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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Arguing with critiques (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Arguing with critiques
Heresy
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This is something I have been struggling with for a couple of years now. I find that arguing with critiquers is actually counter-productive for me. It gets me entrenched in the position my story is in right now. Instead, I try (key word there) to take it as an error or problem being pointed out. If I'm asked a question about something in my story, I'll answer that, but I don't try to tell my critiquer what the point of my story is. I have come to the conclusion that, if they didn't get it on their own, I probably missed something or made a mistake as an author. The reason I came to this conclusion was the reasoning that I'm not going to be there to tell an editor what the point was. Seems obvious, I know, but it changed my outlook on critiques and what I'm trying to get out of them. So, if I find myself starting to argue with my critiquer, I stop, take a deep breath, and then try to figure out where I went wrong from what they did get out of it. I find doing it that way helps me more than trying to argue.

Anyone else find this, or something else, or have some different but related thoughts on taking critiques?

Heresy

[This message has been edited by Heresy (edited January 10, 2005).]


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MaryRobinette
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I'm glad you brought this up Heresy. When I am reading someone else's work, I try to point out the things that I didn't understand, which often means asking questions like, "Why didn't he just...?" I don't expect the writer to respond outside the confines of the story. In fact, it is on the annoying side when someone goes through my critique and tells me all the places that I'm wrong because it doesn't matter. I'm not talking about punctuation or grammar; I'm talking about things like, "How could he see if the room was 'darker than the darkest night'?" If a writer writes back to me and says, "Oh, well he has exceptionally good vision," but that information is no where in his story...what good is that? As you say, you can't explain things to readers or editors when you sell a story.

On the other hand, I don't mind at all when a writer emails back to me and says something like, "Does this clarify that passage?" and includes the amended passage.

As a writer, if someone seriously misunderstands what I'm trying to do, that's a signal of what I need to fix. The best critiques point out places where the reader is confused but trust me to fix it. To argue with them is a waste of both of our efforts.


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Netstorm2k
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Here's hoping that Mary isn't mad at me for responding to her critiques.

[This message has been edited by Netstorm2k to remove the phrase:[This message has been edited by Netstorm2k (edited January 10, 2005).]]


[This message has been edited by Netstorm2k (edited January 10, 2005).]


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Netstorm2k
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DOH!
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ChrisOwens
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This is an open invitation in regards to me:

If I critique something, and I don't seem to get it for whatever reason, feel free to explain. I hope I never come to feel I have all the answers.


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Heresy
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It isn't so much that I feel that the critiquer has all the answers or anything. It's more that, as I said, their critique highlights for me where I didn't explain enough, or didn't explain at all (since I already knew it). It's a way of seeing the holes that I'm too close to see for myself. If I have to explain something to a critiquer, I didn't explain it well enough in the story. That's my position on it, at least.
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djvdakota
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Ah, Heresy, so nice to see someone who learns such wisdom.

I've had some incredibly wonderful and helpful critiques and I've had some critiques where I'm completely dumbfounded by what the critiquer said. HUH??? And I've given critiques in which the writer told me I was, hmm, what was the phrase, 'harming his creative confidence' I believe. Ouch.

Either way, you just don't respond to a critiquer with anything more than a "Thank you!" (Note the inclusion of the ! Doesn't matter if the critique sucks rocks, you still include it.) unless you want to clarify something that was said. I usually don't even do that. I generally have enough critiques that I don't need to nitpick over one thing that one person said. I can generally get the gist of it by comparing and contrasting what the others said.

Also, when someone takes the time to read and comment on one of my stories I'm DARNED (I'd use a stronger word here if we were in cruder company) GRATEFUL! Even IF I don't agree with anything they said--and I find that doesn't often happen. Even the WORST critiques have something worthwhile if you dig deep enough.

Along with the maturity to resist the temptation to respond negatively to a critiquer's comments, I respect the maturity of a writer who, instead, searches and gleans those comments--the good and the bad--for the knowledge he/she needs to improve their writing.

That's what it's all about. No one is here to get off on hurting other people's feelings. OK. Maybe ME! Right, Castaway? Seriously, who in their right mind has the time to do critiques solely for the power trip?

[This message has been edited by djvdakota (edited January 10, 2005).]


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Beth
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I totally agree.

If I say "I don't think the evil robot monkeys are scientifically plausible in your story," I don't want you [the generic you] to write back and tell me all about how no, really, they could happen, and try to convince me that I really shouldn't have been confused and disappointed by that part of your story. I'm offering a reaction - take it for what it's worth, but don't try to talk me out of it by justifying what you wrote.

imo.



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Netstorm2k
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How did you know I was writing an evil robot monkey story?!
And they're chimpanzees, Dangit!

[This message has been edited by Netstorm2k (edited January 11, 2005).]


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Beth
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I would LOVE to read your evil robot monkey story. (my evil robot monkeys were really chimps, too.)

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Survivor
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My evil robot monkeys are really more spiderlike, usually. But that's neither here nor there.

I have a sort of protocal for how I like to handle responses to critiques (both ones I give and those I get). There are several points to be discussed.

First, under all rules of communications etiquette, the recipient of any communique has the right to ask for clarification and amplification of any points that seem unclear or confusing to the recipient. Naturally, under the common standard that we usually apply here, the sender has the option of ignoring the request for clarification. Also, a sender has the option of sending a clarification that ignores almost any form of etiquette that could have impaired the clarity of the original message.

Second, the recipient of a critique should take any questions asked by the sender at face value, and may answer them in the manner suggested by the sender. For instance, if a critique specifically suggests that a question should be answered in the text, then the recipient may send an answer that is worked into the text somehow (a quotation of a modified passage is acceptable, in most cases). Likewise, if the sender of a critique specifically asks for a straightforward answer, then don't be cute and work the answer into your next version (the sender probably wanted to know the answer in order to give you better advice about how to tackle that next version).

Third (and this is actually sort of a sub-catagory of the first, but deserves separate treatment), if a critique really hurt the recipient and the recipient has reason to believe (or simply wants to believe) that this was not the intent of the sender, then a request for consolation (no, don't request an apology or send a counterattack) is perfectly acceptable.

Fourth, a heartfelt expression of gratitude is always allowed. Note that this rule does not permit form responses that indicate only that you have received the requested critique. Since it is normal for an e-mail to get through in a timely manner, it is only necessary to note when an expected message has not arrived. Thus, sending a message that merely indicates reciept of the critique without expressing any real gratitude is quite rude. If you have nothng to say, then say nothing.

Anyway, these rules allow for quite a bit. For instance, if I told you that evil robot monkeys were impossible, then you would be allowed to ask me to clarify what particular elements were impossible in an SF story, the idea that they were demonically possessed by the powers of Hell, the idea that they were robotic, the idea that they were monkeys, or some combination of the above (such as the idea that robots/monkeys could be demonically possessed, or that something could be simultaneously a monkey and a robot).

Or if you were writing the story because, in point of fact, evil monkey robots had killed your entire family and writing this story was the only way you could express your grief, then you could ask for consolation.

Or if the sender of the critique was silly enough to phrase the criticism of ERMs as a question, such as "How the heck am I supposed to believe in these evil robot monkeys?", you could legitimately answer the question. Note that this doesn't work with the precise phrasing presented by Beth, in no way is her sample phrased as a question.


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dpatridge
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i've SO violated this etiquette... i'm feeling worse and worse as i continue to follow this thread. but that's a good thing. when one feels bad, it's usually because they are learning, so hopefully i'll become better about it in the future, neh?
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Christine
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My basic response to a critique is always "thank you." I usually follow it up with a few points that I found particularly helpful and even (briefly) describe a change I will probably make based on their help. I then close the response with "thank you." If I disagreed with anything they said I simply do not mention it. If I choose not to take parts of their advice I simply do not mention it. If I found their critique to be worthless for any reason, including, but not limited to: unfairly harsh (this is where you go beyond honesty to say things like "this will never sell to any market I've heard of."); critiquer did not know grammar and tried to critique mine; they missed the point of the story entirely and for reasons that do not seem to be my fault (usually you only know this when multiple readers do get the point but one person misses it.); or they had very little to say that wasn't "atta girl!" When any of those things happen I simply do not mention it. I wrte "Thank you, I'm sure this will be useful." and I never send them a story again.

My current critique group actually gets into discussion post-critique. I love it as long as it stays just the way it is. I have yet to see an argument with any point made. Often, the author wants clarifications and further suggestions. They ask follow-up questions such as "What did you think this story was about?" They point out struggles they continue to have and wonder if anyone has further suggestions for unwravelling plot holes or the like. This form of response, which does go beyond a thank you, has been highly useful for me.

Rule of thumb: If it makes you mad, don't mention it. If it gets you thining then you may choose to respond, but never (NEVER) with an argument or defense of your own work.


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ChrisOwens
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Currently, I'm a decicated reader for a 98000 word fantasy. I'm about a third the way through.

What bugs me is the lack of interaction with the one who wrote it. I guess I actaully wanted to chat about it. If he felt I was offbase about something, I wanted to know.

In the first writing group, I told everyone, 'feel free to critique my critique'. Alas, it disolved before anyone had time to do that.

And it could be that the critiques are at times not expansive enough to be clear. Something like, 'this concept is feeble' isn't enough. How? Why? Explain. Discuss.

Promoting an atmosphere of 'don't question the feedback', might stifle some from even asking for clarification (particularly if the feedback is cryptic).

At times, even if the writer seems to object to the feedback, it doens't necessarily mean they're not learning anything, or taking it to heart.

The process of feedback should be an open door, not an ivory tower.


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Beth
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I certainly don't think it's unreasonable to ask for clarification. I'm just opposed to arguing and/or defensiveness as a response to a crit.
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J
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I see what you're saying, Chris, and it's not without merit.

But I think that you are conflating the concepts of "asking the critiquer for clarification" and "arguing with the critiquer."

I agree with you that writers should feel free to ask their critiquers for clarification or elaboration of the critiques. A critique isn't much use if it doesn't make sense to the one for whom it was given.

On the other hand, arguing with the critiquer should be discouraged, for reasons already well-stated by others in this thread, but which out of an inordinate love for my own typing I will restate:

1) Critiquing has to be an objective enterprise in order to be effective. Arguing with a critquer demonstrates a lack of an objective mindset on the part of the author.

2)Authors have no opportunity to follow-up, to explain, to clarify what they write to the reader. All the reader gets is what is in the book. Unless an author plans on scheduling an appointment with each individual reader to explain to them why the ninja-robots were scientifically feasible and why all the description in the third paragraph was just unavoidably neccesary, then that author is wasting several people's time by practicing those arguments with a critiquer.

[This message has been edited by J (edited January 11, 2005).]


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ChrisOwens
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Not to be a copycat, but I see what you're saying too, and it has lots of merit.

Yep, when it ends up on the slush pile, we won't be able to be by the editor's side to defend it.

And a few times, I've read the same piece, before and after. The writer (much worse than I, in another group, truthfully nobody here) did not implement anything I suggested. It had the same problems. And I did have the attitude of 'why didn't they listen? why did I go through the effort?'

Who of us is honestly objective though, when it comes to our own writing? And that's why we need people to read it.

As for me, when I read something I did a year ago, I cringe. A year ago, I may not have understood what the person was saying. But the fact I cringed, must mean I've learned what they were saying or am now objective about the piece.

Our writing is not unassailable, and neither are our critiques.

[This message has been edited by ChrisOwens (edited January 11, 2005).]


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ArCHeR
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If you're going to argue with a critique you must fulfill one requirement: You have to believe what you're saying. If you don't, then shut up and take good advice.

However, sometimes you can believe what you're saying, but that sentiment might not be clear in the work. That's always something you should watch out for.


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ChrisOwens
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I think the bad example of George Lucus does teach us something here. People at all levels have argued with legitimate critiques of thier work, not just aspiring writers. But I guess Lucus did listen in the second movie, though it had problems of its own.

On the other hand, proffessional critics do come of as brash and arrogant.

The problem with George Lucus is that he argued with his fanbase.

[This message has been edited by ChrisOwens (edited January 11, 2005).]


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MaryRobinette
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I think we could sum this up as "You may question the critique, but not argue with the critiquer."

I am delighted to clarify anything in a critique that the writer didn't understand. If they don't get it, then it's not helpful and I'm writing a critique to try to be helpful. Mine tend to be fairly long-winded because of that. The dialogue with the writer can be quite fun and it often clarifies problems in my own work. There's nothing quite like spotting a problem in someone else's writing and turning back to my own to see the same flaw glaring out at me. rickfisher once pointed out that I overused the word "that". I had a grumble, grumble moment and then did a find/replace to see how many I could delete. I shortened my novel by ten pages.

Oh, and please ask before sending out manuscripts even if the person has already read the work, even if they say, "I'd like to read the rewrite." Things change, inboxes get full, unknown attachments are scary.


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HuntGod
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As a rule of thumb I include the raw text in the body message as well as sending an attachment.

I know I hate opening attachments and figure most others do as well.


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Netstorm2k
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I actually prefer the attachments.
I dislike having to figure out what paragraph went where. I'd rather have the intended formatting. It's easier on the eyes.

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goatboy
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You know I have to ask this. Would any of these robot monkeys be ninjas perchance? As in "Demonically Possessed Ninja Robot Monkeys from Venus."
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Robyn_Hood
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I was just waiting to see when the ninjas would show up.

Now to clarify, though, are these robots that look like monkeys or are they actually cyborgs?

As for responding to critiques...

If I don't understand why a particular comment was made, or can't figure out how to "fix" it based on the feedback I received, I will e-mail back and try to get clarification. Sometimes I'll explain what I was going for and ask for ideas on how to show it better in the text.

However, I think the critiquer has a certain responsibility to be tactful, but also clear. I have received cryptic comments sometimes that leave me scratching my head. If you are going to comment on something, it should be clear. If something feels off, but you're not sure why, say that. It isn't always enough to say, "This didn't work. Fix it."


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Beth
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My evil robot monkeys were not cyborgs, but robots cunningly crafted to look like monkeys. Was it the way I described the monkeys as having real monkey hair grafted on to their outer "skin" that made this confusing? Good catch, thanks! It's important that they're not cyborgs, so I really don't want any readers confused by this.
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Heresy
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Archer, the problem with arguing just because you believe what you're saying is that you are still too close to your own work. I know what I meant to write, what I meant by what I did write and what impression the reader is supposed to get. That does not mean that I achieved any of that. If the critiquer got a different impression, what that really tells me is that I need to go back and examine the work for what gave them that impression and try to find a way to give the impression I wanted, or to include the information that was missing. If I'm arguing with them, I'm not doing that. And, as others have said, I won't be there to argue that with the editor. The story will simply be rejected and that will be that. I've found that, with my own work, my intentions are fairly meaningless to the reader compared to what is actually in the short story or novel, especially since the reader can't read my mind, only what is on the page.

And I agree, asking for clarification is a great thing, if you don't understand what they said or where they think they're getting this impression from. Further information (which could be called further critiquing) is a good thing and asking for it is very different from arguing with the critiquer.

And djkdakota, thank you so much for the compliment. I'm not sure I've ever been called wise before. I like to think I'm wise enough to acknowledge what I don't know, and be open to learning more about those things.

[This message has been edited by Heresy (edited January 11, 2005).]


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wetwilly
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Ah, foolish Goatboy. That's impossible. Why on Earth would Demonically Possessed Ninja Robot Monkeys come from Venus? That planet is way too sucky for ninjas.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Ah, but Heresy, the beginning of wisdom is acknowledging what you don't know and being open to learning.

This reminds me of a saying I've heard many times, and just now looked up on the web.

One website calls it

A Persian Proverb

He who knows not,
And knows not that he knows not,
Is a fool - shun him.

He who knows not,
And knows that he knows not,
Is a child - teach him.

He who knows,
And knows not that he knows,
Is asleep - wake him.

He who knows,
And knows that he knows,
Is wise - follow him.


Another website credits

Author: (Ibn ) Gabirol

There are four types of men in this world:
The man who knows, and knows that he
knows; he is wise, so consult him.

The man who knows, but doesn't know that
he knows; help him not forget what he knows.

The man who knows not, and knows that he
knows not; teach him.

Finally, there is the man who knows not
but pretends that he knows; he is a fool,
so avoid him.

And I quit my search there.

All four kinds of people critique, and all four kinds of people ask for feedback (not necessarily critiques, mind you--I submit that the fool expects only praise and argues when he doesn't receive it) on their work.

Thank you, Heresy, for starting this topic. I hope it helps us all look more carefully at how we give and receive feedback.


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djvdakota
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You know, though, the thing I hate about discussions like this is that I start feeling all paranoid. Am I doing such-and-such? Do I do enough of so-and-so? When this person responds to my critique and says a simple 'thank you' does it mean he's just being polite and my critique totally sucked? Have I properly acknowledged all the marvelous people who have critiqued work for me? Was Castaway right?!?

Meltdown! Meltdown!


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yanos
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I say thank you because I mean thank you. Simple as that - I am grateful to anyone willing to spend time helping me with my work, even if it is not always helpful.

I think that the story we want to write is inside us. The critiques help us clarify our own thoughts and ideas as well as know whether we have achieved our aim: to tell the story.

It is easy to miss things out when focussing on one or more other elements. I am sure some people like to have a solid start to their story which is why they write a 1000 words and then post the first 13. With a solid base they can have confidence in continuing. Personally, I am with some of the others in that I will just write the first draft. If I think there are problems I will post it, and ask for readers. As far as I am concerned the first 13 is only something I will worry about in the draft I have before submission.


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Heresy
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Your welcome, Kathleen. I had really been thinking about my own experiences, good and bad, giver and receiver of critiques. I thought that, given an entire section of the board is dedicated to critiquing, it was a subject that should be discussed. I know that, in examining my own reactions to feedback, I have learned a lot about giving feedback to others. That's not to say that others are all like me, or respond to feedback the same way, but it increased my sensitivity to the effect feedback can have, and the effect my reaction to feedback might have on those giving it.
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Survivor
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Going back to the actual topic here (which I basically ignored before in my list of responses that are always allowed), there is a very simple reason that arguing with a critique is always wrong.

Because a critique is that reader's opinion, and nothing more. You are free to disregard it, but the second you start to argue over it you are putting yourself in the logically untenable position of claiming that the sender of the critique did not really hold the opinions expressed in the critique.

Now if you happen to have a video of the sender being deeply moved and crying tears of sublime joy, and then got a critique in which your text is described as bland and cliche etc., then perhaps you could pick a fight over that. Still, that isn't quite an argument.

When readers tell you the way the story affected them personally, you have to take those people at their words. If you even feel the impulse to argue (as opposed to the impulse to ask for clarification or consolation), that means you're forgetting that the critique is an opinion. True, as a writer your entire effort is dedicated to the opinion of your readers (if your writing only for yourself, then don't ask anyone else to read your writing, either), but the only valid means that you have to change someone's opinion of your writing is by writing well in the first place (or in the rewrite ).

Also, if you remember to phrase your "argument" as a request for clarification or consolation, then you are likely to get some useful results.

For instance, if people say that they simply do not buy the idea of evil zombie ninja robot monkeys, then you could argue with them, or you could ask them what it would take for them to accept the idea. And it is very likely that they will tell you some things that could make the idea a bit more tenable.

"I'd buy ninja robots, or zombie monkeys, but I simply can't see how something could be both."

"Monkeys are so cute that they couldn't possibly be zombies, even if you implanted them with cybernetic devices that caused tissue necrosis."

"Ninjas have been slandered in the popular media for too long already, I think that evil ninjas is just one of those totally unacceptable cliches."

"Zombies are victims of evil, they are not of themselves evil beings...."

Okay, you could get this kind of useful information from an argument, but only if the other guy is a lot smarter and more benevolent then you're being.


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wbriggs
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I never want an author to explain himself to me, or argue with me. I don't mind if they ask what I meant. I see it as my job just to tell them I was confused/bored/whatever.
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Axi
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Since I joined Hatrack, I've been more of a reader than a poster. I suppose I'm not confident enough (i don't think my comments would be useful) to critique. But one thing I can say. The most part of the critiques I've read here were honest and tried to help the author. That's my impression. And that's the thing that makes me check this forum everyday (or so ). There's always something to learn (in my case, lots of things to learn).

I've found recently one forum in spanish which echoes the structure of Hatrack. I was terribly disencouraged when I read the postings. Flame war all over the place. No intend of helping anyone. Just being smart and nitpicky.

Ah, djvdakota, I know I've said something similar before, but here I go again. The thing about being honest and trying to help with one's critiques is specially true in your case. Don't feel paranoid at all. One of the things I pity more of writing in spanish is losing the posibility of hearing your opinions.

Edited to add: Thanks Kathleen for the proverb.

[This message has been edited by Axi (edited January 14, 2005).]


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drosdelnoch
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The whole thing about critiques is so that you can improve your writing. Im just looking forward to be able to start submitting within a group. That way I can improve.

For me all critique is usefull so long as theres a reason to explain why. Personally I hate it when people say "well that was crap" but dont justify thier opinion. Where as if they explained what they didnt like I'll listen, however and this is always a biggy, its always good to explain what you did like, that way your offering a sweetner to offset what you thought was so wrong.

Still just my tupence worth.


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Beth
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I don't think saying "well, that was crap" counts as a critique.
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Gwalchmai
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Although to me it is still better than somebody saying something was okay when they were too embarrassed to say it was crap. It may not help you fix anything but at least it is an honest opinion and I think there is some value in that, even if an explanation would be better.
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Beth
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I also don't think "wow, I loved that!" is a critique. I am afraid I've done that a few times, and always felt so lame that I couldn't say anything more substantive.
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Christine
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Even if something is so perfect (to me) that all I can say is how wonderful it is, I am specific and go into detail. I try to build up a reputatiion for honesty so that in the rare occassion that I really do feel that something should be left exactly or almost exactly the way it is they can take me seriously. Then I go into suggestions for markets that might be interested. And I have done this before. Rarely, but the key is always to back up everything, even the stipulation that nothing is wrong.
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djvdakota
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Thanks, Axi.

Still, I often worry that I don't do enough of what has been said recently--I don't think I dwell enough on the positive of a piece. Generally, though, in receiving critiques, I figure if nothing is said over a long stretch of narrative it must at LEAST be good enough that there's nothing overtly WRONG with it.

But since my time is fairly limited, I think (and I hope I'm right) that someone receiving a critique from me would rather have the helpful stuff than to have me do a less thorough critique that includes a balance of comments on the stuff that was done right.

As a receiver, a single line of general praise followed by pages and pages of ways I could improve, such as "This story really drew me in and kept me reading right to the last paragraph. But..." is more valuable to me than someone insincerely praising something just because they feel they ought to to be nice.


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Warbric
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I find it particularly difficult when I read work like I have recently from three of you, and one from Dakota from before I got bogged by NaNo. I see the brilliance first and have to dig hard to find anything beyond superficial blemishing. When I have to do that, I wonder whether I am being TOO critical. It is a fine line, I suppose, but sometimes the task does seem a bit daunting. I try to be a thorough as Christine, but I'm not that experienced at it yet. I still like doing it, though. I think it's another valuable experience that will eventually help me to get my act together with my own work. Believe me, I get as much out of reading how you guys write as you get out of my reading it... probably much more, come to think about it.
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Survivor
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If we're talking about advice for critiquers as well, then I say this: Don't hesitate to say if there was something particular about the story that impressed you. I have to admit, a vague "this is great" will usually have sending a query into what specific things were great, with particular attention to difficulties I might have been experiencing in writing something. But detail oriented praise is always appreciated as long as it is honest (meaning don't compliment me on the way I spell "rhineocerus").
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hoptoad
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This is a good thread.

I try to make critiques useful. You can often gauge the level a writer is at in there development with their first submission. I think we should take that level into account when critiquing.

I remember in highschool art class there was one girl who was really starting to develop as a painter. But we had a teacher who, for whatever reason, told her that she should stop trying to make her pictures look 'real' because she would never get there. He said 'You've got an artistic flair but no real talent.'

She was devastated, stopped painting and the next year dropped art class entirely. Was he trying to help? Probably, I am not sure.

The further developed a writer is, the less likely that they will 'choke' on a critique.

It sounds like I'm advocating a beat-around-the-bush approach, but rather I am saying to adapt your critique to compensate for the writer's level. If they are a tender bud, maybe give them one or two things to look at. If they are a gnarled old branch ( like DJVDakota ) let 'em have it!

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited January 15, 2005).]


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goatboy
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quote:
Ah, foolish Goatboy. That's impossible. Why on Earth would Demonically Possessed Ninja Robot Monkeys come from Venus? That planet is way too sucky for ninjas.

Silly me. Of, course you're right. It's just the regular Demonically Possessesed Robot Monkeys that come from Venus. The ninja once come from Mars. Nothing worse than Martian Monkeys. Especially when they get drunk on Moonshine. Moonshine Nipping Martian Ninja Monkeys. Where do they get those cool little swords?


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ArCHeR
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From the "Ye Olde Fancily Named Martian Blacksmithee" of course.
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Robyn_Hood
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I've thinking about asking this on a seperate thread for some time, but it probably fits here.

How do you critique? What are some of the techniques you use?

I know we've had threads on critiquing in the past, but it has been a while.

Personally, I like to read the story through first. Start to finish without making any comments. I try to read it as a reader. If something jumps out at me as being particularly strong/weak, I will make a notation immeadiately (because first impressions are important) but everything else I try to save for the second or third read-through. If I feel a piece is particularly good, I say so up front and try to point out examples of things I really liked, but then I go through it with a fine-toothed comb and look for anything that might be a little off. If that is the case, I try to phrase my comments to let the author know I'm having to look for things at a final edit level.


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djvdakota
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First, Robyn_Hood, go here:

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/cgi/forumdisplay.cgi?action=topics&forum=Ways+to+Critique&number=21&DaysPrune=1000&SUBMIT=Go

I go over these lists once in a while just as a refresher.

Second, as far as I'm concerned, if I have time to read and critique all at once I give the story a single read through, making notations as I go. Why? Because that's all you're likely to get from a potential audience, and if the story is flawed, much more than you're going to get from an editor. You should very much have the benefit of a reader's first impressions based upon that single read through. If things aren't making sense, you need to know it on the first read through, because your audience generally isn't going to go searching back through the text to try to connect points A and B that your narrative didn't clearly connect. They'll just give up and put it down, never to be picked up again.

Sometimes I'll do a second read-through. If that happens I'm usually going back over for my own clarity of thought as I feed my jotted-down comments into the text.

The downside of this technique? I probably make a lot of mistakes, miss things that I shouldn't, read things in that shouldn't be there.


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goatboy
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I'm seeing a connection between arguing with critiques and what I see happening on American Idol. Randy or Simon tell someone they can't sing, and the person stands there and says, "No, you're wrong. I sing good." Even when they tell the person nicely, the result is often still the same.

I'm not sure exactly why this happens, I suspect there are several reasons and exaggerated hopes is probably a prime one. Or, perhaps it is just part of being human.


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Keeley
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I saw that, too. Part of the problem on American Idol is that these people have been told by friends and family that they sound wonderful. In many cases this was obviously a lie, probably done to avoid hurt feelings.

The same thing happens with writing, I think.

And then, of course, you have the "misunderstood artiste" who decides they can't do anything wrong. Ever. I have no idea how they form, though I've been tempted more than once to believe I'm one of them after I get a bad review.


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Robyn_Hood
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One of the many things about American Idol that bugs me, is that there is little or no room given for middle ground. The answer is either yes, you have enough talent to go on, or no you don't. There are a few occasions where the answer is, you can sing, but not the way we're looking for.

In the few times I seen parts of the show, I've never heard anyone say, yes you can sing, but not at the professional level. Canadian isn't much different, but I heard them at least say things like, you have some talent, but you are not a pop singer.

It goes back to the "this is great/this is crap" type of critique. It doesn't help the person who happens to be on the receiving end. Of course, choosing to argue with someone like Simon, is counter-productive. Especially since you know going in what sort of response you are likely to get.

If you don't like the opinion, get a second one from someone who is more interested in helping you improve than simply berating or praising you.


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