1. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Personal Preferences and Reviewing

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by aikoaiko, Mar 19, 2014.

    This question might be irrelevant, but I am new to creative writing and wanted to know if anyone else had encountered it. Have any of you run into beta readers (or reviewers) who pan a story based on its content rather than the quality of the writing?

    I have parts of an MS that I have given several people to read. It is nowhere near ready for publication, but I needed to know if A) the storyline was interesting, and B) the writing was good enough to carry itself (if that makes any sense). Most of the people I showed seemed to like it (or even love it), but there were one or two who didn't, and I'm trying to figure out why.

    My MS has an intelligent but very rebellious female character who (admittedly) can be downright nasty. I knew while writing it that I was pushing the boundaries of her 'likeability', but I felt that a difficult nature was necessary in order to justify the events at the end. There is also a male character involved and a (sort of peripheral) developing romance. The problem came when I gave a few chapters to a man to read who thought that I should jump into the romance right away and focus more on the male character (even though the woman was the MC). He also felt that there was too much description in her case, and advocated a stream-of-consciousness approach that eliminated description altogether. He wanted the focus to be the romance--immediately---with a lot of sex---and he wanted the difficult female character to be minimized as much as possible.

    Now, I am very, very open to having my work criticized (even harshly), because I want it to be good. I know there are things I do not see that require other readers to bring them out, and while some of this person's comments were good (and I have taken them to heart), it seemed that his role should stop short at dictating plot. I was not sure, in other words, if his objections had more to do with a personal dislike of strong female characters:(.

    The second person who had objections is a retired teacher who felt that the female character was simply overbearing and disrespectful, particularly in a classroom scene where she 'mouths off' to a college professor. She made many other comments that I heartily agreed with---yet---other readers found the scene to be funny and pivotal to the story.

    I guess I just want to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff in these situations. Maybe there is no good answer:(. To what extent does a reviewer's personal views affect their analysis, and should I be trying to seek out people who are more likely to enjoy/understand it??

    Sorry this is so long! And thanks.:)
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Once you rule out that the people who liked it were just being nice to you, you can next look at who you think your reading audience is and ask if the person who didn't like the story just wasn't in that group.

    Men and women in my critique group often have very different tastes. One guy is writing a version of Tarzan from Jane's POV and I often have to remind myself I'm critiquing the writing not the story. It's not my cup of tea. At the same time, while he gives excellent critiques, I know my YA piece is not his favorite genre either.

    A friend of mine who has written an interesting fantasy genre has a lesbian love scene in it that some people were turned off by. I can imagine a teacher being turned off by a disrespectful student if said student is portrayed as the winner in the confrontation while a student might find the character great.

    You need beta readers, if possible, that are not your friends or at least agree to be negative where it is called for. And you need readers that are similar to ones you expect your reading audience to be in.
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, if you can think of any published book that all people love, please let me know.

    There will always be stories and types of stories that certain people won't like. Not because they're badly conceived and badly written, but just as @GingerCoffee said, because they're not every person's 'cup of tea.' It sounds to me as if you've just encountered a few of these people.

    However, these critics have given you some good advice despite their bias, so accept the advice that makes sense to you.

    Once you've finished your story and are honing it into its final form, you should start paying attention to who your target audience might be. Are they people who like a slow, character-driven, but absorbing story? Or do they want the story to be plot-driven and fast-moving? Are they people who enjoy a character whose personality may be negative, or even unpleasant? Do they hate/love sex scenes in a novel? Do they prefer an ending that ties all elements neatly into a bow, or are they the kind that like certain ideas left open, to speculate about afterwards?

    You are busy shaping YOUR story, and it makes sense to go with the comments from people who share your vision. I don't mean take only compliments, by the way. Definitely not. But most of the criticisms you take on board should come from people who will like your story after it's been well-edited and published.

    I don't think Salman Rushdie reads Harlequin Romances—and he probably wouldn't like them if he did—but both get published. There comes a point where you have to allow people who are not your target audience to fade away.

    Take on board any suggestions that make sense to you, and ditch the ones that don't. Be receptive when somebody points out grammatical errors or stylistic things that stall the story, or character inconsistencies, or scenes that would benefit from revision or elimination—but don't assume your critics are right and you are wrong. It's a balancing act.

    I'd say, be open to constructive criticism that furthers YOUR vision. Be closed to criticism that furthers somebody else's.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think critique should shape your story not a story. This is a generalised opinion and I'm sure there are exceptions, as always, but I think most writers, new or old, already know all the issues in their stories, at least subconsciously. I think this is important to distinguish because there are million ways to tell one and the same story, and individual writers have their preferences in style, form, themes, characters etc.

    So, when a critic points out what you 'already know' ie. you would pick up on the same issues in someone else's' story based on style you prefer, you go 'Aha! Of course!' and fix it. However, when a critic points out something you 'don't already know' ie. something that's criticising the very style, form, themes, characters you actually prefer/like, the response is more 'Wtf? Do they want a completely different story?" This is where not all critiques are created equal, because they don't equally apply to your story.
     
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  5. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I'd guess that if you only want comments on the 'quality of the writing', you should let your reviewers know that going in. I haven't jumped in to the critiquing that is such an important part of this forum (yet) mainly because so much that is submitted for review is Fantasy, or something like it, which bores me to tears, and I wouldn't be able to separate the message from the medium to do justice to the author's efforts.
     
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  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Part of being a writer is learning to sort through the critique. Many people tend to give advice geared toward how *they* would have written the story. It's hard enough getting a good opinion from non-writers, but even writers can fall into this trap. You're going to get contradictory advice -- the character one person loves will be one another person despises. Sometimes you have an unlikeable protagonist on purpose, but that's a nonstarter for some readers, who can't enjoy a book if they don't like the protagonist.

    Try not to obsess over the things people don't like. If you get a lot of feedback that many people don't like something about your story, then give it some serious consideration. But, if it doesn't resonate with you and if it changes the story you're trying to tell, then feel free to disregard it. (Or, there may be other ways to address the problem beyond any suggested or obvious fixes.)

    I'm in a critique group and I've found that the folks who have the most issues with my work are the ones whose work I have the most issues with. For example, some people think the most important thing is world-building and all kinds of description, whereas I think the most important thing is character development. Both are needed, but when I read something (even published books) where there's virtually no character development, I usually can't stand the story and think it needs significant work. But for some folks, all that world-building and description is in and of itself enough to make it enjoyable. Just because I wouldn't recommend the book and didn't enjoy it doesn't mean that there aren't many people out there who would.
     
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  7. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Thanks so much for all these excellent responses! You can't imagine how glad I am to read them:). When you first start out in this it is all so nerve wracking---you're absolutely sure that every part of what you've done on the paper is horrible.

    When I first got the review from the man I printed it off and saved it, reading through it 5 or 6 times to try to figure out what was so upsetting. I have a thick skin when it comes to criticism, and some of the points he made were good, but I think I realize now that it was the fact that he just wanted to change everything. He even sent examples of his own work (in addition to rewriting passages of mine), and they were not---kind of----what you'd call quality, in my opinion, though I'm not trying to sound disparaging :oops:. He was a fan of stream of consciousness which is really difficult to do well, and the attempts in his own work fell far short:(.

    I didn't actually know him---he was referred to me by a friend because he was an avid reader who wanted to see my MS. The retired teacher was actually my own English teacher years ago and is a writer herself. Her comments on the whole have been hugely instructive, but I think her personal views may also have had an influence in this case. I guess the best rule of thumb is that if a criticism gets repeated often then there is probably something to it, otherwise we should just use our judgment:confused::confused:.
     
  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You can probably come up with a lot of novels with "unlikable" characters, so if the only reason the critter wanted to change the character was because she's nasty... Well, sounds more like he based that comment on his taste. Now had he explained to you why the charater doesn't work in his opinion (she's not plausible, she doesn't develop), that'd be a different thing altogether. If you know your character would e.g. mouth off a college professor (it's known to happen), then that's what she does, and if a reader doesn't like that kind of behavior, it's not due to bad writing, is it?

    It helps me to evaluate the crit when I ask the critter 'why' whenever they point out something. Most of the betas who've read my and my writing partner's work have given the why with their comments, but sometimes you might have to poke around a bit. If they can't offer anything else except "I don't like it", you might be better off sticking to your vision instead of trying to please someone. In any case, you won't be able to please everyone. However, if you realize they've understood your character in a way you never intended her/him to be understood, you can take a step back and mull it over a bit, maybe you'd want to emphasize certain bits or downplay something else.

    I understand that whenever there's romance, many readers expect that there'll be sex soon as well 'cause that's how it often goes in real life. However, if your character is not of the type to jump in the sack with just about anyone, then she won't. Romances can develop slowly, too. Think about what you want to achieve, and you can always ask your betas if they have some suggestions on how you'd be able to do a better job at thing X.

    Good luck!
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I like this post a lot, because it emphasizes something I think is important in the critique process. Communication. From both ends of the critique process.

    I think the person doing the critique should ask questions of the writer, to clarify purpose, to understand something that puzzles them, etc. It's not enough to say : Oh, if the answer's not there in the writing, then the writing is bad and needs to be changed. That may be true, but unless the person giving the critique knows what the author is trying to say, it's going to be difficult to help them find a better way to say it. Talk to each other.

    If the author doesn't understand why a critique-giver has taken a particular position, they should ask.

    Communication is the biggest difference between a critique and a review. The two words are used interchangeably at times, but they aren't interchangeable. They serve two different purposes.

    A critique exists to help the writer improve an unfinished piece.

    A review merely informs potential readers about the nature and worthiness of a finished piece.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2014
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  10. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Agreed. And one of the reasons critique (not reviewing, thanks Jannert!) is important is because it allows you to see what you've done through someone else's eyes after your own have begun to cross:(.

    But I have also noticed the same issue when it comes to romance. The current trend is not to want to wait to see anything develop. As soon as characters meet they have to jump into bed immediately---or at least someplace in the first 5 chapters:rolleyes:. Drawing it out any further than that is looked down upon, or greeted with outright hostility. On the other hand, though, I think it also depends on your reading habits. When someone says they are a 'reader', I am almost inclined to ask first what they read, because if they spend all their time with Danielle Steel or E.L James (for ex.), then they are going to have different expectations, and possibly a lot less patience. I don't know if it's pushing things too far to ask a critiquer what they read, but maybe it would shed a little light on why they respond the way they do:confused:

    I am generally in favor of dragging things out because it gives me more time to build depth and create a richer experience for the reader. Of course, it is possible to go way too far with that and have them wanting to throw it at a wall instead, lol, but it seems like the 'instant gratification' thing dominates everything lately.
     
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  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    So, the topic is the personal preferences of the person giving critique and how this colors the end results, yes? Ok, so this is my thinking when I enter into your work:

    I don't care if she's "likable". In fact, I think the word likable should be struck from any conversation having to do with critiquing or reviewing a written work. Worse, I don't understand why you are justifying your choices. IS SHE INTERESTING? She can be despicable as all get out. Hitler was monster. Hannibal Lecter would literally eat you and wear your skin for the fun of it if he got the chance. I wouldn't want to be on the same continent with either in real life, but they are both deeply interesting characters.

    Welcome to your average dude. ;) Take it with a grain of salt, if nothing else. If you are concerned with having a male audience consider your work, a male's mind thinks a little differently as regards intimacy, romance, and sex. Books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus exist for a reason.

    This may have to do with the rise of erotica. No longer is the big E relegated to the special shoebox you hide behind the other shoeboxes in the closet. ;) And in erotica, the heat turns up quickly. There are a lot of trends in literature that seem tied to current events in the real world. I've commented on other discussions as to the seeming intolerance aspiring writers these days have to any sort of "message" or "theme" or "moral" framework underpinning their stories. No one wants a story to "say" anything and instead be simple entertainment. Is it any wonder with the constant barrage of the "narratives" we are fed in the news and other media that people might be tired of "messages"?
     
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  12. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    LOL. I don't know why either, either than basic newbie insecurity. You're absolutely right, of course. She is not likeable (esp. in the beginning) and could probably accurately be described as a bitch. But according to the others who are reading it she is definitely not boring:).

    Now, on the other hand, do you think it's important to create empathy for a character (evil or not) in order to draw the reader in and create more depth for that character? Maybe empathy is not the right word. Maybe I'm just talking about creating the 'understanding' of a character?? Actually, I might not know what I'm talking about here:D.
     
  13. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Sorry I messed up that last reply. I have yet to understand forum workings:).
     
  14. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see a lot of book that have styles and approaches that I absolutely hate. Many are published best sellers and some are considered classics. Given that, I can't see how I can in good conscience review anyone's work other than to act as a glorified spell and grammar checker.
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I can certainly understand your reluctance to pass judgement. In fact, it's one of the reasons I rarely review fiction on Amazon. What I like or don't like to read for fun shouldn't set a benchmark for other people. I'd hate for one of my reviews to put somebody off reading something they might have enjoyed if I'd kept my yap shut. Most of my Amazon book reviews are for nonfiction, focusing on what the book contains from a research/usefulness point of view.

    However, I don't know if you've finished first drafts of stories or a novel, but if you have, you'll know how important it is for you, the author, to receive feedback. You WANT somebody to read what you've written and let you know what they think. If there are things that bother you about your writing—the story goes on too long, or sticks in places, or a couple of your characters don't seem believable—you want other people's take on these issues, so you know the 'mistakes' aren't just in your head. And what's better, some of these readers (not all) will be able to help you figure out how to improve what you've done.

    I'd hate it if the only feedback I got was about grammar and spelling. I want real feedback, on all aspects of the writing.
     
  16. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have over 30 published novels, but I don't use reviewers. I know I should, but it is a mental quirk of mine. Having someone comment on an unfinished work would make me throw it away. Not logical, I know, but it is something I'm stuck with.
     
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Just out of curiosity, do you let anybody read your finished pieces before taking them to your publisher? Or is your publisher the first person to see them, once they're ready? And what about your first piece, the first one you got published. Did anybody but yourself read it and offer feedback?

    I personally hate giving works in progress to beta readers. I don't do it. I don't write by committee, although I've posted a few things on the forum here, because I wanted to see what the experience was like. It was fine, and I did get good feedback. However, it's not normally the way I work.

    Once I'm satisfied that the thing is 'done' as much as it can be, then is when I put it into the hands of betas who volunteer to read it. (I never ask.) And boy, it usually isn't done, is it? Back to the drawing board umpteen times. But each time I edit, I feel I'm getting closer to the final product. It's fun.
     
  18. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    No. I work on them until I'm happy. Then they go to my publisher. Same mental block applies to finished works as well. Weird, I know :)
     
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Not at all. It obviously works for you! And congratulations on having 30 books published. Wow.
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just to clarify, using betas - at least properly - is not writing by committee. You don't have to use what is suggested, you don't have to change anything, you don't have to get their approval if you decide to change something. They give feedback and you decide whether or not it works for your story.
     
  21. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    So if I'm understanding it right (having read other conversations here) a novel should only be submitted to a beta reader once it is 'finished'? Clearly there are all kinds of ways of doing things (that's amazing, Bryan!:)) but I guess it does makes sense to polish something as much as possible first.

    My MS was in the earlier stages when I gave it to people to read. I guess that might not have been technically kosher.
     
  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not at all. It shouldn't be filled with typos and grammar/spelling problems, but it doesn't have to be finished, or even polished. My stuff goes to my betas as I finish each chapter - that way I know if there's a problem before I have to rewrite 40 chapters. :p But that's one of those things you discuss with the betas before-hand. Some betas are happy to work with WIPs, others won't.
     
  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I agree. What I meant by not 'writing by committee' is I don't let beta readers loose on my unfinished work. You know the schtick: I have this great idea for my next chapter, what do you guys think? Should she move to Minneapolis or should she stay in Florida?

    Others have different working methods, but conceiving my story and writing a first draft is strictly a lone project, for me.

    Once I'm finished and have done an edit for what I see needs fixing, then I put it out there for betas to read. Betas are a tremendous help. Through their eyes, I discover what works and what doesn't work—but I would never let them read before I've finished my entire first draft. I want to tell my own story, solve my own story 'problems,' create my own characters without influence from other people.

    That's what I meant about not writing by committee. :) I probably put it badly.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2014
  24. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    I can understand this comment. I read a few pages of your book on Amazon and you seem to be more niche than the average author. I always remind myself on WF that, from the What Genre Do You Read thread alone, well over thirty per cent of members on here read fantasy. I keep that in mind when work is posted. It's all about demographics
     
  25. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    The books that I publish under a different pen name are even more niche :)
     

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