1. Eugene Rocklin
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    Eugene Rocklin Member

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    Philosophy of Criticism

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Eugene Rocklin, May 20, 2014.

    • Before the questions about the wording of the subject more specifically "philosophy," I'd like to state I'm using it more as a general term for "point of view." Since the word "philosophy" seems rather appropriate for the nature of this forum anyways. I've decided to use it instead.

    • What is your personal motivations behind critiquing a persons work?
    • How do you approach it (critique)?
    • What do you seek to get out of it?
    • And anything else you'd like to mention as well...
    Please feel free to share, I'm trying to build a dialogue... I'm new to this kind of stuff so I'd love to hear feedback of any kind.
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    • Trying to better my own writing. Trying to help out someone as well. It can be a bit of the blind leading the blind if you take it too much in a pompous ass stance of - here I come to fix your work. So I try to focus on things that stand out for me as a reader.
    • I'm not out to fix anyone's writing - just to make suggestions. I read the work see how well it went and how wrong it went. And I try to highlight the positive and negative.
    • The ability to spot and erase my own story flaws with greater ease. Not getting my back up or being stubborn or trying to protect bits that need to be given the ax. To look at my work with a bit of distance.
    • I wish those being critiqued wouldn't try to direct the critique too much as I feel like if I mention anything outside of their scope, they'll ignore it when it could be a bigger issue.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It helps me get better at revising my own work. It also gets me thinking about things like interpretation, clarity, etc.

    See my thoughts on this here.
     
  4. Eugene Rocklin
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    Eugene Rocklin Member

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    Cool, cool, thanks for the responses "Peachalulu and Thirdwind," much appreciated. I'll be sure to gobble on your thought foods.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Improving myself as a writer. Critique is a way to consider a piece of writing that benefits from not being your own baby. No one's baby is ugly... unless it's someone else's. ;) It never, ever fails that I critique a piece, something stands out to me that was in dire need of redress, I go back to my own work and, yep, there it is, the exact same thing I was pointing out in the other person's work, only I was blind to it in my own.

    In layers. I read the whole thing first. I look at grammar and punctuation to see if that's a real issue or just a matter of editing. If it seems to be just the odd thing here or there that got missed, I don't mention it. If it looks like the person doesn't have a handle on it, I do. Then I look at the narrative, then the dialogue, then the characters, etc.

    Improvement of myself as a writer. I can hope that the other person gets something out of my critique, but I can be assured that I will get something out of it. Not everyone agrees with that kind of reverse looking at it, but that's the way I see it.

    I believe that there are two avenues in a forum environment to improve oneself. You can take advice and you can work on your critical eye. I think they both have something to offer, but hands down I believe that the latter of the two is the greater fount.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I always try to put myself in my own shoes.

    What is it that beta-readers give me that I can use? I've had a lot of experience GETTING feedback and advice about my own writing, and I know what helps and what doesn't ...and at what stage helpful suggestions kick in.

    I try really hard to do for other writers what my beta readers do for me.

    I think it's important to focus on what works well and what doesn't work at all, at least in the initial stages of a critique. As @Wreybies said, if there are a couple of typos or little mistakes that are the result of oversight rather than lack of knowledge, I'd overlook them. Or ...just mention that they exist. If the writer is interested, they can ask me to point them out.

    If, however, poor grammar, word usage, spelling, and punctuation is a major issue—especially to the extent that the piece is well nigh unreadable—then this issue has to be addressed. This is an aspect of critique that I struggle with. I feel that if a person has a very poor command of the language they're writing in, they'll need to go back to the beginning and learn to use their tools. It's very hard to tell somebody this. Basically, go back to school.

    After that major flaw, which is a MUST-FIX issue, the rest is more fun. I feed back what the story does for me, what seems to work well, and what seems to need the most attention or what is lacking. We go from there.

    I like to react as a reader—then give advice as a fellow writer. To the best of my ability, anyway.
     
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  7. Eugene Rocklin
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    Eugene Rocklin Member

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    Cool, glad to here other perspectives.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I've been finding that one of the hardest things for me is convincing people that their grammatically incorrect phrase, which they claim has a purpose, actually has no purpose and weakens the piece. Thanks to my recently developed Zen mentality, I've learned to let it go. A younger me, however, wouldn't have been so kind. :twisted:
     
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  9. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    In that sense, I'm certainly more like the younger you. I have no problem in saying something is bad in a rant full of words like 'stupid', and 'fool' and 'shitty' - just trying to work out some Daddy issues over a critique. :rant:

    In all seriousness though, this thread-point is an interesting one. Here are my answers:

    Sometimes it's to help someone out, sometimes it's to flex and test my own critical muscles - to keep myself sharp for when I revise my own work, sometimes it's more because I just can't not critique. There have been times when I've seen a work that is just so ... terrible, that I've felt compelled to make a point to tell the author 'Look dude, this is awful, here is what you NEED to do, you literally can only improve - because you surely can't get much worse'.

    I usually do a 'warm' reading, in which I note specific SPAG problems, giving the point of view of a new reader who doesn't know the story and often point out minor textual things like plot inconsistencies in this period too. This is 'casual reader' mode, in essence, and its often an important perspective. Then after this I do the 'cold' reading, after another actual reading of the text, in which I deal with the larger issues and problems, and suggest ways to improve on a much more grander scale.

    Nothing, aside from the gratification that I am right.

    Younger writers: your stuff is not perfect! Please don't act like a critique of mine is a personal affront, because all that does is prevent me from caring about your development as a writer. Also, you must remember that I have demanding standards! If you ask me to critique something, and I critique it, do not be surprised when you get an essay twice as long as the piece itself back - I found fault with it, I did my job. Now you do yours.
     
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  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You sound like my high school English teacher. I'm glad you haven't critiqued any of my work yet. :p
     
  11. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Considering I'm soon to be an out-of-work high school English teacher, this isn't really a bad thing! :p

    Seriously though, I do like to go into great detail - so if you ever want me to look at something just send it my way. :)
     
  12. Eugene Rocklin
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    Eugene Rocklin Member

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    Interesting.
     
  13. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    I don't like doing it.



    I usually type down what I want to say, then delete it and post nothing. It's akin to writing a nasty letter to someone then burning it.



    Nothing. Critiquing is work.



    To qualify my answers above, I view writing as an art form. I view all art as owned by the creator. If I don't like it, I move on. If I like it, I pause to enjoy it but I feel I have no right to point out what I see as flaws. There are technical issues I may have but that could really be a form of expression. I think reader/writers are also limiting themselves in ways other mediums don't. Visual art forms can be vague and erratic, or plain and simple and be considered masterpieces. If Andy Warhol was a writer we would probably have no idea who he was. I imagine he'd be tasting colors and feeling smells which would be critiqued away. Who would publish nonsense like that?

     
  14. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    When critiquing another writer's work, my primary motivation is to help them. Members who post in the workshop are looking to improve, so I'm offering my services to help them simply because I can. Underlying that is my desire to become a better writer. The more I critique, the more styles and content I'm exposed to. Further, I am often interested in reading the critiques of others. Both give me a better eye for what works and doesn't work in fiction, and if I can overcome bias, I can apply it to my own writing. Critiquing is a learning experience for both parties (usually)

    My approach varies a bit. I tend more toward line-by-line detail. I like to look at style to see what is good or needs improvement. In this way, I can be rather nitpicky, but I feel like it is only to the good of the writer and myself. I must often rethink my commentary to account for author intent, effectiveness, and other elements besides SPaG. When I'm writing a critique, I generally split it into two sections: paragraph format and in-line commentary. In the former, I summarize my thoughts on my piece as a whole, focusing more on content, tone, fluidity, and so on. In the latter is where I do a lot of detailed edits and nitpicking over things like SPaG, style, logic and such. I try to be as specific as possible so writers have something of value to work with, even if they disagree. On that note, I also find it very important to include both positive and negative feedback, and in a supportive and encouraging tone (whenever possible).

    I expect to improve my eye as an editor (and fulfill my job as a reviewer ;) ). No but generally, nothing is expected; I just hope to possibly build a good reputation with members whose work I critique.

    Nah, That pretty much covers it. :cool:
     
  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Threefold - 1) Improve my editing skills, which are just as important as writing skills. 2) Give the writer some feedback on what works and what doesn't, and why. 3) As with all reading, to broaden my horizons regarding style, technique and story formation.



    I'll read the piece through once to get a general feel. If there are serious fundamental issues, such as SPaG, I'll say so and leave it at that. Just as an agent or editor wouldn't consider such a piece, neither do I. SPaG is the "first base" of writing. Then I'll go back with a view toward how the writer is drawing the reader in, character POV, the flow of the story. I'll also look for common errors like filtering. And I'll look to see if the writer is doing something unusual and whether it works for me or not. I do not make value judgments on what I review ("This is good" or "this is bad"), because I see the art of fiction writing as having two components - the creation of the story itself and the presentation of that story. My critiques focus solely on the latter, while value judgments focus solely on the former.


    See my first response.

    I often liken this forum to a study group of professionals. We come to share what we know in the hope of learning from one another. Critique is an important means for doing this. At the same time, as @Wreybies pointed out, critiquing others improves our ability to critique ourselves.
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's a very interesting viewpoint, and one that has some merit, in my opinion anyway. Of course writing is 'art.' I guess that's why some writing appeals to some people and not to others.

    I do feel that giving critique on this forum is okay, though. People put their work up specifically to get a critique. Often they feel something isn't quite right with a particular piece, and would like a bit of brainstorming as to how to 'fix' what might not be working very well.

    Essentially, writing exists to communicate. (Possibly art does too, but that's another issue.) Unless you don't ever intend to show your writing to anybody—communication is the key.

    A writer often wants to know if what they INTEND to communicate is getting across. Most writers desperately want somebody to 'get' their story. Critique is one way to find out if this communication works—or, if it doesn't, what the writer might do to make it improve.

    I think if a critique giver is courteous and genuinely wants to help there is no need to see a critique as an attack, a nasty letter that wants burning, or in any way a negative experience. If the writer feels more enlightened and goes away feeling like 'aha, I know how to do this now,' then you're doing them a great service. They'll feel happy at seeing a way through, not miserable because their work isn't perfect ...yet.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2014
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  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Well said, Jan. As usual.
     
  18. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    Normally, I'm just in the mood to read a story. And how often do you get to read a story and then interact with the author about it? To get to tell them what you liked and what you didn't like? It's a unique experience. There are actually a lot of famous authors who'd I'd like to have a word with. I have questions. I have critiques. But unfortunately , they're not looking to hear from me. :crazy:

    I pull up a blank page on my computer and as I'm reading, I'll make notes about things I like or problems I see. After reading the whole thing, I go back to the notes I made and read over those to see if they're still valid. I make changes where necessary and post it.

    A lot. Maybe a friend. Someone who will critique my work in the future. I also like to read others' critiques of the same work because people see things that I didn't notice. For instance, I'm really bad at seeing filter words which means I probably use them a lot in my own writing. So having someone point it out in someone else's writing makes me go "Oh, yeah! I need to fix that too."

    I also get a good story out of it. I read for pleasure.

    Critiques are scary, so I always try to say good things along with the negative. Sometimes I won't see any major problems, so I'll only say good things, which I think is still helpful. Everyone could use a self-esteem boost now and then.

    One weak area in my critiques is that I will, as a reader, sometimes see a problem, but I won't know how to fix it. So then I have this inner battle of whether I should point out the problem but not give a solution because I don't have one. (Which clearly isn't that helpful. Being critical but not offering up any solutions is kind of crappy.) Or do I just let it be and not mention it?

    I've done both. Sometimes I won't mention it, but other times I'll point out the problem because I worry that the author won't see it if I don't, and I hope that once the author is no longer blind to the problem, he or she will figure out a solution without my help.
     
  19. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    For mechanics, when I am willing to commit to this much effort, I completely rewrite a paragraph or chapter (or book, if I am really motivated and the author is really interested) and show my revision to the author. I instruct the author to go through the revision and change piece-by-piece it back to the original (or something completely new) -- but only when he can think of a good reason to do so.

    My philosophy is that that there is no way to learn like comparison and contrast. This method actually puts the critic and the author on pretty much equal ground in terms of how much they learn, and the author benefits from an improved book.
     

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