1. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    How seriously do you take criticism?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Hubardo, Aug 14, 2014.

    I entered a short story contest recently and reviews were really mixed. As the votes came in (LitReactor has a cool voting system btw, I recommend trying their contests), it turned out 77% of readers liked it (BUT A WHOPPING 23 DIDN'T!) I nearly obsessed over the negative critiques because, I guess, I want to chisel what I write into something perfect, or near perfect as possible. And that's probably healthy right? Rather than dismissing critiques and getting all defensive?

    Now I've submitted something here for critique and I'm zooming in pretty obsessively over the comments I'm getting and pushing myself to work out the kinks others are finding. Then today pretty randomly I came across this Wikipedia article on Murakami's 1Q84 and when I looked at the juxtaposition of positive and negative reviews I sorta scratched my head:

    -The Guardian's Douglas Haddow has called it "a global event in itself, [which] passionately defends the power of the novel"

    -A negative review from The A.V. Club had Christian Williams calling the book "stylistically clumsy" with "layers of tone-deaf dialogue, turgid description, and unyielding plot"; he awarded a D rating.

    I wondered: If every great writer were to obsess over every critical thing people found wrong with the work they'd never finish it. They'd never be published writers. You can't make everyone happy.

    Obviously there needs to be a balance somewhere between openness and closedness to criticism, but I'm not sure what the optimal balance is for everyone. I suppose it's different for each writer, especially depending on the stage we're at. I know I'm very undeveloped still so I'm leaning more toward the openness.

    I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this.
     
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  2. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    'don't let your success go to your head and your loss go to you heart' is what I try to go by. I really just read what they say (positive & negative) and if i agree with it(this is important), i edit. However, if something came up that the overwhelming majority thought was bad and i stubbornly thought was fantastic i would either rethink my presentation of it or i would reconsider including it.

    I think a level headed open view of criticism has to be ever present in any creative pursuit.

    Can you imagine what i'd be like if you obsessed over these things but sold as many as say JKR?
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I read an interview with Alice Munro, and she mentioned that she never looks at what others are saying about her work. From time to time, her literary agent calls her and tells her that s0-and-so liked her latest story. I think her attitude is a result of her experience, however. It's perfectly natural for a newer writer to care, and even obsess over, what others are saying about his/her work. Hopefully with time that goes away.

    One thing I'll mention is that you have to be careful when accepting critiques. Not all critiques are good, and not all critiquers offer valid criticism. It's up to the writer to decide which advice he/she wants to use and which advice he/she wants to ignore.
     
  4. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I'm more critical of my writing than anyone on the planet, so if someone rips into it I'm not surprised. Often I agree. If the comments make sense I will listen and follow. If they don't, I'll politely decline. I don't take it personally. Some people will like it and others won't. That's the world we live in and goes for everything.

    I mean, fuck, Moby Dick got panned and The Great Gatsby was called dull and a poor effort.

    That said, I do focus more on the people that don't like it because I'm interested in understanding why and also seeing if I agree.
     
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  5. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    It is just a question of developing your artistic ego, slowly understanding what it is you're particularly good or bad, and, most importantly, what makes you distinctive.

    In terms of taking criticism it, if you have a well developed artistic ego, you can take any criticism in your stride, and take it or leave it. If you haven't, the negative type crushes you or causes you to have a breakdown, and the positive type leaves you basking in self-delusion, thinking you're a genius, certain to win the Booker Prize one day.

    Knowing yourself as a writer is the same as knowing yourself as a person.

    You will never get 100% approval and nor should you try to. It would be a 100% of people kinda of like your work and see that you've followed all the rules, but they probably wouldn't love it enough to buy it.

    But if only 20% of people like your writing, but they REALLY like it, enough to buy it, then you'll be a successful writer.
     
  6. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    My aim is one out of ten. If one out of ten love it, I've succeeded.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    There are basically two kinds of critique - value judgments ("I loved it!" "I hated it!") and problem identification ("You're spoonfeeding the reader." "Too much incidental dialogue that doesn't move the story" "Need to present Colby's POV better"). The former has no real value to the writer at all, since it contains no clue for improvement, and I ignore it. The latter is what I'm looking for, but @Selbbin is 100% correct - the writer has to take those comments and consider them, but then has to make his/her own decision. Conversely, if you critique someone else's work and they don't take your suggestion, you shouldn't take it personally.
     
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  8. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    Some criticism can be helpful, if the reader points out problems with the story. You can take that and rewrite and learn from it. Other times, critics can offer nothing constructive. A reader can be confused about certain points, and while it is your job to make those points clear, there are people out there who won't get it no matter what you do. Don't worry about those people. Take the advice you can work with and use it to your advantage to write the best story you can.
     
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  9. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I often wonder if any critics have experience of what they are critiquing. For example, are restaurant critics former Michelin starred chefs? Are book critics actually writers/authors, published. Are film critics actually ex-directors.

    What I mean, is do critics of any art actually know what they are talking about? Apart from knowing the technical points of their art and what is fashionable at the moment.

    I recently read something an author once said, along the lines of:

    If someone tells you of a problem with your writing, always listen to them. If they tell you how to fix it, always ignore them.
     
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  10. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most of the crits I've had have been from writers, usually more experienced ones than me. So I don't worry about their "cred" or whatever much.
     
  11. Marivian
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    Marivian Member

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    When I let people read my stuff I take their reviews very seriously. I also feel that when I finally publish my stuff I need to take reviewers seriously as well instead of chucking them to the wind and saying they know nothing or are bullying me.
     
  12. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wonder about reviewers. Looking over Goodreads.com reviews, some people are just brutal.
     
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  13. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Do you think that maybe because they are reviewing anonymously, that they feel they can say anything?
     
  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it resonates with me, I take it very seriously. If multiple people make the same point, I take it very seriously.
    In the end, though, even if I think the advice makes some sense, and even if many people make the point, if, after serious thought and careful consideration, I disagree with the advice nonetheless, then so be it. I don't change a story if I think it makes it worse or ends up saying something I didn't want to say.
     
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  15. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's a little different when you review at goodreads or at amazon, because (for the most part) these are published authors who have some sort of imprimatur that the book is worthy of your time. And most of the reviewers are not writers -- they're readers who don't write, so they're only expressing an opinion as to whether the read was worthy of their time, and in most cases, money.

    If you've been led to believe something is really good and worthwhile -- so much that you invested time and money in it, it makes sense that you'd be a little bit more angry if you feel that in some way you've been misled. Also, those reviews are not generally meant for the author to take the advice and improve the story. In most cases, the train has already left the station.
     
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  16. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    But you can't be angry at the author if the recommendation came from other reviewers or friends/family.
     
  17. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's not really so much anger *at* the author, but more at the publishers -- "how on earth did this get published????" or with others who marvel at something that you thought was truly terrible. For the most part, I don't really blame the author so much -- hey, I mean, he or she *did* get published and did write something that a fair number of people enjoyed and someone thought was worthy of publication. And they got a nice little chunk of change for their efforts. So, good for them (unless they've done something that might disparage or harm some group of people, or sometimes if they clearly haven't done their research and discuss something that I happen to know for a fact is incorrect, and even some cursory research would have revealed).

    So, I understand why some reviews of published books can be extremely harsh. The reviewers are giving consumer advice about a product that is already out there. It's not really intended (usually) for the authors to read (although most of them do). It's more about this book that's out there, offered for sale. It's different in critique, where someone has asked for help -- for an opinion, and in most cases, generally wants to improve.
     
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  18. Marivian
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    Marivian Member

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    This is true and I will admit that many say some stuff that isn't entirely called for such as calling for the writers head. Yet some reviewers bring up good points such as flaws in plot and characterization. Some authors who will not be named call them bullies and say "If they don't like the book don't buy it" not realizing they are losing sales with that horrible attitude.

    Yes, that could very well be it.
     
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  19. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    What I'm getting from this, ultimately, is that you want to take universal criticisms (ie, your character development needs work in such and such ways) but to pick and choose how seriously you want to take more basic, individual criticisms by people who don't elaborate on what does or doesn't work for them.
     
  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, I've known members to post here that they got very angry feedback from family, especially spouses or parents - or feared they would - because of what they wrote, usually because they wrote of something the family considered taboo, or in conflict with beliefs held by the family. I recall one thread a while back in which several members posted that they were afraid that if they wrote about a gay or transgendered character, their spouses might wonder if there was a hidden message there.
     
  21. bythegods
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    bythegods Banned

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    That's not what critique is - at all. Understand that you cannot write clearly until you being to think clearly.

    http://www.lc.unsw.edu.au/onlib/pdf/critical_review.pdf
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Tell you what. I plan to continue to seek the type of critique that I find most helpful to my writing, which was the point of the OP. Feel free to seek whatever type of critique you like.
     
  23. bythegods
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    bythegods Banned

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    Feel free to believe in Santa Claus as well, if you like.
     
  24. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, yes, but there's no concrete rule. Anything you do will change the story -- even just changing one sentence can change the perception of a character or plot point, so if nine people read a story and think it's fine that Character X performed action Y, but one person says that makes no sense, and X would never do Y, then you have a decision to make. You have 10 opinions, and it's always possible that if you gave the manuscript to 100 more people, all 100 would agree with the one who thought X would never do Y. So you should always consider what that one person said, even though it's a minority opinion. You should reflect on whether there is any truth that X would never do Y, or why it would seem that X wouldn't choose to do Y. You might realize that yes, it doesn't make sense, and maybe you need to add in some kind of additional information or factor that makes it much clearer why Y would happen. Or you could decide, no it makes perfect sense that Y happens, and maybe that critic just missed it, or has an odd point of view, or knows nothing about the subject matter, and Y happens all the time.

    However, if all 10 people said that they just can't believe that X would ever do Y, you really have some thinking to do. Again, it *is* possible that the next 100 people would have no problem with it. But you really ignore this advice at your own peril if you just completely disregard that every reader found it unbelievable that Y would happen. You'd better give serious thought as to why so many people felt this way, and come up with a possible way to fix it. If, in the end, though, you have taken this into account, and you still feel really strongly that Y would happen, you shouldn't change the story so that Y does not happen if it's a vital part of the story you are trying to tell. In that case, you'd really need to keep plugging away to see if there are minor fixes that address the problem whether subsequent people have the same opinion, if there are ways to explain why Y would happen, etc. Someone telling you that Y doesn't happen, just change it so Z happens, might or might not be helpful. If it really makes more sense that Z would happen and the story works just as well, then change Y to Z if you are still happy with it. But if Z happens, and that changes the whole story, and that makes the story something you never intended and don't want to convey, then don't make Z happen.

    Sometimes a reader can say that he just can't relate to some character, or doesn't understand why a character did something, but they can't quite figure out why they think that. It's still worth considering that a reader felt this way, and re-read the m/s with an eye toward figuring out if there is something missing.

    People will give conflicting advice. You can't change everything that people suggest should be changed -- it is impossible.
     
  25. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @bythegods - Oh, really, I'm disappointed. I expected something much more pithy and urbane from the Dean of the Academy of the Overrated (if not, God forbid, a "Yeah, I suppose that's true"). But, in the interest of completing your education (if at the potential cost of a little internal dissonance): http://www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/
     

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