1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Which critiques to accept?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Commandante Lemming, May 23, 2014.

    So I've realized that I've been using some of the other forums as a "second opinion" regarding critiques from my writers groups and particularly from one person in my writing group who routinely has pretty detailed criticisms of the foundational underpinnings of the story (despite liking most of it). So, instead of always doing that, I'm thinking of asking the more fundamental question of how you all respond to critiques from someone you respect but who disagrees with the underpinnings of your plot and basic fundamentals of your character - in my case the critiques come from a former professor who is himself a very good writer whose work I respect, but who rejects some of the basic worldview in my story and has suggested certain changes that he thinks to be absolutely necessary to be realistic, but which unravel my entire plot (I need a villain who is verbally abusive and intimidating, but has attained a very powerful position at a news organization, and the critique is that she can't exist because people like that don't succeed in the news industry - which I disagree with, but now I'm stuck on how to work on the story without being told I'm not taking criticism). I'm okay with the idea of "killing your darlings" but I don't want to actually kill the central plot.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You, as the writer of the piece, have to use your own judgment. If you think the criticism is valid and improves your piece, you should consider making changes. On the other hand, if you think his suggestions weaken your piece, thank him for the critique and move on.
     
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  3. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think most of his critiques improve the piece. I'm just struggling with one big one that was put to me as an absolute necessity and a bare minimum, something that has to be changed, and that retaining it is not even an option at all. I'm going to tone down the character's psychosis anyway, but I don't think I can plausibly eliminate this character trait entirely - because that character trait IS the story. So I guess it's just a matter of avoiding the repeated critiques that my character's existence is impossible.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I see it, the criticism is that an employee with this character trait could not work their way up, as an employee, to this prominent position, in the news industry.

    You and your critic are assuming that what has to change is the character trait. But why not the:

    - work their way up
    or
    - as an employee
    or
    - prominent position
    or
    - news industry?

    For example, I vaguely remember suggesting, in another thread, that they be an owner rather than an employee. This does make a big change, but it's a big change in something that perhaps isn't quite as central to the story. It's difficult, and a big change, but maybe it doesn't gut the story to the same degree.
     
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  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Then you should only consider the points that improve your piece and disregard the points you think make it worse.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe she changes as her career progresses. She might have been much easier to deal with earlier in her career, and got promoted a lot back then. The abusive part of her personality didn't become manifest until she'd reached a position of power in the organization.

    Will that work?
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, as @ChickenFreak suggested, maybe what you need is a new perspective on this issue.

    If you feel your ex-professor's criticism is entirely unworthy, then by all means ignore it. BUT, if you have a nagging feeling he may be right, then see what you can do to address the issue he raised. You may not need to 'change the character's personality' but to change other circumstances instead.

    I don't know anything about your story, but is it possible this 'bad' character got to the position she's in because somebody 'put' her there? Not that she worked her way up, but that she's been put there for a purpose? By a former editor who wants the present editor to fail, or something like this?

    Without re-writing anything (yet) just play around with all the possibilities. You might find that this is more fixable than you think.

    The questions to ask are:

    Is my professor right? If the answer is no, then just move on. Your professor is wrong.

    However, if your answer is "yes" or "maybe," then ask yourself what is the easiest way to fix this problem. Go for a solution that works but doesn't unravel the fabric of your story. Just find a plausible way for a character with this awful personality to BE in the position they're in.

    Of course your other solution is just to ignore the problem and hope other readers won't notice. That's the easy option, but will you ever be satisfied with the result, knowing you could have done better and didn't?
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's hard to say more than, it's up to you, without knowing more specifics. However, I had a recent experience in my own critique group that is reminiscent of what you are describing. Normally I get good advice but one critic kept insisting two characters who just met shouldn't be getting along so well. But these are characters that will be allies and that's a big part of the story. His advice was missing the mark and when I argued they needed to be friends and get along he got annoyed. (Mind you this is someone whom I trust, the annoyance was an issue but not one of disrespect on either of our parts.) After struggling for a bit it finally came out he was trying to point out they would have cultural differences, awkwardness, it didn't need to be them not getting along. A lightbulb went on. I saw how I could use that, and he quit telling me the characters shouldn't hit it off.

    In other words it was an issue with the terminology we were using, and some talking past each other.

    It seems this is close to what @ChickenFreak and @jannert are saying. You need a certain element in the story, and the professor has an issue with how you've written a part. Consider looking for another avenue besides the one you've taken, but one which gets you to the same place.

    You'll have to work it out in the end. In my case it amounted to giving my characters cultural conflict when the initial critique was that they shouldn't get along that well at first, a change that would be incompatible with the story.

    I like the owner's daughter or some other reason the villain has attained her position. Another suggestion might be the villain is good at hiding the abuse that comes out when there are no witnesses. One way or another I would think you could take the critique and work with it. Don't make a change that upends your story concept, but look for other aspects of the criticism that can be worked around.

    In my case creating the cultural conflict between two characters that are destined to be good friends added an interesting aspect in the story.
     
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  9. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Some of the suggestions you've received sound good to me. Another option to consider is making her a character who only bullies when she thinks she can get away with it. When she's dealing with people who have some sort of power over her she might schmooze and suck-up like crazy. If she can get the right people to like her, they're more likely to disregard reports of her bad behaviour. I've seen some pretty terrible managers able to progress, because they know how to make the right friends. This sounds more realistic than the constantly aggressive boss.
     
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  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    go to google news and check out the stories about the lady exec who was recently fired by the ny times... from what i've heard in news reports and panel discussions on cnn, it sounds like she's a perfect 'real life' example of your character... which should put paid to your professor's arguments...
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, it sounds like your worldview and your professor's worldviews are simply different. For example, I'm a Christian and believe in original sin - I believe people are born with sin and are naturally prone to evil. A lot of people will disagree with me and believe humans are born essentially good. This is just a very basic, core difference. Now, if I wrote a novel based on my beliefs, and another person comes and says, "Well that can't ever happen, it's just not true!"

    Well, what would I say? Do I change my story to conform to how this person thinks the world works?

    Seriously, of course not!

    Your stories are inevitably built upon some core beliefs you have as a person - the themes that matter most to you will come up, and what you believe about them will certainly come up, as they should. Changing something because it doesn't conform with someone else's worldview makes zero sense to me.

    However, it's true that if your character goes round swearing at everyone and is verbally abusive to everyone they work with, then yes, it's unlikely such a person would get very far unless they were an absolute genius. But hey, just because your character is verbally abusive doesn't mean abuse is all they speak, right? It doesn't mean they don't know when to curb it, when to stay silent, why to simply be abusive behind that person's back, how to play people against each other, who NOT to be verbally abusive towards, or who to target and thus actually gain popularity by being verbally abusive. It's only unrealistic if your character is indiscriminately abusive to everyone and all the time.

    As for when to take criticism and when not? Ask yourself - is this the story I want to tell? Does it improve the story or not? Go with your gut, always listen to your gut. Just because there's critique doesn't mean you have to take everything. If I told you know - well you're just writing the wrong story, I think you should write about a butternut squash instead, are you gonna?

    Every critique is an opinion - it is neither right nor wrong, it is ONE reader's reaction to your work. Now see if it's more of a general opinion, in which case there may be merit in the opinion, or if it's just one person's individual reaction, which is always coloured by their own tastes and preferences and beliefs.

    And a good critic doesn't seek to change your story or worse, write it for you. A good critic is there to advice, but that is all. They are not there to dictate. And if they should feel insulted because you don't agree with their every word, well, frankly, that's their problem. I'm not saying that's your professor's reaction - I'm just saying, don't be afraid to reject criticism that you simply really don't agree with.

    Final note - it is YOUR story. You always, always have the final say. YOUR story. If the critic disagrees, well, heck, he can go write his own, can't he? :p Write your story, don't let someone else write it.
     
  12. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    What @Mckk said.

    This woman is supposed to be intelligent and crafty, right? She'd know when to plunge the knife in and when to keep it in the sheath.

    Nor does she need to be a vituperative ranter. She can be one of those types who gets quieter and quieter as she rips you to shreds-- and does it all with a smile on her face.

    Just a thought.
     
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  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've definitely decided to tone her down anyway - and she's always been calm and collected on the outside anyway. She doesn't have a temper and is pretty stoic. She just has a lot of inner rage and uses private meetings and conversations to be extremely intimidating and vulgar. There is one other character (an equal) who she doesn't yell at but always curses at in conversation, including in front of other people, because she has no respect for him and sees him as a rival. The controversial issue is that I have one scene in which she calls a subordinate into her office (my rising star protagonist) tells her to shut the door, and just goes nuclear - yells, calls her every name in the book (including the c-word, which was controversial in itself), and makes some pretty explicit an vulgar threats, in addition to a lot of sexual innuendo about Catholic priests (the situation occurred after the younger character scored a surprise interview with the Pope, who the villain hates). The monologue itself is likely to be toned down so that readers aren't as disgusted, although honestly not much - but the critique was that the entire scene has to be cut, that the villain can never explode at her employees at all, even behind closed doors, and that to allow her to do so would make the story so unrealistic that it would fail to meet the minimum standard for believability, even as satire (it's a drama). So that's the hair I'm trying to split - I'm going to take a lot of edge off the character, and obviously I want the story to be publishable at some point - but I think behind closed doors she can explode at a subordinate.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why does she have to be vulgar, rather than sweetly manipulative? I'm not saying that your choice is wrong, but I would like to know why.

    If the reason is that sweetly manipulative can't possibly be harmful enough, I would argue that oh, my, it absolutely can.
     
  15. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That depends entirely on the extent of the explosion and how much power the character wields within the company. But no, if it's obvious abuse like that, she'd just get sacked. Think British - you have to be sly about it, between the lines.

    You could go around it by giving the character something to manipulate the rising protag with. For example, "If you tell anyone about this, I'll sack your sister who's just got her junior assistant position after being unemployed for a year and who has a little toddler at home to feed." Or some other situation of "Even if you told anyone, no one would believe you."

    That's the thing with abuse - it's much more psychological than anything. If the character can make your rising protag NOT to report her, and leave no evidence for the protag to use, you might be able to get away with it.

    However, an incident like this SHOULD come back to bite your character in the ass. While yes people get away with all sorts of horrible things, for a satisfying story, she really should get her just desserts.
     
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  16. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    She's high enough up that there are no consequences. She's editor in chief of the network and has total control. I'm working on giving her something to plausibly hold over the protagonist's head - right now it's just the threat of ending her journalist ic career by using her connections to ensure that the protag is blacklisted by other news agencies. And eventually she gets bit by this in a big way.
     
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  17. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Was it the explosion only or the whole closed-door scene your critique group member objected to? Sounds like the latter is needed, definitely. But given what you tell me about this character, you could have her maintain her even, icy tone-- saying all the vulgar things the story needs her to say in a deadly-calm way-- and build, build, build up to an explosion at the very end. Seems like that would be more like herself (as you've described her), as well as more frightening to the rising-star character. If the subordinate walks in and the calm, collected, stoic boss lady immediately goes ballistic, I the reader am going to wonder if you switched characters on me.

    Building up to the cataclysm would give the character more edge, not less, IMHO.

    As far as the boss lady suffering negative consequences from this, which is it?

    or

    ?

    Or does the latter refer to the sympathetic protagonist? I hope not. Your readers, unless they're beyond moral hope, will be rooting for the mean girl to get her due comeuppance if she's not the type to repent.
     
  18. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, threatening to end the protag's journalistic career is quite enough to shut her up, I should think, assuming your villain character has enough connections to make this a plausible threat. If you can make the protag believe it's possible, then it makes sense that maybe the protag won't say anything. People do a lot to keep their jobs, sacrificing even kids and families sometimes, after all.

    I think you're fine, but to be honest we're not gonna know unless you post it in the workshop. Maybe you should?
     
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  19. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll workshop it here once I take a stab at editing it. There are a lot of legit criticisms of the scene as written. It's gratuitous and overwritten right now. It's the criticism that the entire confrontation has to be eliminated that I'm struggling with.

    To answer an earlier question she is bitg high enough to not suffer consequences AND eventually gets bit by her actions. Her house of cards finally collapse s when she has an on-air nervous breakdown and the company's board of directors fire her. The CEO can get away with a lot but once the scandal goes public she loses everything.
     
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  20. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Make sure the on-air breakdown follows logically from the action and isn't a kind of deus ex machina. Otherwise it's like those mysteries where the author has to resort to the criminal's confession instead of having the detective solve the crime. Arbitrary nervous breakdown, no. Some sort of confrontation from those she's harmed that comes to a head when she's on the air, maybe yes.

    The workshop is definitely a good idea for you. As for whether the scene your crit club member disliked is unnecessary, did he say why? Other than "People like her don't succeed"? Your only question should be whether it plausibly accomplishes in your book what the plot needs for it to succeed.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2014
  21. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    His son is a reporter at a major news organization and he was very insistent that the only way a news editor can succeed in the business is by motivating their reporters to produce their best work possible. Therefore, he contends that while abusive bosses can exist in other industries, the nature of journalism is such that an abusive personality could not succeed as an editor - there by rendering any abuse by any editor as totally beyond the realm of believability in fiction. Personally I don't share his worldview of the journalistic industry based on personal experience, so at the end of the day he thinks my world view is unworkable, which is his problem not mine. As an aside, his suggestion is that I make all of her rage private but hide it from my protag, as an editor would still feel a need to encourage a reporter even if she hated her guts. That's fine but I don't agree with it and it would mess with my plot seeing as my editor's inner rage and hatred drive the action....in the end she finally loses control of the other reporters she forced into submission, and has her own blackmail system used against her - leading to an on air explosion. So she needs to be abusive, bigoted, and generally a mean person.
     
  22. Bumfoot
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    That we know of!

    What an attractive challenge. Passive-aggressiveness is a fun trait to work with (not in reality; it sucks). She can be as evil as you want her to be. That doesn’t mean everyone knows. What is her backstory? Like @Mckk said, it's much more psychological. Without having read your piece, I have to guess her history, which I would love to know. Why is she the way she is?

    And why can't she exist? Because it isn't realistic compared to today's physical world? I'm sure we can all list books and movies with villains that are not realistic by that standard. But that doesn't mean you can't invent one. Play with her history, her psyche. And as @GingerCoffee said, consider looking for another avenue, but one which gets you to the same place. Don't change her if you don't want to; change something else to make it work. It's your creation :)
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2014
  23. maidahla
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    maidahla Active Member

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    Start playing with a character's psyche? Maybe start a list about your character, like good habits vs. bad habits. Goal-oriented or judgemental. And why don't more people say "change it if you want. it's your thing". So helpful.
    My last edit: true story. I got about half the friggin' book trashed.
    Crits to consider/accept: All of them. Even the ones that are just asinine. That's public forum opinion for ya. It tells you where your readers are as far as judgement calls go.
    I always love "helpful suggestions" but I never really go through with the edit if I posted it on a forum. I usually don't post my precious "babies" online. But wtvr. I hope you only post the stuff you don't care too much about.

    Some advice. Don't burn out once you get a harsh or blunt crit. I love harsh crits, but some people take it personally. I guess it's workshop time for you!
     
  24. WeWill77
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    He's probably focusing on the negatives because he wants to help you, and to simply heap on praise wouldn't help you become a better writer.

    When asking for a critique, it's impossible to know if the person really liked the piece. They're working, not being entertained, and they're trying to pick out all the subtle flaws that most won't catch when they just read through it. They're not reading to enjoy or reading like a normal reader, and so a critic's feedback will rarely be similar to the way your piece is actually received by an audience.

    What this means is, maybe he does have a point, but that doesn't mean people who read the piece in it's intended setting, i.e. for enjoyment, will feel the same way. In a different setting, even he might not see it the same way. There are no rules as to whether or not to accept someone's critique. The example I always give is Twilight.... Oh man, would I have a critique for that thing.... But the audience is not me.
     
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  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you don't have to look much farther than the former news 'magnate' Robert Maxwell. If you'd have written him as a fictional character, nobody would have believed you either. Here was a guy famous for vulgarity, for random sackings of staff, for extreme verbal putdowns. Of course he owned the company—mind you, based on nothing but bombast and intimidation, it turns out. But before the house of cards collapsed, he was very BIG indeed. I know. My husband worked for his company.

    I suspect if your character doesn't actually OWN the business or the capital to run it, there will be consequences—just like there were for Maxwell (who turned out to have no money behind him. Compare him to Rupert Murdoch, another magnate who DOES have the money behind him...)

    Basically, if good staff members get bullied and leave, the publication will suffer. If the publication suffers, the circulation will go down. If that happens, shareholders will complain. Whoever is in overall charge of the company, or who owns the company, will be put under pressure to get rid of this editor who is causing all the problems. So I think you do need to think of the larger picture as well as simply the personalities involved here. Maybe this is what your professor was driving at. Whatever you can do to make this story more realistic without hurting your main plot is probably the way to go.
     

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