be no reason to critique older pieces by members who are no longer present. But that is not the case.

    These are the goals of the writing Workshop, in order of importance.
    1. To practice critique and learn to find ways to improve a piece of writing.
    2. To read critiques and follow the thought processes of the critiquer.
    3. To learn how to evaluate received critique, using the thought processes learned in 1 and 2.
    4. To learn to generalize lessons learned through critique to improve all your writing, not only from the piece critiqued.
    5. To get specific feedback on your own writing.

    That is why we make sure everyone takes at least a couple of passes at step 1 before they can submit their own writing.

    The Writing Workshop is, in fact, a critiquing workshop. The ultimate purpose is to improve your critiquing skills to the point that you can read youe own work more or less objectively to find and fix sections that most need improvement.
     
  25. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    That may be the purpose of the workshop here, but I was speaking of critiquing in general. I'm quite sure most authors don't submit their work in other crit groups as a learning exercise for other people, and it's certainly not why most betas I've worked with/been in groups with do it. I have my own betas, but if I thought submitting to any group was more for the critiquer's benefit than mine, I wouldn't bother. It's not why I beta, and it's certainly not why I ask for a beta, and people may have to adjust their mindset if they offer to critique elsewhere.
     

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