Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by seixal, Jan 9, 2017.
Do you ignore them? Use them? Save them for later?
Minor things (that I agree with) I'll usually edit right away. More sweeping or intensive suggestions I shove into a document to sift through later and decide how to work off of them best. A few do get ignored, certainly, but there wouldn't be much point in soliciting crits if I were going to ignore them entirely!
What I do with the critiques gets dealt with on a case by case basis. I've accepted and thrown out a fair amount of critique.
In Stephen King's On Writing, he talks about getting conflicting feedback, and I quite like what he had to say about it. If multiple people are all saying close to the same thing, there's a good chance something needs to be done. If one person out of ten (for example) says something is wrong, I consider it, but usually don't act (unless I agree). If there is equal feedback on either side, it's a wash and decision goes to the author.
It's helpful to hear what people have to say. But it can be crippling to think that everyone except you is right on the matter. The author counts, and if the crit doesn't fit with your vision, it's important to realize your voice as author matters.
Consider all of it. If it's finding a problem with basic content. There's nothing I can really do about that. I write weird stuff because I have weird opinions. Recently, I got a very useful piece of advice cautioning not to use the word "It" to begin a sentence. I probably won't rework past stories but I will certainly keep that in mind for the future. That sounds like a good one.
A bit of caution here: 'It' is sometimes used too vague, that's where the problems mostly come from. Just be careful that the actual content of 'it' is made clear and use this word at your leisure
Anything from flat-out trashing my story in a fit of rage to coldly ignoring them, I guess. It depends on how well the critique fits in with my concept of the story. For example, one person said they wished my horror story had a happy ending instead of a murder, which is like asking for a vegetarian steak. However, on a different story, I was trying to write a romance, and I've had three separate (female) critics tell me that it was pretty good, but one point in the story read like... horror.
I still haven't figured out how to change it, but it's obviously a valid issue when multiple people have the same sticking point. Problem is, every time I change it, it ends up looking just very vanilla to me. Probably should stick to what I'm good at, I guess.
I've always taken critiques on my writing very seriously and do my best to understand the critiques message. The fact that someone read my stuff, which is rare enough, and felt strongly enough to say something means a lot to me. Of course some are just haters, but they're few enough and easy to spot by their tone.
Personally, I read the critiques I received readily. I give it a thought most of the time. I take them into consideration sometimes. I warmly thank my critique always.
I try to press every last drop of good out of them that I can. Even from the ones that go, "Your work sucks because of x, y, and z, and I refuse to read it anymore."
I ignore quite a few of them. If someone gives me an unsolicited critique, and I don't have some reason to totally admire and respect that person's opinion, I ignore it. If I want someone else's opinion, I'll ask for it, so if I haven't asked for it I don't want it and will just ignore it.
If I've asked? Depends. If I know the critter (even the sort of "know" that comes on boards like this one) I'll generally filter the response through what I know of the person, his/her reading interests, etc. If I don't know the critter, I generally just read it over and see if any of it makes sense. If some of it does, I'll read the rest more closely to see if there's any more useful feedback to be garnered.
First off I save them. I keep them with a copy of the same draft that was critiqued. If they are digital I print them out and highlight key points.
Then I focus on those key points and I create a tally system for different points.
If I have 20 people's critique, and:
1-3 (Up to 15%) mention a certain thing- unless it's a grammar or sentence structure thing that I missed, I will ignore it.
4-8 (20-40%) There's about a 50% chance I will ignore it. At this point a decent bit of people are noticing it. I will take in different factors.
9- 14 (45-70%) 90% chance I'm going to make a change. These are things that if you think about 100 readers, if 40-70 of those readers see this issue, there could be an issue.
15-20 (75-100%) 100% change. Hell sometimes I will re-write the whole damn thing if this many people find a big plot issue. If it's something small obviously it's able to be fixed.
So yeah... I like statistical analysis. I tend to numerically analyze my writing/critiques I receive.
(This is a general idea, the %'s change based on different variable factors.)
I always save critique, and unless it's of the single-sentence "It's amazing!" or "It sucks." variety, I'll read it through multiple times.
This is my approach too - anything that's an out-and-out mistake, or is a small change that I agree with, gets changed right away. For more subjective comments, I will wait until all the feedback is in and then go through it again. If multiple people have said the same thing then I'll almost certainly change the thing they had a problem with.
It's more tricky when two or more people have said the exact opposite. One fell in love with the character, one hated her. One loved the voice, the other found it OTT. I try to look for small changes that might win around the nay-sayer but I probably won't make major changes. It's a mistake to think you can please everyone, and sometimes it really is a matter of style (I say sometimes because I think authors often use, "That's my style!" as a defense mechanism when they receive negative critique).
This as well. I do a lot of 'filtering' of critique. I have a critique partner who is nowhere near my target audience and will probably never love what I write (and vice versa - she writes in the genre I like least) but I still get a lot from her critiques. I don't put much weight on what she thinks of the romance, because I know she doesn't see it like a typical romance reader, but I put a lot of weight on what she says about tension and pacing.
Depends on the critique. If it is useful and helps me I will use it to improve my writing. But critiques like 'This sucks!" AKA Flames go toward fueling my imaginary fire place.
Telling me I spelled this word wrong doesn't help unless you tell me how to spell it right. If my grammar needs help tell me what I did wrong and how it should be done. That is how writers learn and grow. I know my Grammar leaves to be desired as I never got any education in it at school and certain things are done different in my native language. I can use all the help you can offer. Offer constructive and helpful criticism and I will read and learn. Offer rude comments and you can expect them to become fuel for above mentioned fire place.
Any crit I get is necessarily of the requested sort, so it depends on what I've posted and why.
I don't post live versions of my story, so if it's:
1) a scene that I already rewrote but a particular thing that still happens in that scene is its focus, then I post the old version and look for what gets said about that thing.
2) a scene that I cut, then I posted it to get feedback on the characters, their interactions, their voices, their interplay with one another. I want to know how they feel to the reader, so I look for that in a crit.
3) what I call "story dough" - just the initial idea of the people, setting and what's going on with them - then I look for feedback on the cast of characters, the level of interest in the setting, who the critic feels is playing what role, etc. I posted a piece of "story dough" a while back and one of the comments I got back was that the critic didn't like "wish fulfillment" stories. You just have to know how to flip that comment around into its more constructive form. "I don't like wish fulfillment" translated into "I cannot find what is at stake in this story" or it can also mean "I do not see a valid/formidable/interesting antagonist". That I can work with.
I recently joined a local writing group near me. Last week, I shared a scene from the story I'm writing, and got 8 different sets of recommendations from 8 different people. A couple of people commented on my narration style, specifically that some of my phrases may be a bit wordy, but for me, I'm in the process of creating the language/dialect rules of my story world. I considered everyone else's comments, what they wrote on the copies I brought to the group meeting, and made notes in my original MS Word document so I can see on my screen what I need to work on and where in the scene I want those additions or revisions to go.
If you ask me, everyone has a different way of thinking, and therefore a different way of handling critiques from even more people who each have their own ways of thinking. Not to sound too philosophical, but that's just my opinion.
Take them on board and consider what might be changed, and whether it would be useful to do so. I think it's always helpful if you can arrive at the same conclusions as some of your critics separately by leaving the reviewed piece aside for a while then coming back to it with your own eyes refreshed - it will mean you have more personally invested in making changes. That matters to me in any case. Being happy to totally change things, whether due to the advice of others or your own feelings, is also very important.
I will tend to ignore criticisms that are either general (e.g. this is rubbish) or overly specific/irrelevant to what I'm trying to do (e.g. if I were to write sci-fi it would never be hard sci-fi because I'm not clever enough, and I would pass over detailed criticisms about my physics not being solid).
The problem with using any pronoun is that the reader doesn't want to guess which noun it refers to.
The bed bounded around the room, lashed by the violence of the thunderstorm. It was as if it had a life of its own.
Now, the second "it" in the second sentence could logically refer to ANY of the nouns in the first sentence. The first "it" is even more problematical; there is no noun (I think!) for it to refer to...
Critique has its place, because we all have blind spots that keep us from seeing everything about our writing that other people see. Its value depends on how willing we are to say "I didn't think about it that way" or "That's not what I meant to say, but I can see where the confusion crept in."
That said, one has to draw the line between what the critic is saying and how much of that critique is influenced by the critic's own perceptions and preconceptions. For example, I posted a poem in the Workshop area of this site, and one person was reluctant to call it a poem at all because it violated his idea of what a poem should have. He had a valid viewpoint, but in the end it was my artistic call, and I decided to keep the poem the way I wrote it. I am grateful that he read the poem and offered his critique, but that doesn't mean that I felt obliged to heed it.
My view, both when receiving and giving critiques, is that the first value of a critique is in communicating, "There's a problem." Second is "It might be kinda sorta around here." The third step of, "And here's how to fix it." is far less likely to be directly useful--but it also has diagnostic value. If my reaction to a suggested fix is, "No, they don't get this at all," then I know that I didn't do my job of giving them what they need to "get" it.
Do you think that's always true? (Not arguing with you; it's something I've been pondering myself these last few days). If nine readers get it and one doesn't, did you fail? And is it really worth the risk of changing it and, perhaps, enabling that reader to get it but confusing the other nine, or making them feel patronised?
I think sometimes, people just don't read the words you've written. Maybe you can say you failed because they weren't hooked enough to read every word properly, but I think that ignores human nature: we can skim read because we're excited and adrenaline is pumping and we need to know what happens next right now. Or our brains can wander and do that thing where we're looking at the words and reading superficially, but the meaning isn't going in. I call it Word Blindness at work, and it happens to me when I read (good, engaging) fiction as well.
I dunno. I'm in a quandry at the moment about whether to change something for one person, and I keep going back and forth.
No. It's just likely enough to be true to be worth thinking about, and the more people that comment on it, the more it needs thinking about.
Ah, see, I was unclear, speaking of "get it". I wasn't primarily thinking of needing to add heavy spoonfeeding explanations. In fact, I had a vague memory in my mind of almost the opposite--some piece where someone was confused about a piece of whimsical nonsense, trying to make sense of it, and my realizing that it wasn't nonsense enough. They needed the cue that it wasn't there to make sense.
@Shadowfax ahh, for dealing with syntactic ambiguity—a bane of mine, at which I often fail; it crops up with characters more than objects. Anything more than two way dialogue slows me right down, especially when all characters are the same gender (lots of her/shes).
In response to the OP. Uh, I usually just take it all as it comes. If it's a viable point then I'll consider it and if need so, ask for more details. However just as Nataku stated, "This Sucks" does nothing so is usually discarded.
Spoiler: Irrational Reaction
Well first, an overwhelming dread smothers me before I've started.
As I read, an internal defensiveness contrasting the external civility springs to action, often where a part of me tries to convince myself they just don't get my voice or stylistic choices.
I then feel like when my insomnia is in full swing but I stupidly take a medicinal sleep aid, only to not be asleep but am now heavily drugged & drowsy—incoherent yet struggling to formulate thoughts, leaving a voiceless anxiety & terror boiling under the surface. Or feeling like several thick soaking blankets have been tossed over me, too heavy to move out from under the oppressive weight. This is my defensiveness aggressively trying to suppress the mounting fear that I am wrong, that they are right, that my writing is severely flawed in ways I don't want to admit but secretly have suspected.
And then after a few weeks, or a month, I get disheartened in accepting the verity of their criticisms.
Basically I'm just a big, emotional baby.
Doesn't matter how rational & collected I come across—even when I can logically see the truth and know I'm being ridiculous intellectually, it doesn't stop me from irrationally & passionately feeling the way I feel.
However, I found that, in being a part of discussions for various methods & mistakes of writing like in this forum, I can calmly and dispassionately read people's points or opposing opinions and see the applications to my own writings. I have none of the emotional attachment or silly notion that a critique of my writing is a judgment against my merit as a person, because I myself nor my work is the matter of discussion.
Interestingly enough, if I receive positive reception or praise for anything, I politely but adamantly dismiss it—believing the critiquer has no experience or comprehension of decent writing, but that they are very sweet.
I have serious issues—most likely a monthly subscription.
I usually dwell on them unhealthily, then maybe my next project try to dispassionately apply whatever lessons I gleaned from them. This usually takes at least 4+ months before I can grant them some credence and be more aware of my shortcomings in future works.
If I'm lucky, I'll go back a year or more later & edit the reviewed work.
But I'm not a published author or anything. I'm just a silly girl who loves reading & enjoys telling stories.
Usually, I am writing something else while beta readers are looking at my current novel. I'll read over their critiques so I can have a conversation with them, but usually I won't seriously consider the notes until I enter my revision phase.
I think it's important to have a break period from your novel before really considering your beta reader feedback. This distance from your own work allows you to really accept some of the faults and to see the work with new eyes. It also helps to become more receptive to change.
Separate names with a comma.