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Receiving a Review

Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Cogito, Oct 19, 2007.

  1. lallylello

    lallylello Member

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    This is known as the "merde" sandwich approach (if you'll pardon my french). Sandwich the nasty stuff between two slices of nice. It's gentler on the ego, and it's the approach i like to take to any criticism of anything, but it probably won't prepare you for the real world.
     
  2. Thumpalumpacus

    Thumpalumpacus Alive in the Superunknown

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    Yeah, it's great as a social more, but not so much as a creative whetstone.
     
  3. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Again, if you are RECEIVING a critique, you have no control over how it is packaged.

    This thread is about how you USE the critique you are given,

    Whether it's a shit sandwich or a fluffernutter, you still need to extract what is useful from a critique, and to leave your ego out of the equation.

    Even a hostile critique can be valuable. One piece I wrote received a critique from a memner who created an account for the sole purpose of trashing me. His one post was a critique meant to be as insulting as possible, but he actually picked up on something very iseful to me, that every other critiquer had missed. In his attempt to pick every possible nit, he saw sonetheing everyone else had overlooked.

    The only totally useless critiques are the "Great story. Very well written." responses, Might as well send a Hallmark card.
     
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  4. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think if the critique hurts you more than helps you, depending on how extreme, there's wisdom in simply ignoring it. Now every negative critique is gonna hurt, I don't mean you should simply ignore criticism. But sometimes certain users could really discourage you with the way they say things - and, within reason, if the same person is just bashing you again and again, it's worth turning away and finding someone else. That someone else will likely pick up exactly the same point as the horrible person, but they'll present it in a helpful way.

    There's nothing wrong with picking your reviewers IMO. I picked a good friend whose opinion and writing I respect, and I hired an editor - and their two opinions are the ones I take on the most. Both of them are direct, can be downright harsh, but because I have chosen them, I listen to them regardless. Another thing - I know both of them respect my writing, both of them agree that I am a fine writer - and that matters, actually, because I know if they're tearing my work apart, it is not because they think I'm a terrible writer but only that they know I can do so much better. It's just psychology, but it matters.

    Now as for how to use a review - if you were brave enough to use the workshop, then I advise you take every last damn review you get, even if they're plain harsh. Read it, flip out, let off some steam, rant to your friend if you must about how horrible the reviewer was. Then calm down, come back, read it again, and again, and start thinking, "But why did it make him think that?" There's always a reason. Most of all, always tell yourself: now I am on the way to making my writing better. It makes the pain easier to take.
     
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  5. Hettyblue

    Hettyblue Member

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    When braving the writing workshop my mantra is the wise words of Adam Ant "ridicule is nothing to be scared of" :)
     
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  6. Crusader

    Crusader New Member

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    I think Cognito summed it up pretty good in his above comment. Getting your ego out of the equation might be hard at times but it's essential if your true aim is to improve your writing. Dealing with criticism you disagree strongly with is merely a case of your own confidence in what you've written after weighing whatever was said.
    Personally, I don't seek critique on a piece unless I'm already pretty sure of my trouble spots. I'm a lousy reviser at times because my brain is locked on to my original intent so my attempts at edit turn out inferior. Nearly always, a critique by someone else identifies those exact spots and the suggestions they make lead to a fix. In contrast, a publisher once reviewed a bunch of my work and had consistent concerns of things being "obscure" and said I should be more literal. Sometimes that made sense, other times it didn't. I often write my poetry/lyrics with intentional obscurity. I like the concept of multiple interpretation in my work. My point is do the proper work before seeking critique, keep an open mind, and then have confidence to adopt or dismiss the input accordingly.
     
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  7. Michael O

    Michael O Contributing Member

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    Ditto to all that Thumper.

    I have found myself passing on the poorly written work. And being new, I'm surprised seeing so much that is really painful to read. I prefer to read the good stuff just like you. It helps me. I've seen the good critiques on poorly written work. I know it's poorly written but it's beyond my ability to help at that level.
     
  8. Sue Almond

    Sue Almond Member

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    Only if it clicks!

    I think you are absolutely right that you should not just change something because someone else suggests it. There are so many readers and tastes do vary enormously. We need to have confidence in our own ideas and intentions but sometimes a suggestion is made and you think, 'Tha'ts a great idea. That will work.' Surely that is when you should consider changing your work - when the suggestion resonates and only then.
     
  9. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Dump the rude ones!

    Actually, that would bother me the least. It's a totally unhelpful, rude remark, amounting to a 'vote,' not a critique. It should be immediately discarded and forgotten. It reflects far more on the person leaving that remark than it does the piece of writing in question.

    There are a couple of critique-givers on this forum who seem to take great pride in telling the writer that they quit reading after the first couple of sentences or paragraphs. (They do it a lot. Short attention span? Or just plain arrogant?) This is NOT HELPFUL. We're supposed to be helping each other, not discouraging each other.

    I've discovered, when tracking some of these people's other posts, that their criticisms often reflect their own personal prejudices about writing styles. There are lots of different styles out there - all perfectly legitimate. We need to wrap our collective heads around this idea.

    Anyone posting a critique should have the simple courtesy to read through the piece at least once. They should be prepared to specify WHY the piece doesn't appeal to them, and be prepared to offer constructive suggestions for improvement. If they can't be bothered doing this, they should just move on.

    Nearly every writer on this forum puts heart and soul into what they write, and nobody's effort deserves to be treated with contempt.

    Critiquing, like writing, is a craft too. We're supposed to be learning it. It's more than just a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
     
  10. suddenly BANSHEES

    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    Sometimes it helps to just point out what it is you thought wasn't working, and why it seemed that way. Even if you don't exactly know how you would fix it, at least the person you're critiquing will know where there might be a problem.

    For the most part I've been pretty fortunate with getting well-rounded reviews, even negative ones. My best friend and I have both been writing since we were kids, so we absolutely tear each other to shreds in our critiques, and it helps a lot. Every now and then I'll get a review that's vague or just unhelpful, but I guess there's no helping that.
     
  11. Monte Thompson

    Monte Thompson Member

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    My mom always said: if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all. I apply this when reviews are petty, inapproproiate or just plain ignorant.
     
  12. Lae

    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    i like to look at reviews or critique's as i would someone's opinion. If its useful i use it, if its not i throw it away.
     
  13. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Useful is often a matter of how much effort you put into understanding the critiquer's position. Even a malicious critique cn provide valuable insights into your writing, especially if that chap's grudge toward the writer makes him dig deep to find a sore spot.
     
  14. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I'd rather a reviewer rip it to shreds so I can fix it, rather than readers once it's come out.

    My critiques are ruthless and brutal, yet the same writers keep asking me to review more.
     
  15. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think ruthless and brutal is fine, if that's what's called for. However, just telling somebody their writing basically sucks without offering any insight at all into why you think that, or how to maybe improve it is not a critique. That's just a roasting from somebody the writer probably doesn't even know. It's just a single step up from being a troll.

    However, being brutally honest ...that's another thing. I'd say that is called for in most cases, and that's probably what you've done for people, which makes them come back for more. That's helpful. In fact it's invaluable, as long as you say WHY you're taking the position you are. Just 'ripping something to shreds' isn't—unless you offer some way to make sense of the shreds.
     
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  16. Macaberz

    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    I agree 100%.

    I used to package my opinion in gift-wrapping, sprayed with glitters and with rainbow stickers plastered on top. I've stepped away from that more and more, not just when it comes to reviewing stories but also when it comes to co-operating for college assignments and so on. All the extra fluff to make things sound nice just clutter the communication. I've found that blunt, honest opinions are so much more useful because there's no interference in the actual message. By stating things plainly and clearly you avoid having to twist and turn what you're really trying to say, just so you won't maybe, perhaps, potentially hurt someone's feelings. When people put their pieces here they know they are going to get a review and as such they should be able to take it.

    Of course, mentioning the why is hugely important and something that can't be omitted. I am all for blunt, honest, plain and clear reviews.
     
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  17. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    i always do a sit down and discuss every note page by page.
     
  18. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There's a difference between being brutally honest and being factually brutal.

    Brutal honesty is telling writers what they need to know and to do in order to elevate the level of their writing. Being factually brutal is gleefully pouncing on flaws as an excuse for attacking the writing and the writer.
     
  19. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as any who know me well can attest to, i'm in the 'brutally honest' camp... but i accompany much of 'the awful truth' with explanations of why stuff is wrong and how to make it right...
     
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  20. vera2014

    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    I wouldn't mind more than just two slices of nice. The imagination is so much better than the real world. :D
     
  21. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    In receiving a critique I try to sort things into Adopt, Adapt, or Ignore.

    Adopt is for things that make me go, "Oh, gosh, you're right, why didn't I see that myself? I'll fix it right away."

    Ignore is for nonconstructive reviews, positive or negative, as defined by this forum. Or for suggestions that show the reviewer hasn't bothered to read much of what I've submitted at all. (E.g., someone telling me my writing's too vague for the first chapter of a book and she didn't know who all these people were. Uh, I said it was a middle chapter, right there in my intro ... )

    Adapt is more subtle. The defensive reflex has to be shut down first to keep criticisms that should go here out of the Ignore pile.

    Things like this:

    Critiquer: I don't like your main character's worldview. I don't share it and I think your novel would be better off without it.

    [Not that anybody on this forum would ever say a thing like that.]

    Defensive Me: Good grief, the MC's worldview is the prime motivating factor! If it's not in there, she's not the same person and it's not the same story!

    Sensible Me (pushing Defensive Me away from the computer): Wait a minute. Yeah, I can't excise this element. But maybe I'm being too crude with it. Or maybe I've laid it on in a superficial way, so this reader didn't pick up on how integral it is. I need to get back to work and blend it in better. Not everyone will share my MC's worldview, but I'd better write it so even those who don't will understand where she's coming from and sympathize with her.

    Or like this:

    Critiquer: I found your character's mannerisms/behaviour/turns of phrase to be artificial. No one does/acts/talks like that!

    Defensive Me: Well, he does!

    Sensible Me: I've given this character some quirks and I truly believe that they're essential to the story. OK, I need to get in there and make sure those quirks are motivated. If I'm giving the impression he has them simply so I can be cute, I'd better rewrite until they're integral [that word again!] to who he is. And check see if I'm repeating that quirk so much it's getting boring.

    Adapting criticism takes a lot of work, and it isn't guaranteed to satisfy the initial critic, but I think it offers the best possibilities for one's growth as a writer.
     
  22. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    What an excellent overview of how to deal with a critique!
     
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  23. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Merci!
     
  24. cynthia_1968

    cynthia_1968 Active Member

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    To me, critique is a learning process, just like writing. Sure, some you'll like and some not.

    The reason why I love being here in the first place is to learn and grow... and meet new people online. :)
     
  25. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think you've hit on a very pertinent point. If a critiquer tells you that something isn't working, or they don't understand it, or it doesn't make sense, the challenge is to tweak the thing until these things DO work and DO make sense. This doesn't involve changing your story, only changing the way you wrote it.

    If people don't like a character you've created and you want them to be liked ...do what you can to make them more likeable. Often this is a matter of allowing the reader more access to the character's thought processes or feelings. It doesn't mean you have to change the character's behaviour. Just find a way to make us understand and empathise with this character, and you're winning.
     
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