What do you do with the critiques you receive?

Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by seixal, Jan 9, 2017.

  1. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I have always taken the tack that if a reader misses something or gets the wrong end of the stick, I just haven't emphasized that point strongly enough. (If a reader is simply skimming, well ...the story might be boring—which is my problem, but a different one—or they might just be the wrong reader for it.) If the beta has been reading closely, though, and still missed something important—even if it's only one reader out of ten—I will go back and attempt to strengthen that point.

    If it's something that can be slightly expanded, such as adding another couple of sentences before moving on, that often works.

    For example, instead of saying something to the effect that the Jenna noticed Karen rummaging inside a bag, you can make this into a slightly bigger deal. You can mention Jenna's puzzlement as to WHY Karen would care about what's inside an old, discarded bag. Or Jenna could reflect, with some amusement, that Karen could never keep her nose out of somebody else's private stash. Or you could have Jenna watch as Karen pulls rubbish out of the bag and throws it behind her, like a baby rooting through a box of toys.

    It doesn't have to be a big deal at the time, if you don't want to give away too much, but just make sure that when the rummaged bag DOES become crucial to the plot—fifteen chapters later—that the reader will remember the incident. If you just casually mention that Karen rummaged through a bag, that incident might not stick.

    A point can also be reinforced simply by referring to it more than once.

    If a reader has read carefully but has come to the wrong conclusion, then that also needs attention. You won't always score, but it's a good idea to work on it. Otherwise, what's the point of a beta? Why did they get the wrong idea? See if you can figure it out, then focus events in the story more strongly, so they inevitably lead to the conclusion.

    I've always maintained that your story is inside your head. The job of a writer is to make that story come alive for somebody else. And to do that, you need to master the fine art of communication. Not everybody will 'get' it, of course. But I'd say don't be quick to dismiss people who aren't quite there. Unless they are deliberately picking fault and don't want to like your story, it's always worthwhile to try to bridge the gap between your brain and theirs.

    The one thing I do dismiss from a critique, however, is anybody's attempt to get me to tell a different story. People who decide they don't like my characters for what they are, for example. It's different if they get the wrong idea about what my characters are like. Then I'll try to make changes to make the characters' actions and motivations become more understandable. But if the beta just doesn't like them?—would never like them, no matter what? That's fine. It's my story. I'm open to trying to tell it differently, but not to change what I'm telling. That would make a different story altogether. And that's not why I write.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2017
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  2. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    I take what is useful and ignore what isn't. Often two critiques will contradict one another on specific elements, and certain parts of critiquing are subjective. I pick out what is useful and take what is subjective with a pinch of salt. I'm particularly interested in any elements readers did not understand, that did not flow well, or involved excessive forced exposition. I then edit almost immediately.

    When it comes to critiquing I avoid pieces that I am already disposed against, for example, I'm very unlikely to enjoy a sword and sorcery piece, and that is going to colour my critique, so I steer clear of them; I also strongly dislike Mary-Sue author-proxy characters (think Jack Reacher- cringe!) and nothing is going to make me like them, no matter how sympathetically they are written.
     
  3. Michael Pless

    Michael Pless Senior Member

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    I tend to acknowledge the thoughts, provided they're given with good intent and there's a rational explanation for them. On this forum I once got an abrupt "I couldn't stand reading your piece so gave up" type of reply from a beta-reading. Though I was polite and expressed gratitude, I got what I could from the sparse reasoning, and tossed the remainder of the "critique" in the bin (it took up very little room), because it essentially was worthless. My writing tends to polarize, and usually harsh responses to it are from those whose storytelling is... well, lamentably poor. I accept that I can't write for everybody so don't try. I have to be satisfied with my writing first, and if others like it, all the better. Interestingly, each time I get canned, I also get high praise from someone.

    On a forum such as this, there tends to be a range of quality of critique, and that has to be accepted. I try to give everyone thorough, considerate feedback and bear in mind that the writer has tried their best. I try to be supportive, because some writers have a great idea but are obviously learning their craft and need to be encouraged, not devastated. My success at this varies though. I tend to avoid those "I just dashed 2,000 words off in half an hour. Do you think it's good?" type of postings. I deliberately go for a range of genres because I think I can learn something from each.

    The best critiques I got were from my fellow students and lecturers when I studied because they were all relatively focused (or they wouldn't have paid to do the course), and were obliged to do their best lest they earn the lecturer's wrath (which was considerable). I tended to take all that they said or wrote seriously and am a better writer for it. What I never got used to (though I held my tongue most of the time), was the contempt many had for "genre" fiction, often referring to it as "commercial." With a sneer. When I did reply, the retorts were on the sharp side.;)
     
  4. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    An article I got published in a professional journal garnered two letters in response:

    A) Great! Let's have more articles with some humour in them!
    B) How dare you suborn the youth of our great profession with your immoral ideas!
     
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  5. MachineGryphon

    MachineGryphon Member

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    I very much welcome constructive criticism, but sometimes when I get it I beat myself up over the actual critique. "I loved this, this, this and this, BUT" and the but will stick in my head and make me question everything I've done until that point. Had some mad weeks where I've sent shown something to a friend and been unable to write for some time after because I've stressed about the wait for their reply, then once they do, magnifying the critical elements.

    I would very much prefer a strong analysis of my work as compared to a casual friend reading out of duty saying "It was good." and little else. Just need to work on my own reception to such analysis. Realising I have evolved my writing and have actually taken advice on board is difficult for me, as I always assume I can't learn or improve anything.

    Basically I can think myself into a massive hole, which is kinda something I do with every aspect of life. :rofl:
     
  6. Seeker of the unknown

    Seeker of the unknown Member

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    I try to approach any kind of critique with open mind and the desire to understand what the critique trully refers to. Not everybody is able to write a clear and constructive critique, in the same vein as not everybody knows how to write. In order to squizee the most juice of a critique I ask further questions and sometimes I get really big insights.

    Since I strive to be a non-fiction writer, I am especially concerned with lucidity of my words and overall message that they bear. Almost any critique is valuable to me and a good, constructive critique is a true gem.

    Of course haters will be haters and I just let their voice pass through me like a puff of wind.
     
  7. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

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    depends who gave them and the context

    i usually consider them and often reject them
    which may speak more to the sort of people i have commenting than the writing

    i always listened to my editors
    only if they tried to make something erroneous that had been factually correct would i push back on them

     
  8. Homewriting

    Homewriting New Member

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    I read the critique, then after being emotional (Whether happy or not), I back up, do something else for a little bit, and then come back to read it in a logical way. Not all critiques are valid, of course, but I try to make sure I give each point to a critique weight to see if I can use it for improving, or pointing out my problem areas. If I receive a comment such as "I didn't like it" and nothing else, I obviously don't use it. But if they go "I don't like it because of <INSERT REASONS> and they explain why, I try to see it from their point of view.

    After all, critique is how I improve as a writer.
     
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  9. Ulquiorra9000

    Ulquiorra9000 Member

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    I often weigh a critique based on how well it seems that the author understood what I was trying to do. I've had several consistent reviewers over the years and one of them is pretty smart and insightful, but sometimes he misses the point of what I wrote and his critiques aren't as useful. I wonder, though, if I could still find something useful in those particular critiques. And more often, he points out when my material is predictable or routine, and I challenge myself to find a new way. I take critiques as challenges, and determine whether they're worth taking on.
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    It might be an idea, if you haven't already tried, to discover why the person missed the point of what you wrote. I would discard the opinion of somebody who 'gets' what I wrote and dislikes it for personal reasons. However, if they've simply missed the point? It might be worth while to find out why. Is there something in the way you presented the story that sent him off in the wrong direction, or allowed him to draw the wrong conclusion? Always worth considering.
     
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  11. Bronson

    Bronson Member

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    Log them before they get sucked up into the evershifting miasma of confidence and insecurity that surrounds my writing. Multiple mentions of similar issues tend to color the cloud, and I like to think it eventually precipitated into habits that settle onto my work.
     
  12. Jupie

    Jupie Senior Member

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    Burn them all. Mwuahahahah.

    ....

    Whenever I receive critique I almost always act upon it. Reading can be very subjective, but there's usually a new take on what I've written that is helpful. I try to have an idea of what my reader is like before fully taking their advice, just so I know we're on the same wavelength. If they just don't like that type of story, it's not necessarily my fault. If they pick out problems with the pacing or sentence structuring, that's more likely my fault. It just depends. But most people who have taken the time to read have done so because they want to help.
     
  13. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    "Log them." I read that and thought, "What a beautifully simple and obvious idea." What format do you use? A physical notebook? A computer file?

    I'm trying to visualize how I might keep a critique log. Maybe a spreadsheet or chart, with the beta reader's/critiquer's name and boxes for major and minor criticisms. Or a list of points raised and put a tick mark every time a new beta or critiquer brings one up.

    How do you log yours?
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's actually a good idea, isn't it? That way, if a particular problem emerges for several of the beta readers, you'll be more aware of it.
     
  15. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    In an ideal world all my betas would use WordPerfect and I could combine all their color-coded markups in one review document. But you can't even get everyone to use MS Word or something Word compatible.
     
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  16. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Are you referring to a line-by-line critique, or just a general overview?
     
  17. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Line by line. The Review feature puts everyone's suggested changes into the actual document, each person's in a different color, and the author can choose which ones to incorporate and which to reject.
     
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  18. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm. That might end up becoming quite a dog's breakfast, though. Maybe just take each one singly and work through their suggested changes. Then the next one, etc.

    That's one of the beauties of only giving your work to one or two betas at a time for a line-by-line. If you do it one at a time, you can make the changes a beta suggests, then pass it on to another reader. If you've cleared up the problem the first beta warned about, then hopefully the second beta won't suggest similar changes—and you've improved the piece. Keep rinsing and repeating until your betas more or less stop finding things to suggest? That's a bit slower than getting tons of feedback at one time, but maybe it's also easier to deal with, less potentially contradictory and less overwhelming.

    Story issues are another thing, though. Word/sentence tinkering won't fix a plot hole or a character problem or an excess or dearth of information, or a pacing problem. That kind of feedback is probably best received in a wad from as many readers as possible ...so all the story issues are upfront, and you won't end up destroying something good or overlooking something bad.

    What I would do if you have already received tons of written feedback is go through them all and identify the story issues first. Get them sorted. Then go back through each line-by-line and deal with the comments about the actual writing style on a beta-by-beta basis. By that time you should have a pretty good idea of which betas are the most valuable to you. Give their suggestions priority.
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2017
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