1. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    On critiquing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ged, Mar 11, 2011.

    Before delving into the topic, I feel the need to clarify: this thread isn't the result of someone criticising my work and my bawwwing and saying, "I'm gonna whine about this in a topic."

    Ok, so.

    What is the point of critiquing someone's work? Are there truly universal writing flaws?

    Let me exemplify: say you have a writer who infodumps like hell. Yet I have talked to persons who more or less said, "If I don't get extensive information in a linear fashion, I'm not going to read the book. I want to know who's whom and who does what."

    And then you have the other guys, who baulk at so much as a line of unneeded information (i.e. me).

    You have people who dislike purple prose and vast paragraphs of description and bucketloads of adjectives. And then you have the others, who really do love a well-written, if flowery, passage.

    What to one person comes across as bad writing, sounds really good to another.

    Surely, things like grammar and spelling ought to be heeded by all, but what beyond that? Are three-dimensional, rounded characters imperative? Must there be action in stories?

    Mind, I'm not suggesting that we stop critiquing and stagnate. It's just something that's been floating about in my head.

    Perhaps the key to this is awareness of one's process: if you want to make flat characters, make sure they're so by design, and not because you couldn't be arsed to flesh them out. Likewise with infodumps and what have you.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I am writing I am too close to a story and I need feedback. Anyone who has read the likes of James Joyce or Lewis Grassic Gibbon will know that even SPaG can be played around with a bit.

    It helps to get the perspective of a reader who will pick up holes in the story. Also know explain what they do or do not like. A good reviewer will explain what they feel needs changing and why. The why helps an author to actually say - that would work better that way or say actually no I don't like that idea.
     
  3. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    The point is, you can't work in a vacuum. You need to see your work through other people's eyes. Even if you don't agree with what other people say about your work, it will give you an idea of how it is perceived. And every now and then you'll come across someone who really gets what you're going for and really has some useful advice. I'd say that's the whole point of being of a forum like this to begin with. There are no universal standards, but if you're only writing for your own standards and nobody else's then it will just end up bad writing. I started a thread about my opinions on critiquing if you're interested in reading more.
     
  4. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    @Sidewinder: Thanks for the link. A good read; it acquainted me with another viewpoint on the subject.

    But I find I must disagree.

    Not all people are as attached and bound to their work as you think. Far be it from me to brag, but I have always found it easy to write a story, put it down a day or two, and then start reworking it with a critical eye.

    I am attached to my stories the moment I write them, but once they're on the screen, the bond ends.

    But then again, I understand your opinion, as I have seen people out there ferally defending their own work despite its egregious flaws.

    And, to iterate: this thread isn't about me or my preferences. I'm just asking for people's views on this.
     
  5. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    I often think about this too. When the critique goes beyond being just an opinion of a particular person and begins being indications to better writing?

    I think the key point is: who is the targeted audience of your work? Although every critique is valuable to me, I give even more attention to the ones given by people that are the closest to the public I want to reach with my story/novel.

    If you give a children's book to an adult for review, he may tell you the sentences are too small, the vocabulary too simple. If you show a fantasy story to a person who likes, say, biographies, he may tell you your story is a bit crazy.

    Some people can be impartial and give you a critique considering that your story was meant to children, but imo his preferences will always stand in the way.

    The answer to me is to get a beta-reader the closest to your targeted audience as possible. Even though he'll have his particular opinions, he'll still belong to a group of people who enjoy and know the type of writing you're attempting to do.
     
  6. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that in almost any situation, exposing drafts of your work as it progresses to other writers is going to help you grow and improve as a writer. In the end it will make for better writing. Even the greatest writers do this. No matter how much non-attachment you have, you can benefit from an intelligent perspective on your work. Dialogue with others opens up creative avenues in the brain, and facilitates expression. We're social animals, after all.
     
  7. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    You have a story in your head INCLUDING some imaginary world (characters, environment). The main thing (imho) is about conversion: how are you transferring your imagined elements to others, and how do you engage them to your world. It's in this context that beta-readers can indicate flaws (holes and "too big steps", as well as info dumps) - it helps to observe the story from an unbiased mindset.
    I personally find it difficult in what stage of the writing I need to ask for feedback. Often, the story hasn't been fleshed out. My somewhat perfectionistic personality doesn't want to bother someone when I know it's not yet perfect. Yet I need the other to help me to make it perfect.... A prisoner's .... uhhh .... writer's dilemma?
     
  8. Georgew
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    Georgew Member

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    I think diverse opinions are what make criticisms so useful. You get to see what many people, with opposing opinions on writing think.

    That doesn't mean you have to adhere to their advice but being aware that such opinions are out there is no doubt a good thing because you get to see the way in which someone perceives your writing.

    Beyond that the decision is of course purely contextual so I can't offer any one piece of wise advice that gives you the ultimate equation of how to take criticisms.

    But I think the very things which you seem to object to are probably the very reasons I value criticism so much. If there was one universal opinion on "infodumping" as you call it, and that opinion was that it was awesome. Most writers, especially new ones like myself would write stories full of infodumps, and there just isn't anything creative or original about that.

    Out of diverse criticism comes diverse editing decisions, I wouldn't have it any other way.
     
  9. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    Very simple. Providing we understand our tone ,it is easy to take what we need from the process and leave the rest .Genre niche dictates much in so far as the amount of purple ,back story , importance of character development, lyrical quality.

    Considered the source

    Case in point I would rather gargle glass than read stylistically weak literature (artificial universe, sci-fi ,gothic fantasy ,vampires , teen lit etc. ).Any review/ critique of mine in that arena would be very, very jaundiced ...dig ?

    That is not to say an author of a dis-similar genre is ignored when they highlight
    too much purple or a superfluous info dumps
     
  10. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    I agree. Part of the reason I ask for feedback is because unless I've set my story aside for quite a long time (up to a year, sometimes) there are aspects of it I find difficult to edit myself. In particular, I don't know which sections of my book will hold the reader's interest the most because I'm too close to it. I also like to see how readers react to my characters, to see if I've managed to convey them the way I wanted.

    I imagine the process is different for everyone. I don't ask for feedback until I've made the story as good as I possibly can (I also have a perfectionistic personality and want my work to make a good impression). It's also because I have a limited number of readers who probably wouldn't be interested in reading multiple drafts, so I'd rather they saw my best work than my early drafts.

    However, if you do find it really helpful to get feedback at earlier stages, I'd suggest asking for it then.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I also have alpha readers - people who help with the bigger picture before it is time for a beta reader.

    I find the two most useful stages are after first very rough draft and right before final spit and polish.
     
  12. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    I've never heard of this concept. Beta readers, sure, but alpha... might be worth trying.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    They are not as common many writers don't like having them but I find them very useful.

    I use teen boys for Angus
    Gay men for Socrates and Nate
    and a couple of pensioners for Gus and Iris
    My daughter is seven so she is helping with Johnny.

    I find them useful - also have the super hero of Alpha readers here - my work would be half of what it is without her.
     
  14. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    Ged
    You very well may find a contrarian element with cyber reviewers . haters obsessed with finding fault .by browsing other critiques/reviews you may be able to spot this perverse ego inflating trend, sub sequentially insulating yourself from the hyperbole of self promoters ...ya dig ?
     
  15. lost123
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    lost123 Senior Member

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    Critiquing is the best way you have to know your writing's flaws. If you take it personal, then you would gain nothing. Critiquing help you to improve, take it as advantage to improve your writing.
     

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