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  1. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Supporter Contributor

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    My constant struggle with critiquing: knowing when it's a style difference.

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Elven Candy, Jan 3, 2017.

    Hello everyone!

    So I've explored the Workshop many times, read a few of the threads up for critique, starting writing a critique, and chickened out and deleted without ever posting. Recently, I finally posted two critiques, and the entire time I wrote them out I thought, "Is this just a style difference, or is this something I need to bring up?"

    I've noticed this tendency when I critique smaller things, too, like in the Share Your First Three Sentences thread. So many times I wonder if my critique was terrible because I'm overly picky, overly "helpful," or simply blind to a simple difference in writing style. I want to be helpful and kind, without sounding stuck-up or rude. How do I do this?

    I've read advice to never use the word "you" when critiquing because that implies there's a problem with the author, but what can I do to catch a writing style difference? How do I know when it's just a style difference and when it's something that needs improvement? I'm so tired of taking half a day just to critique a thousand words!
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see any problem with saying, "This may be a style difference rather than an error, but X bothered me." Or even just starting the whole critique with: "DISCLAIMER: This critique is based on my own style preferences, with limited concern over which comments refer to actual errors and which comments refer to style issues."

    It's not as if the writer can't say (to himself), "Mm. Style. I disagree. Advice rejected."
     
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  3. DueNorth

    DueNorth Contributing Member

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    When I took a writing/workshopping class, we were asked to use the term "X or Y didn't work for me," then explain why (Ex: found the pacing too slow, dialogue didn't seem realistic, plot was confusing, etc.). It does take some courage and confidence to put a piece in workshop, and when we do so we expect criticism. I've learned a lot from the critiques in my writer's group, but sometimes I get feedback that I disagree with and, after considering it, I dismiss it. I would say that as long as your critique is given respectfully, it is best to be honest. Most people post to learn and get better, not to get strokes.
     
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  4. 123456789

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's not as hard as you're making it out to be.


    If the story compels you to read all the way through, that's the first thing you start with. Always. It's objective and it's important. If you find yourself unable to get through the story, your work is completely cut out for you- you just explain why. In the first case, you might not have even though the story was good, or maybe it wasn't your type of style, that's fine. So long as you stated that the story was good enough for you to finish it, it's implicit that the remainder of your critique is secondary and entirely up to the poster.
     
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  5. izzybot

    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I have this issue too, but in addition to @ChickenFreak's excellent advice of offering a disclaimer (which I've done), I also think it's good to keep in mind that some pieces and styles just aren't for you and it's fine to walk away. As I constantly bring up, romance doesn't appeal to me, so I'm unlikely to offer comments on a romantic piece; high fantasy is the same. If I can't even get through something, for whatever reason, I'm probably not going to comment (I say 'probably' because I'm 90% sure that I did actually leave a "couldn't even get past the first couple paragraphs" comment on this very board, but I'm sure I elaborated on why [I mean, probably]). If I feel the need to rewrite every sentence ... I'm going to walk away.

    I think one of the best things you can do in critiques is 1) identify what about a piece you don't like / find weird, and 2) offer a solution. A really helpful comment someone left on a piece of mine here illustrates that. I'd left the nameless narrator's gender vague and most readers assumed he was female. @Dr. Mambo picked out some of the actual phrases and word choices that led him to that assumption, when I'd been under the impression I'd written the narrator in a gender neutral way. Ultimately, I'm fine with his gender being unclear (style choice), so I don't know if I'll ever edit it to make it explicit, but thanks to Mambo's help I was able to alter some things to make it less likely people will actively assume the character's a woman. He didn't imply that I needed to make either edit - just offered his own perspective and explained it.

    Here's a snippet of mine I've been grumpy about but haven't fixed to use as an example:
    1) Why don't I like it? Imagery in the first sentence is weird - glacial inevitability in a desert? Then the first part of the second sentence has 'drop', which further brings up water imagery in - again - the desert. The second sentence proceeds to go on far too long (I do this a lot) with the orange sun and fluorescent moon throwing more rapid, inconsistent images into the mix. It's a slog to get through and doesn't actually leave any image in your head - it tries to leave about five of them. The passage of time between day and night feels like it passes in a second and means nothing.

    2) How could I fix it? Something other than 'glacial' in s1; maybe 'dogged persistence' could be moved there somehow. "There was no haste behind its steps" removes the 'drop' thing. Second sentence needs to be chopped into more accessible pieces with the imagery spread out a bit more, which'd also help with the sense of time.

    Step three is probably "finding a way to say it nicely" because I know I tend to be a bit abrupt and abrasive if I don't watch myself. If that's a problem for you as well, my advice is to not talk about 'fixing' things the way I have in this post (unless it's a grammatical issue, in which case always emphasize "grammar is weird and confusing, right?" and "luckily it's not hard to fix") and instead focus on things like "a good way around this", "an easy solution to this", and always throw in some "for me" and "personally" and "in my opinion". Sounding like you're an authority is a great way to get written off as a jackass and acknowledging that this is only your perspective can be helpful if you feel you're coming off poorly.

    I've definitely dismissed advice after considering it, but it's a lot easier to dismiss something when someone just keeps telling you how to write without explaining why or themself considering that a piece just isn't to their taste. One time I got a crit that was literally just snippets of the piece followed by "Avoid writing like this". I may never know what 'this' was, but I knew to take that poster's proclamations with a heaping helping of salt after that.
     
  6. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Supporter Contributor

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    Thank you so much everyone! I'll keep trying to give critiques with all this advice in mind. After all, I can only get better with practice, right? Maybe I should go in with the idea of focusing on one thing, like whatever the writer's asking about, and just go from there (with this advice in mind, of course!).
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think responding to the writer's question is always a good plan, but I also think it's sometimes totally valid to critique style. Not in an overall "your style sucks" way, but in terms of whether it works for you, and whether it fits the genre/plot/characters/setting, etc.
     
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  8. xanadu

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also, it's ultimately up to the author to accept or reject suggestions by the critiquer. It's as much the job of the author to make the differentiation as it is the job of the one doing the critiquing. You're just offering your opinion, after all.
     
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  9. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Dark, is it not? Contributor

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    It is ok if you don't like the style of what you are critiquing, just don't tear it down for that. Simply state that you
    are not a fan of the style.
    The whole point is to offer your thoughts/opinions on what you like/dislike/change about the piece your are
    critiquing.
    And where you feel it applies, give a break down of what specifically bothers you in a respectful way. :)
     
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  10. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Active Member

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    My mom does this to me practically all the time. One recent example was she thought my plot was too 'small' and needed to have more world-altering consequences. I had to tell her no, that's not the type of story I want to tell. Yet I still want her to be more involved in my writing than she is.
     
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  11. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Supporter Contributor

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    My issue is I don't know if it's the style that I do or don't like, so I can't avoid tearing it down. Maybe I need to research what style is? Sometimes when I read others' critiques of a work, what they say opens my eyes to the fact that what I thought needed fixing is actually just a stylistic difference. I want to avoid suggesting someone "fix" something that really doesn't need to be fixed, partly because I don't want to waste either of our times and partly because I don't want to sound like a picky stuck-up snob who thinks my way's the best way. I love this forum; I don't want to be the black cloud.
     
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  12. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    My advice is to stop worrying about whether it's style or not, because it's for the author decide. And even if it IS style, that doesn't mean it's immune to feedback. Your only job as a critiquer is to say what worked for you and didn't. I've had beta readers who will never like any novel I produce because they don't like my brand of humour, and there's a lot of my brand of humour in my writing. But they still had really valuable things to say, and I didn't feel at all compelled to dilute my style to try and please everyone (recipe for disaster right there).

    So seriously, give your honest thoughts and don't worry that you might make the piece worse by giving "bad" critique. That's unlikely to happen and even on the off-chance it does, it isn't on your shoulders!
     
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  13. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Supporter Contributor

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    Heh, I do tend to worry a lot. Thank you everyone for your time and advice; I really appreciate it! Hopefully now I can give back to the community a little more :-D.
     

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