This is topic Arguing with critiques in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Heresy (Member # 1629) on :
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?


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

Posted by MaryRobinette (Member # 1680) on :
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.

Posted by Netstorm2k (Member # 2279) on :
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).]

Posted by Netstorm2k (Member # 2279) on :
Posted by ChrisOwens (Member # 1955) on :
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.

Posted by Heresy (Member # 1629) on :
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.
Posted by djvdakota (Member # 2002) on :
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).]

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
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.



Posted by Netstorm2k (Member # 2279) on :
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).]

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
I would LOVE to read your evil robot monkey story. (my evil robot monkeys were really chimps, too.)

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
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.

Posted by dpatridge (Member # 2208) on :
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?
Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
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.

Posted by ChrisOwens (Member # 1955) on :
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.

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
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.
Posted by J (Member # 2197) on :
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).]

Posted by ChrisOwens (Member # 1955) on :
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).]

Posted by ArCHeR (Member # 2067) on :
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.

Posted by ChrisOwens (Member # 1955) on :
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).]

Posted by MaryRobinette (Member # 1680) on :
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.

Posted by HuntGod (Member # 2259) on :
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.

Posted by Netstorm2k (Member # 2279) on :
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.
Posted by goatboy (Member # 2062) on :
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."
Posted by Robyn_Hood (Member # 2083) on :
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."

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
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.
Posted by Heresy (Member # 1629) on :
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).]

Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
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.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
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.

Posted by djvdakota (Member # 2002) on :
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!


Posted by yanos (Member # 1831) on :
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.

Posted by Heresy (Member # 1629) on :
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.
Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
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.

Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
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.
Posted by Axi (Member # 2247) on :
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).]

Posted by drosdelnoch (Member # 2281) on :
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.

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
I don't think saying "well, that was crap" counts as a critique.
Posted by Gwalchmai (Member # 1807) on :
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.
Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
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.
Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
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.
Posted by djvdakota (Member # 2002) on :
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.


Posted by Warbric (Member # 2178) on :
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.
Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
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").
Posted by hoptoad (Member # 2145) on :
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).]

Posted by goatboy (Member # 2062) on :
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?

Posted by ArCHeR (Member # 2067) on :
From the "Ye Olde Fancily Named Martian Blacksmithee" of course.
Posted by Robyn_Hood (Member # 2083) on :
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.

Posted by djvdakota (Member # 2002) on :
First, Robyn_Hood, go here:

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.

Posted by goatboy (Member # 2062) on :
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.

Posted by Keeley (Member # 2088) on :
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.

Posted by Robyn_Hood (Member # 2083) on :
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.

Posted by goatboy (Member # 2062) on :
What I'm curious about is whether any of these people change their minds once they see themselves on tape.

Do they actually hear how bad they sound? Can they hear the difference between the way they sing and they way the finalists sing?

There is something here that connects back to being human, I just can't quite put my finger on it.

Posted by Robyn_Hood (Member # 2083) on :
I think it might be vanity.

If you are an amatuer singer, with little or no vocal training or experience, and you go on American Idol, you are unlikely to get very far. You will probably be one of the ones that Simon will simply shut-down. But that is his job. He is music producer looking to find quality singers who will make him money. In that respect, he a lot like an editor at a magazine or publishing house. An editor is there to find quality writing to make the company money.

The time for encouragement and learning should come long before you put yourself up on the stage and it is important to step onto the appropriate stage at the approriate time. You are unlikely to go from singing in the shower to singing in the top 10 of American Idol.

Now I'm just rambling, so I'll shut-up.

Posted by HSO (Member # 2056) on :
I'd like to make two points. One regarding the topic subject, which will come last. And the second regarding the current subject of bad singers.

Point one: Don't know if it's vanity or not, but it's definitely selective listening. From my own experience at auditioning singers for bands I've had, it can get really bad. How do you tell someone they really and truly suck without hurting their feelings? Answer: You just have to find a sincere and tactful way of saying it to avoid getting socked in the eye. In my case, I don't particularly enjoy singing on stage -- I can't stand to hear the sound of my voice on tape as it nothing like what my inner ear tells me. People say they like it and I wonder if we hear the same things. I wouldn't hire me for a singing job. Yet somehow, amazingly, I always end up singing lead on a good number of songs.

Point two: I've made the mistake of arguing with a critique probaby more than once, but one of them really stands out in my mind. And shortly after critiquing the critiquer, I had to dodge the pointy daggers that flew from my screen when I read their response to my argument. How dare I do such a thing! it read, among other things. And they were right, of course. I shouldn't have done that. I felt bad and apologized (I hope it was enough). Haven't done it since. Although, I will often ask for clarification or even advice if I don't quite understand what they are getting at.

Posted by Lord Darkstorm (Member # 1610) on :
How someone responds to a critique can let you know how far along they have come. The simple fact is that you can't explain yourself to an editor, or the person reading through the slush pile.

I used to try and justify it, on occasion I still get a strong urge to do so. I have found that I read the critique and let it settle in my head for a while. Once I've dumped some of the personal attatchment to my work I can go back and look at it more objectively.


Posted by Keeley (Member # 2088) on :
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.

Actually, RH that happened last night. A 17 year old tried out and kept going off-pitch. Randy told her that she just needed more training and encouraged her to keep at it. This happens every now and then. I even heard Simon tell someone -- both last season and this -- that they were good, but not Idol material.

Sometimes the singers do hear themselves. One girl said, "That was horrible," and yet she kept trying to audition.

However, this is about as rare as one of Simon's compliments.

On the subject of writing critiques, I think how you present your critique is just as important as keeping a thick skin when you receive one. (Think Randy or Paula instead of Simon.) That's why I try not to read something when I'm having a really bad day. Because I, like Dakota, make comments on the first read, I'll be far less forgiving and more prone to rip the piece up instead of offering helpful advice or even just noting what didn't work for me.

I also agree with hoptoad. If there are a lot of basic mistakes, I assume they're a beginner (like me) and only focus on the most damaging.

Didn't say it before, so I'll say it now: Glad you're back HSO.

Posted by goatboy (Member # 2062) on :
Sometimes the singers do hear themselves. One girl said, "That was horrible," and yet she kept trying to audition

I can understand keeping on trying. If I'd spent hours waiting, I'd keep trying too. (It's what we tell each other about writing every day.) And, I can understand the ones who say "That wasn't any good. Can I sing something else." (That also is something we tell each other about writing every day.) What I can't understand is what motivates the ones who can't carry a tune, have no rhythm and don't know the words? It seems it would be better to get a vocal coach first, or try out for the choir. (Which is why we critique eash other, so we have some idea of what to expect.)

Posted by Keeley (Member # 2088) on :
I understand asking for a second chance as well. What gets me is the people who starting singing a different song as if a second chance is their right. The first doesn't irritate me or, as far as I can tell, the judges. The second does.

As for the ones who are in deep denial, I think it goes back to the lies these people are told from relatives and friends who mean well.

I have a relative who can't sing. No one (including me for reasons I'd rather not say) has ever told her that she can't. Because she comes from a musical family, she is constantly trying to prove she has what she doesn't. She hears herself. I see it in her eyes. But she isn't willing to admit that she can't and take steps to improve. Instead, she acts hurt when someone disagrees with her about her ability.

And whenever she hears someone better than herself, she either gets snide (if she's in a good mood) or flies into a rage.

In her case, I know it's born out of a deep-rooted insecurity. Admitting she can't sing would only increase the list of things she believes she can't do. Maybe that holds true for others as well.

Posted by djvdakota (Member # 2002) on :
I thought this was such a good topic, I thought SOMEBODY might benefit from reading it again--at least the part before the American Idol stuff.
Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :

Posted by TL 601 (Member # 2730) on :
There is no good reason to argue with a critique. Say "Thanks," and move on.
Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
Good time for the bump. I just said it in F&F, I'll say it again now: What is the point in joining a board of serious writers specifically to benefit from their experience in publishing and the wisdom of their advice, then turn around and scoff at what they tell you?

The only correct response to critique is "Thank you" or "Could you clarify that for me?"

The worst response is:
1) The 13 lines limit is lame/stupid/something I'm going to ignore;
2) It will all be explained on a) the next page, b) the next chapter, c) later in the book.


Posted by Dude (Member # 1957) on :
I don't agree that "thank you" is the only response to a bad critique. I am here to learn and teach, and I assume everyone else is here for the same reason. I want to know if my critique wasn't helpful, or not what the author was looking for -- or if it did help. To me, the reason I participate in the F&F forum or any critique group is to identify those who can help me with my writing (this includes my critiquing) and those who can benefit from my help. If someone doesn't like my critique -- they don't fall into that group, and if someone gives me a bad critique and does not want to know it wasn't helpful for me -- they don't fall in that group either. I would rather get that out in the open up front instead of wasting time being polite about it. I'm not advocating being impolite, and I think name-calling is just immature, but if you think I'm a jerk or idiot on either side of the equation, let's get that over with right away as well. This isn't about perpetuating someone's self-image, it's about growing as writers.
Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :

That's just not how it works, Dude. You never ever argue with a critique, even a bad one. Yes, we are here to learn from one another, but not everyone can be the teacher all the time.

Let''s just say that I read your story and gave you the following critique: "This story is unmarketable. It is too cliche. Write something else."

Well, that's a terrible critique, isn't it? First of all, it's brutal, does ot express the ideas as opinions, and leaves the writer with no way to imrpove, merely a bruised rear-end.

So you respond to me and tell me, politely: "Christine, you might want to rethink your method of dealing critiques. While your advice and suggests are valid, your failure to phrase them as opinions did not help me, nor would it help anyone. It also might be nice if you made some constructive suggestions about how ti improve this story, how to add fresh elements to make it more marketable and less cliche."

Very polite, but here's my response: "I spent time and effort on that critique. If you can't stand to get your feelings hurt then you shouldn't send your stuff out."

To which you might say, "My feelings weren't hurt, really, but your critiques will be so much more useful if you phrase them differently."

To which I reply, "Go to hell."

You can't win like this. Someone ELSE might be able to guide me into becomming a better critiquer or I might learn from the many good examples on the F&F part of the forum. But YOU, the person whose story I critiqued, cannot possibly be the one to do "teach" me. Why not? You're too close to the work and I'll never believe your comments came from anything other than bruised feelings. In fact, very few critiques are as bad as my example and to one who would critique like that, they are likely beyond help. Meanwhile, *my* critiques are great (where my is any person on this forum in the first person) and if you respond that way then you're obviously too close to your work and need to figure out that I'm right and you're wrong.

No, you don't argue with critiques. You do not teach critiquers how to critique, at least not with your story as an example. You say "thank you" and if it was bad, never send them any more of your work.


Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :

Posted by Robyn_Hood (Member # 2083) on :
I did read all of this thread the first time around, but not recently, so I might be repeating something.

There is a difference between arguing with a critique and discussing the points that were made.

"Thank you" is not always a suffient response to a critique. If a critique was vague or not very helpful, I don't consider it rude or particularly bad form to respond with some questions or explainations.

It's all in the phrasing.

To use Christine's example:

"This story is unmarketable. It is too cliche. Write something else."

You might respond with a question or two:
"Thank you for taking the time to look at this for me, I appreciate your feedback. However, I'm not sure what elements you are finding cliché. Could you please give me an example of what you are talking about?"

If someone has questions about a critique I do, I would rather they ask about it than just write it off. That doesn't help anyone.

Of course, before you send any response other than "Thank you." consider why you feel compelled to reply.

Posted by Dude (Member # 1957) on :
I'm guessing from the Noooooo!!! (Did I get enough o's in there?) that you feel pretty strongly about this Christine. Notice I didn't say argue with a critique, I said that a simple "thank you" for a bad critique is a bad idea. I think Robin Hood covered it pretty well. There are ways to tell someone your opinion without coming across as rude or condescending. Who are you helping by ignoring it? You? The critiquer? The next person they critique? Of course, if a person is unable to communicate effectively without it degenerating into a round of name calling, then that person probably should not respond.

If it goes the way you describe -- although, I don't think I would word my response the way you did -- well at least it's over and done with and I don't have to waste any more time dealing with that person. Quite frankly, if a person were apt to respond to me in that manner I don't think I would want to work with them anyway.


Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
Quite frankly, if a person were apt to respond to me in that manner I don't think I would want to work with them anyway.

I think this was my main point, actually. When people provide insulting critiques, attack the writer rather than the story, for example, they often aren't worth responding to. I'm sure I exaggerated a bit.

I've actually received a crit that pretty much said what I did above..."This story is unmarketable, write something else." I was angry and I felt their critique, while potentially valid (it was a cliched idea), was given in a manner that could provoke no better emotion from me than resentment. I chose to say thanks and then never exchange critiques wiht him again.

If you've read the rest of this thread (it is a bit long), you'll see some of my responses that suggest requesting clarification. The difference as I see it between that situation and what I perceived you saying is this: When I ask for clarification it is because I think they may have something but I'm not quite sure I'm getting it. What I thought I read you as saying was that you might try to do a bit of socratic teaching with them in order to help them become better teach them. I think you're treading in dangerous waters when you do it for the second reason and you need to seriously think about why you want to respond as you do.


Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
I'm with Christine. I'll ask for clarification if there's something I want clarified. But it isn't my job to correct my critiquers, and I know by hearing this discussion that it is *not* appreciated.
Posted by EricJamesStone (Member # 1681) on :
I'm with Christine on this.

When authors ask for critiques, they are inviting other people to criticize their work in order to help them improve it. Some of the critiques may be good and some of them may be worthless, but either way, the critiquers have spent time reading and commenting, and for that they deserve thanks.

However, the critiquers usually have not invited the author to critique their critiquing methods, and therefore it would be rude and confrontational to critique their critiques.

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
It seems to me that we rarely see the kind of mean and useless crit that dude is talking about.

What we do see a fair amount of is someone who offers a crit, and the person receiving it responds by telling us how stupid the 13 line rule is, and everything becomes clear on page 20, and how POV isn't important, and how they can't be bothered to fix their grammar because the story really gets good on page 50, and we're all too stupid to understand them, anyway, and besides, their mother loves it. And it's all right if they made obvious errors X, Y, and Z, because Orson Scott Card did that once seventeen years ago and look at him now, so obviously writing like X, Y, and Z is the way to go, so the person who offered the crit should just apologize for not being supportive of the poster's obvious genius. (I am exaggerating and am not speaking of any person in particular.)

That is not an appropriate response to a crit.

No doubt the person who received the crit thinks they're just trying to tell the person who offered the crit what kind of information might be more useful to them - but it's inappropriate. Ask for clarification if you need to but otherwise just say "thank you." You're totally free to disregard the crit but arguing isn't going to get you anywhere.


Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
I'd just like to point out that I don't feel that thanks should be mandatory. First of all, if thanks are mandatory then they are also meaningless, like those "thank you for sending..." bits of form rejections.

That said, politely pretending an indiscretion did not occur is always an option. It may not always be the best option, but sometimes it's a lot better than saying "thank you". Would you ever thank someone for snoring loudly when an important guest was speaking?

Maybe I shouldn't ask

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
Well, if the person was doing me a favor by coming to hear the speaker, I'd thank them for coming, even if their participation didn't turn out exactly the way I'd hoped.

Posted by Heresy (Member # 1629) on :
Beth, thank you for clarifying for us all the kind of arguing with critiques that I meant when I started this thread. I posted it in response to someone doing basically several of the things you gave examples of. It irritated me that they were, essentially, dismissing all of the advice and help offered (all of which was requested really by posting in F&F) and telling everyone they were wrong. I think what bothered me most about it was that there was even a general consensus about what was wrong with the sample given.

To reiterate, I agree that asking for clarification is a good thing, and the only way to really get to the bottom of the problem with a piece of writing, IMO. I think that telling a critiquer that they are wrong is both pointless and rude. It's their opinion, even when they forget to phrase it that way, and you telling them that they are wrong gets neither of you anywhere. I've had crits where I did think they were wrong, and I'll admit to having been tempted to tell them so, especially when everyone else had the opposite opinion to that critiquer. I didn't, and in the end, I felt that there was something to be gained by trying to figure out why they felt the way they did.

I actually don't read critiques right away. I give them a couple of days, then I read them, and I put them away for at least a week before I read them again. I try to get some distance from them, so it doesn't feel personal, and so that I can try to view the advice they carry in an objective manner, in the hopes of getting more from them (or at least from the good ones, as I've already put aside the vague or completely unhelpful ones).

I do agree that it will not work for me to try to teach someone how to critique when it involves my own story. Even I know that I'm too close to my own work to be objective about either the work itself or your opinions of it. That's why I asked for other opinions. I mean, I can ask my own opinion, but I find it's often unhelpful, blind, and self-congratulatory (usually prematurely so, too). I wanted someone else's opinion, an outside take on it. Am I really any more likely to be objective about your advice if it disagrees with my own opinion of the story? Hardly. And, as Christine pointed out, you, the critiquer, will probably be aware of that and not listen to any suggestions about how to improve your critiquing skills.

As far as improving critiquing skills goes, that's one of the things I like about the open critiquing of the 13 lines that goes on in F&F sometimes. It's a good place to find out if your approach to critiquing the work of others needs some improvement, as I've seen people call others for being out of line in their method of critiquing. I've also seen such instances descend into name-calling, but it's often because the person being told they're out of line doesn't like being criticized (Ironic, I know). Usually, though, it seems to be taken well. It's one of the reasons I like this community so much, and why I keep coming back, even though I'm really busy with my own life right now and am going through a dry spell in my own writing at present. We are all here to help each other. Sometimes that also means knowing when to back off of trying to help others, though. I will state one final time, for absolute clarity, writers should not critique their own critiquers. It is never a good idea. If you really dislike their method of critiquing, don't send them anything more of yours in future, as suggested earlier. Do not start to argue. And never forget, you will never be there to argue with an editor or to explain your work to them. Your story must being able to stand on its own two feet when it goes out. So, if you find yourself wanting to argue with a critique, pause, take some time away, read it again, and then read your story to try to figure out what went wrong or where they got a mistaken idea from. Most of the time, you'll find it right there in your story, which you missed because you are too close to it and know what you meant to say. That's okay. You don't have to do it all on your own. That's what the Writer's Workshop is here for.

Posted by pixydust (Member # 2311) on :
I find it odd how people argue with critiques. Isn't the reason they put it up to get "feedback"? I go with the rule: "If I have to justify my work I may need to rethink it a bit." Three or four people telling you basicly the same thing is an obvious red flag.
Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
On a side note: in an attempt to help improve people's critiquing skills I have personally begun more than one thread here about how to provide effective feedback. I also had a three-part article published in Kathleen's newsletter on the subject. This, to me, is an acceptable way to try to improve people's critiquing skills and as I've mentioned before, as newbies come through and need to rehas old (to me) topics, go for it.

I haven't read F&F much lately. I guess I got sick of people not appreciating the help I was giving them by either arguing with my (or others') ciritiques or taking their critique and running. (Countless newbies flitter onto F&F, get some feedback, and never return the favor....if I ever do go to F&F I only look at stories by familiar handles.)

Posted by Dude (Member # 1957) on :
Thank you Survivor, I think you nailed the real problem I have with the "thank you" response. Sometimes our society takes politeness to absurd levels. Why thank someone for not giving you what you asked for?

If you didn't get anything out of the critique, let the critiquer know. Ask for clarification - or examples from your work. It's not so much a critique the critiquer thing, but a clarification of your intial request.

Again, I am not saying "argue with your critiquer", but why empower a bad critiquer with a thank you? Making a blanket statement that you should thank someone no matter what because "that's how it's done" just doesn't cut it.

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
You're not willing to be polite to someone who takes the time to comment on your work?

OK. I'm glad you've made your position clear.


Posted by MaryRobinette (Member # 1680) on :
But you're still just talking about clarifications, right, Dude? I mean, I just got a critique on Body Language and think that it has a lot of stuff in it that is flat wrong. It's completely opposite what everyone else has said, and the critiquer doesn't seem to understand some basics of writing. You aren't suggesting that I should write to the critiquer and tell them, are you?

Because, what I did was to write and thank them for taking the time to critique my story.

Just like I thanked my grandmother when she bought me a sweater that was a color I didn't like and the wrong size. I didn't tell her, "I don't like this." I thanked her, praised the parts of it I liked, and then exchanged it.

Posted by Dude (Member # 1957) on :
I think you are missing my point Beth. I never said to be rude to someone who takes the time to comment on your work. I'm pretty sure I never said that I wasn't willing to be polite. Yes, Mary I am talking about clarification. If someone gives you a critique to the best of their ability - then thank them. Of course, if they ask you if their critique was helpful, be honest with them. I don't think that is the case in the senario the Christine put forward.

I have never received a critique like that. I would think my first reaction would be to walk away -- as has been suggested here, but I know that it would bug the heck out of me wondering if that person had a valid point. Maybe not well intended, but valid. I think it would be more constructive to reply with a request for clarification. Something like: I'm curious as to why you feel this way. Could you give me examples from the writing that gave you this impression?

If the critiquer comes back with another nasty message, then walk away. Really, there are some people out there who are just rude by nature, but they may still be willing to elaborate if you ask. If they do, you may walk away with valuable insight into your work.

The easiest and safest thing to do is walk away, secure in your own righteousness. You're the better person -- you thanked them for being rude after all. I believe in second chances. Give the rude critiquer a chance to explain. If that doesn't work, then I'm all for scratching them off the list and never looking back. Of course, I still wouldn't thank them for being rude.

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
I say, "thank you" all the time and Survivor is right, to a point -- it doesn't always mean that much in and of itself. It's a matter of tone. On Christmas, there's the, "Thank you, Grandma!" ..... unsaid part: for this ugly sweater. And then there's the, "Wow, Mom, thanks! I can't believe you bought me the six quart kitchen aid!"

In critiques it's liike this. "Thank you for your time and effort." ....unsaid part: even though you obviously didn't read it very closely. Alternately, "Thanks, Mary! I see what you mean about x. I think I'm going to change it so that y."

Not every one of my thank you's is the same, whether on christmas or on critiques, but it's still polite and I'm still not going to take it upon myself to teach directly -- indirectly, like I said, with threads and articles -- but NEVER directly..

Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
Note to possible critiquers: if I just say "thank you for your help" with no qualifiers, I don't mean your critique sucked and I wish you'd soak your head! I really do mean it!
Posted by EricJamesStone (Member # 1681) on :
> If you didn't get anything out of the
> critique, let the critiquer know.

Don't do this directly, or it comes off as "You're a worthless critiquer." If something in the critique can be clarified, ask for clarification. Otherwise, just leave it alone.

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
yes, the part Eric quoted is the part that sounds like being rude to people who took the time to read your work. And the part where you said thanking them was empowering them to give bad critiques, so you wouldn't do it.

But all right, it sounds as if that isn't what you meant.

Posted by Miriel (Member # 2719) on :
I still think you should always say thank-you. For instance, I once asked someone I know to read my 95,000 word novel for me. The critique was awful. I guess she hadn't critiqued before, and she did it like a literary analysis. She kept asking for more theme and symbolism, and wanted the politics to relate to real-world politics. But she was doing me a favor, whether or not the results were good. A big favor. So I thanked her very kindly and gleaned from it what I could -- there were one or two useful comments. Even bad critiques will probably have one or two of those. Will I ask her to critique anything else I write? No. But that isn't the point -- she did me a favor, did it to the best of her abilities, and that certainly deserves a thank-you.
Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
It's not about being polite or not. I find pro forma expressions of gratitude unbearably rude and offensive. If someone farts at a dinner party, I would still thank them for coming. I would never thank them for farting unless the circumstances were truly exceptional. Of course, if I'm throwing a dinner party, the circumstances are already pretty darn exceptional

It's not about "empowering" someone to give bad critiques or anything like that. It's about not lying to someone that has probably tried to do you a favor.

Every insincere "thank you" I ever get simply makes it that much harder for me to believe that any thanks I've ever gotten are genuine. It's worse than hearing forced laughter after I tell a joke. At least I can reliably tell the difference between genuine and faked laughter.

But an insincere thank you doesn't just say "I think that you're so stupid that this will please you." It also says "by the way, everyone that every expressed gratitude for any aspect of your existence in the past or does so in the future is probably lying or just saying it out of habit."

I may be putting this too strongly, but this is honestly how I feel about this. What the hell is the point of saying something meaninglessly except to make it impossible for anyone to say it meaningfully?

That's probably just me. I'm probably the only person in the world who is genuinely hurt and offended by insincere "thank you"s. Maybe I'm the only person that ever thinks someone is just saying thank you to mean "I'm so much more polite than you that I can say 'thank you' when really I'd rather you'd choked on your own umbilical cord." I don't know how that's possible, since I'm one of the few people saying that you shouldn't say "thank you" to mean those kinds of things.

Maybe I'm going too far. But this is not theoretical anymore. This is one of those things that I'd think humans could understand, it doesn't feel good to have people tell you nice things about yourself when you know they are lying. Whether or not you know of yourself that those nice things are really true, it still hurts to hear them being said as a lie.

It hurts. Please, in the future, make me an exception to all rules about always saying "thank you." I'm not quite to the point where I just want people to stop trying to express gratitude or appreciation entirely. I hope it never comes to that. But I know that it does get to that point for some people. And I totally understand why.

Sorry for the outburst. It's just my feelings, and it's not like it matters if they get hurt a little more. I'm not going to change the world with this post, I'm probably not even going to change the forum. But please at least think over what you're all saying here. The people reading these posts are many of those whom you expect to accept the thanks you give. When they get the obligatory thanks for a critique, they've actually read your interpretation of just what that means coming from you.

Worse, so have those you try to give genuine expressions of gratitude.

Please, just think it over. You're not machines, please don't act like them.

Posted by MaryRobinette (Member # 1680) on :
Ah. I finally get what you're saying about this,Survivor. When I do a show, I dread hearing people say, "I liked your show," because that seems to be the ritual response. So I never quite believe them.

When I was at BootCamp we sat around a table and went in a circle giving verbal critiques. Most people started with "I liked your story." I didn't, because I knew that a story would come up that I wouldn't like. Then, if I left off the by-then-ritual "I liked your story," it would be noticeable, rude, and hurtful.

So, I now understand exactly what you mean about "thanks". But a thanks-for-the-time from me is always genuine. If I appreciated more than that, I will sing praises there, too.

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
I see, now, too. And yes, all I mean is thanks-for-the-time. I don't mean that you should tell someone their crit was wonderful if it isn't.
Posted by Miriel (Member # 2719) on :

Posted by Meenie (Member # 2633) on :
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

I agree with this BUT only if I get it from more than one critter. If I get 10 crits and only 1 "didn't get it" then I figure I did well

Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
For the record, if anyone gets an email simply thanking them for a critique, it probably has the underlying and sumliminal message that I'm in a hurry and don't have time to write anything else right now.
Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
Not from me! For me, "thank you" really does mean "thank you"!

And I'm still trying to imagine those exceptional circumstances for thanking someone for breaking wind at Survivor's dinner party:

"Thank you so much -- you added a lot to the evening. And I do mean a lot!"

"You found such a creative way to stop people from arguing about the election!"

"My party will be talked about for weeks. So will you!"

"Nobody even noticed that the dessert was spoiled!"

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited August 05, 2005).]

Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
I just read an interesting article, "How to be Edited" by fantasy writer, Juliet McKenna. What struck me in the article is that her experience highlights the fact that critique only gets more intense when you are accepted for publication. If you can't accept critique in the spirit in which it's offered, as a tool to help you improve the quality of your manuscript, then you won't fare well if and when you finally do get a face-to-face meeting with an editor.

The link at the bottom of the page to "My Life as a Writer" will take you to other insightful articles about writing.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited August 06, 2005).]

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
That is a really interesting article!

We've had a few conversations like that with our authors, and so far it's been a mutually rewarding experience. (But there aren't a lot of stories we're willing to put that kind of effort into. It's a lot of work for everyone.)


Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
The thing is, after publication you have not only critiques, you also have critics.
Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
Well, like I might have said earlier, nobody expects you to thank them unless they actually say nice things about your work.

And I have to apologize for getting so emotional in my last post. I really thought about deleting it before hitting "submit", but it's just one of those things.

I think that, even when you can't honestly say "thank you" for what some person has done, you should try to avoid thinking of that person as having deliberately set out to injure you. Now, sometimes you can't rationally think of a person as having done anything else. That kind of thing does happen.

There's another side to that attitude, because eventually you become rather cold-hearted, and stop caring whether you have friends or enemies. Of course, I'm not so sure that people should care about that. Or rather, there's a sense in which you should care, and another sense in which you shouldn't. In one sense, it's about leaving it up to others whether they'll be your friends or enemies. In another, it could become viewing others as objects rather than people.

It's all very complicated and theoretical. Except that some things are the same whether you look at others as people or objects.

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I recommend arguing with critiques and critics. After all, by writing something, you've staked out a position on how something should be written. You must have thought it was right and fine, or mostly so. You should be able to defend your position.

I've always taken the position when offering my own work for comments, that I'm actively looking to improve my work, both the work in question and any work I may do in the future. Therefore, I can't be hurt by anything that's said. (Or at least shouldn't be hurt.)

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
The problem with that idea is that it assumes that each and every critiquer is willing to work just as hard on getting points across as you are to work on your story.

And that's not true. It's never true, unless you're an incredibly lazy writer.

Most critiquers, if they send a critique and get back an argument, they'll disengage from continuing to help you. I'll usually tolerate getting back an argument once, to which I'll send a helpful clarification of some basics on which my suggestions were based. I get back another argument, and I'll quit too.

Besides, feedback is feedback. Do you argue with the pain signals coming from your hand if you stick it in a fire?

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
Ow. Pain.

"Your beginning didn't hook me. In fact, it wasn't until page ten that things really started happening that interested me." -- anonymous critiquer

"But I thought about it for a long time and I have to put that stuff in there. It's background and if you don't understand it then you won't understand the action that ocmes later. It's only a twelve-page short story and the ending is worth waiting for. Even you said so. So the beginning is fine the way it is." -- stupid writer

Twenty years later...

New topic on Hatrack: Who gets published?

"I've been trying to get my stuff published for twenty years but no one will bite. I'm not even sure they read past the first page. They publish such utter crap in their magazines, what does it take for me to get an 'in' with them?" -- stupid writer

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
Robert, if someone does you a favor, it's rude to argue with them. If I help you move, I don't think you would argue that I wasn't lugging boxes fast enough for you, or that I put some of the boxes in the wrong room. You'd just thank me for my time, and give me beer. Maybe if I did a really awful job you wouldn't ask me to help you the next time, but you probably would, because you recognize that you need all the help you can get.

A person who critiques is doing you a *favor* by telling you their reactions to the story. They have not asked you to do them the favor of critiquing their reaction - you have asked them for the favor of reading and commenting.


Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
I will often respond to a critique, and try to explain what I was trying to do and why, or clarifying some aspect of the story for the reader, but it's never in the spirit of argument. How can you argue? The reader interprets your work the way the reader interprets it. All you can do is answer questions when they don't understand something, and also explain why you did something the way you did it. Often times, I'll get a follow-up email that is more helpful than the original critique because now the reader knows my intentions. However, there is always the danger that the reply will be interpreted as an argument, so I often specifically state that I am not trying to argue the point.
Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
LOL Beth..I'm not sure that's a very good example. When I moved from Arkansas to Kansas I WISH I could have argued with the people helping me move...but I was sick with 102 fever and so was my husband. I guess, especially since we were sick, it was *slightly* better than nothing, but we may as well have offloaded all our stuff and bought new stuff here for all the care they took of it. Destroyed several pieces of furniture because they just didn't care. I assure you, I will NOT ask them to help again.
Posted by Doc Brown (Member # 1118) on :
Writing locks a writer's ideas into solid form, and reading brings new ideas into the reader's consciousness.

The writer is always right, and the reader is never wrong. Eventually you will learn that aguments between the two are always pointless.

Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
I STILL hear about the time I helped friends move, and we did it with the power of two bottles of tequilla. We (including the husband) had a glorious time packing stuff up and shoving it in the moving truck. The wife, who was on the other end of the move in the new town and in charge of UNpacking what we had packed, vowed never to leave us alone with tequilla again. "Thanks," was not the first thing out of her mouth.
Posted by Heresy (Member # 1629) on :
Spaceman, the problem I have with writers responding to tell me what their intentions were when writing the story is that it's a slippery slope. As frequently mentioned in this thread before, you will never be there to defend your work or explain your intentions to an editor or agent. The work has to stand on it's own. Keep that in mind. Now, that said, it's not necessarily a bad thing to ask for help in more clearly articulating the story the way you had envisioned it. But that's different from arguing, and isn't so much a statement of missed intention as an invitation for help. As long as you're approaching that situation with an open mind, it can be a great thing. But those who argue (really argue, I mean) with their critiquers almost always have a closed mind and the attitude that, as the writer, they're automatically right. I just don't buy that, even as a writer myself. As I've said, I know that I'm too close to my own writing, and know too much of my own intentions in writing the piece to be able to see it clearly as it really is, rather than as I meant it.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
A story is, after all, an idea, possibly many ideas in one, and not some job of moving things from place to place.

And in any case, if the analogy held up, the writer is the one doing the moving, and the critic is the one commenting on it. Further discussion could refine the argument as stated. The writer---and the critic---should be prepared for it.

...oh, yeah, and one should always keep it polite and civil. If, say, extended comments degenerate into strings of obscenities, it's probably time to forget the whole thing. (My only severely unhappy experience with this ended this way---in his reply, not mine---after which I dropped the whole matter.)

[This message has been edited by Robert Nowall (edited August 09, 2005).]

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
Thank you for stating your position, Robert. I will not be commenting on your work.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Feel free, at any time. I posted a slice of something elsewhere, and, really, if I had all the answers why haven't I talked an editor into buying something?
Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
I do believe Beth summed it up beautifully.

And Spaceman, for clarification...Sometimes when no one "gets" what I'm trying to write I will respond by telling them what I intended and ask them if they have suggestions for how to get from where I obviously am (which is completely missing the point) to where I want to be. I think that's what you meant, because obviously if you are just trying to get them to see what you intended and say, "Oh yeah, I see where you were goin now." then you've not done yourself any good. You don't get to make such explanations to readers or editors. They have to see it that way the first time.

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
Thanks for the offer, Robert, but I'll pass. You and I clearly have very different views on the writer/critiquer relationship, an I'm not willing to participate on your terms. Best wishes.
Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
You should reward people doing physical labor with something other than beer (or...other forms of alcohol). Beer accelerates dehydration and impairs judgement. You should only drink it several hours after you're no longer working hard. If at all.

The pizza and lemonade method of rewarding volunteer labor is much to be preferred.

And it is telling that Robert thinks it is more appropriate to reverse the analogy. It means that he thinks that the writer is doing critiquers a favor by allowing them to try and help him.

Or that he's oblivious to that whole element of the analogy.

I'm not worried about that so much. After all, all the thanks I need is to see a story improve, whether I'm the critiquer or the writer. But when a writer argues about critiques, that's not going to happen. it's that simple. There is no point in giving critiques if the writer isn't going to take them to heart.

Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
Christine/Heresy - I respond to critiquers to clarify BECAUSE you can't do that with editors. This is where you are supposed to fix the problems. Sometimes clarifying for the critiquer also clarifies it for the writer.

[This message has been edited by Spaceman (edited August 09, 2005).]

Posted by JmariC (Member # 2698) on :
Sidetracking on the whole moving and drinking subject:
I had a friend who got married and needed help getting things moved to the new place. So her and her new hubby invited friends to help them move with the offer of free booze (the leftover booze from the wedding). They got lots of responses. People showed up at place A (where things were already boxed), and liquor was a place B, with my friend. So friends loaded boxs with hubby's help and off they went to place B.
By the time they had arrived she and said alcohol was gone. When the friends asked after the promised liquor, she innocently said, well you were asking about it while you were at place A, so I figured I'd bring it to you. So all the friends and hubby went to place A. Again, she was already gone and since they were there, they loaded more boxes. With careful work, this arrangement caused everything to be moved in 3 trips and no one drank alcohol until all the boxes were safely stowed at the new place.
I think part of what helped her pull it off was that she is really good at playing innocent and her husband was happy to play at being just as frustrated as the friends.
The moral, if you try, you can outwit friends who are thinking of booze.
Posted by Carlene (Member # 2745) on :
As a new fiction critiquer, I've appreciated it when the writers responded to my critique. But so far, all have been courteous in tone and offered feedback that will help me be write a better critique.
I did have one author respond to a comment with a clarification. It wasn't one I needed (i.e., I knew what the author was doing, but didn't think it worked), so basically, it let me know that the author and I disagreed on that point. And it's their prerogative as author to write what they want.

And as a comment on the side note, my friends would never have moved back to point A.


Posted by Phrasingsmith (Member # 2773) on :
This is a very interesting thread and would seem to have many staking out positions in the sand. I've read the whole thread from beginning to end and as far as I'm able to tell there are really a number of issues that are being discussed simultaneously and some of the points appear to be getting short circuited. I think however everyone is closer to an agreement than what appears to be present in the thread. Here is what I have gleaned thus far:

1) Arguing with critiques is a waste of time. No one feels that arguing is useful.

2) It's always important for everyone to be courteous for any time spent or effort made.

3) Being rude is impolite, unwelcome and unnecessary.

4) Asking for clarification is useful since we all seek understanding and to improve our knowledge and skill.

For me as a "new member" I am trying to:

A) Improve as a writer by critiquing. I'm told one does the critique in order to learn what things I might be able to catch myself doing in the future.

B) Help others improve as writers by critiquing. I'm told one does this to help another improve their story and prepare it for a time when the writer will not be told much as to why the story is being rejected.

C) Get stories critiqued. I'm told one does this to help improve their skills as a writer and to have the story improved.

Overall I believe everyone has similar intentions. My intention is never to offend anyone and if I ever offend anyone while participating in either A, B or C then please let me know either via an email or on the forum. That way I can make amends for my mistake.


Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
Blessed are the peacemakers.



Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
When I get a critique from someone, I usually wind up incorporating most of the changes that are mentioned. But not necessarily all. Some times I think I've done one thing one particular way for a particular reason, and changing it would be wrong.

I remember once getting a rejection that mentioned a published story as something I should read. Well, I had read the story. I did not think it was a good story. I believe it went on to win awards, but I still didn't like it any better.

Am I right? Or are the others right, and am I just mistaken? Should I go with the majority, or maybe just the consensus? Or should I stick to my guns and stick with my original opinion?

I draw an analogy from a hiking class I had in high school. We went off as a group, on our own. At one point we had to turn one way. The group argued that we should go off one way, and I argued that we should go another way. (I had an insight by knowing the lay of the land; I'd been there before.) After a while, they went one way, and I went another. They got lost. I didn't.

I draw from that the idea that there were times when I should follow my own opinion of things over the opinion of others. But I hope I've learned to value and respect the opinions of others...but not necessarily to pay attention to them.

Posted by tchernabyelo (Member # 2651) on :
Robert Nowall wrote:
Am I right? Or are the others right, and am I just mistaken? Should I go with the majority, or maybe just the consensus? Or should I stick to my guns and stick with my original opinion?

It depends what you're trying to achieve. For one thing, you need to be wary about incorporating too much from your critiques; ultimately, you're trying to write in your own voice, not in anybody else's (and it is entirely plausible to get diametrically opposed critiques; I've seen it happen).

But it very much depends on what the critiquer is saying. If one critiquer just doesn't like a particular phrase, but you do, then it may do no harm to keep it (Cf a recent thread where there was a marked difference of opinion over the phrase "The fat white moon shone, sad and perfect..."; some loved it, some hated it). But if the critiquer is saying "I was confused at this point" then you need to address that issue (particularly if it's been mentioned by more than one critiquer).

What I'm looking for in critiques is, I think, two-fold. Firstly, there's the basic stuff; although I proof-read and re-read and try and catch everything before I send out something for critique (Flash fiction obvisouly excepted...), there are things I miss, and if someone points out grammar problems (that aren't stylistic choices) or spelling issues, or deeply inappropriate word choice, or consitency/continuiity errors, then I'm really grateful to have those extra eyes watching out for me. But the primary purpose is to see whether the effect I'm having on my readers is the effect I''m intending to have. Are they drawn in? How do they feel about the characters? Do the action scenes have a real sense of tension? Do people think a particular line is funny? These are the things where feedback is vital. As author, you know precisely what you want to achieve with a given scene - but until you have readers, you can't possibly know if you've succeeded. Those are the crits you should really listen to, because if people don't get the emotions that you want, then you're failing in your job as a writer - because your job is to communicate.


Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
Ahhh, our dear Robert, I now understand what your problem is.

You are confusing arguing with critiquers with taking every last bit of their advice. The two have nothing whatsoever to do with one another, I assure you!

I received a critique once in which several people told me that one of the strengths of the piece was strong characterization. This made me feel good, because I have often felt this is a weak area for me. Then, on the same piece, someone told me my characterization needed work.

Hmmmm. So, did I make changes? No! But neithe did I respond to her. What would that have served? She read it, had her opinion, and that's what I was looking for. What good is it to get anyone's opinion after changing their minds, even people whose opinions I think are flat wrong/

I ignored it. I thanked her for some of the other helpful tips she gave me, passed on that one, and went on with my life.

You incorporate two kinds of suggestions into your story:

1. Suggestions that resonate with you and what you are trying to do.

2. Suggestions made by many people. (If id does not resonate with you despite 20 people saying so, there may be other ways around it, but you should definitely take the advice seriously and consider what the implications are.)

Everything else gets thrown out, tossed away, put in the ignore stack. You don't mess with it and you don't mess with the people who said/suggested it. Chances are, they gave you fairly good critiques despite saying a thing or woo that didn't work for you.

Now, I believe you proposed "explaining" rather than all-out arguing. Once again, I don't think so. Unless the explanation of what you meant to do is to get them to clarify for you where you need to go, it is a waste of everyone's time. If you are simply trying to convince them that you're right, why? Why would you do that? What purpose does it serve?

Writing and critiquing isn't about being right. It's about improving your work and helping others imporve their work. Even if you are right, it's still not about that.If you're right, then don't make the change, ship it off to editors, and see what kind of response you get. But DEFINITELY don't respond to them! (I' ve seen such horror stories! )

Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
It's okay to listen to critique, but only incorporate what makes sense. Most of the points that critiquers highlight are things you subconsciously knew were wrong anyway. Just remember that your story is yours, not a collaboration.
Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
At least half the suggestions I get, I don't take. But the other half (third? quarter?) I am really glad to get.
Posted by Miriel (Member # 2719) on :
I think the amount of arguing and disagreeing largely depends on the kind of critique. "I was bored here," and "that confused me" can't really be argued with: that's how the person felt when they were reading it, and something probably needs to be changed. On the other hand, the person who says things like, "You need to cut this scene and dramatize this part," could just be flat wrong. They're trying to tell you how to fix something without telling you what the problem is.

I had two people read my novel WIP; one was of the first kind listed above, the other the second. I used every last suggestion the first person gave me. It was gold. The second person had a few good comments, but was largely off the mark. They wrote their critique like a literary analysis paper for an English class: "Good characterization...I'd like more theme. Maybe you could make _____ your theme, and center everything around that." Yes -- I ignored that. And her comment of "good characterization" was wrong, too. The first reader marked passages where he got mad at the characters for being stupid or acting like little children. He never wrote the word "characterization," but he pointed out when it went bad without fail.

So, I think arguing with someone who said, "this part was confusing," is silly, because, obviously, they were confused. I think arguing with someone who says, "cut this scene," is pointless, because they'll probably just get offended. (I occasionally make suggestions like that in critiques, but always hesitantly, and I start by stating the problem I was fixing. It's hard to resist...)

And...the only times I've wanted to argue are because of my pride. Someone is confused, and I want to jump up and say, "No, I'm not an idiot! You were confused because I was trying to cut back on background information and accidently cut too much out -- this is why everything really does make sense -- and I'll fix it in the next draft." I just swallow all of that, smile, and thank them. Critiquers don't really like to listen to a long string of pride-saving excuses more than anyone else does.

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :

ARGUING: A direct confrontation. In critiquing, this occurs when someone gives you advice, whether bad or good, that you don't like and you tell them they're wrong because....

CLARIFICATION: A query. In critiquing, this occurs when you aren't quite sure about something and need a little more hep figuring out how to fix something, or whether to fix something. It is always phrased as a question and is never confronational or an argument.

IGNORE: To not pay attention to. In critiques, this means that a piece of advice that is, in your opinion, bad, is shunted aside rather than argued with.

AGREEMENT: To share the opinion of; to take stock in. In critiques, this occurs when a piece of advice resonates with you. Typically, you make a change based on this advice.

LEARNING: To acquire new knowledge. TO have new understanding. In critiques, this occurs when many people give you the same advice, even advice that you at first believed was wrong. If ten people tell you the same thing, then you should study the problem and try to learn from it. Once again, arguing is not involved, but clarification might be.

Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
I find that I will respond differently to critiques from my Hatrack group, than I would to an individual. I explain my rationale to my group more thoroughly, not to be arguing but to tell them what I'm trying to accomplish. Once they know that, they are in a better position to help me get to that point. But it's not the same thing as arguing and telling them they are wrong. The reader is NEVER wrong for having their feelings about something. It just IS. You can't please everyone all the time; but the value in group critiques is that you can see if more than one person is going down a path you didn't intend.

I probably offer far more commentary than people like in my critiques, simply because I am trying to share with them my thought process as I read. It's perhaps more in depth than I would think as an ordinary reader, but that is because I am TRYING to analyze what I am reading. I don't expect them to argue with me, or try to explain themselves.

Critique isn't about personal feelings. It's about a reader's reaction to a story. Who wouldn't want honest feedback, even if it felt a little brutal? We can only allow critique to hurt our feelings if we think the attack is meant to be personal. Arguing with the critiquer is a sign that you are taking things personally.

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
It's starting to seem to me that some authors are expecting more out of a critique than is being offered. When I offer to read a story, I'm just offering to let the writer know what I think about it.

I'm not offering to engaged in an extended conversation in which the writer and I analyze every paragraph, compare the writer's intent to my reaction, and discuss strategies to help the writer rework things to help them actualize their intent. I'm not offering to be the story's mentor. I'm just offering my reactions, and trusting that the author can identify the difference between my reaction and their intent, and can figure out what (if anything) to do to close that gap.

So for me that's the problem with explaining/justifying. It's not arguing - but it's extending the critique agreement to something beyond what I thought I was agreeing to. Most of the time, reading and commenting is all the time and effort I'm willing to put into a piece. Once in a while I'll go further than that, but it's rare that I have that much time and energy to devote to someone else's work. (Or even my own work, for that matter.)


Me: I thought the POV shifts at the end were confusing.
Author: Oh, but I was trying to convey the disorientation a person feels after being attacked by evil robot monkeys - I wanted the reader to feel as disoriented as my heroine.
Me: Uh, whatever, dude.


Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
One of these days I'm really going to have to write a story about evil robot monkeys...
Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
When you do, I totally want to read it!
Posted by HSO (Member # 2056) on :
Maybe evil robt monkeys will turn up as a trigger on the flash challenges some day. We can only hope.
Posted by yanos (Member # 1831) on :
On the matter of taking the criticism and working with it: when I first came here I responded to the crits straight away and changed my story. Now my wiser head puts the story away for a while. I read the crits through one more time and then delete them. After that I re-write the story. Only those comments that stood out as being solid will be incorporated in the new version, but most importantly of all, it is still my story.

I have occasionally asked for clarification but only when something seemed important but I was unclear as to what the critiquer meant. That is usually just one point. It seems pointless in arguing. Why try to change the critiquer? They don't have to rewrite the story. It's your opinion that is important.

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
Evil robot zombie monkeys, if you please.
Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
Come on. They're robots. They can't be zombies. The ninjas are the ones that get turned into zombies. You're conflating two totally separate traditions.
Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
Here's what I mean by commenting...excerpts from a recent reply.

Thanks for the feedback. It seems to be getting close to what I want. I’ve never heard of Strontium Dog, so that was not an influence.

I agree with the comment about Henri’s profound wisdom in the mouth of a fool. It isn’t the right line, I haven’t found that yet.

As for what to take away from the story, you, my friend, are one of the few who already know the punch line. I’m not so sure I want to add anything else.

Aside from the reap what you sow line, does the ending work?

I can't really see that as very argumentative.

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
One other point: someone above mentioned answering questions asked in a critique.

When I do a critique and ask questions, I am not asking them in order for the author to answer them (unless I say--at the very end--something about really wanting to know thus and such).

I ask questions in a critique so the author will know what questions came to my mind as I was reading. I consider these questions to be similar to OSC's faith, hope, and clarity. I ask variations on "oh, yeah?" and "so what?" and "huh?" so that the author will know what might need to be reconsidered in the rewrite.

It kind of drives me crazy when an author responds to my critique questions with answers. Please, don't answer my questions in your response. Answer my questions in your rewrite.

Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
After offering a critique on a particularly bad piece of writing, I had the author email me back, thank me for helping him, and then he asked me essentially to collaborate with him by helping him to rewrite more stuff. I politely declined the opportunity.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Sure, the critic is doing a favor by sharing an opinion of the work in question. But if the writer has a reason for doing something one particular way, shouldn't the writer be able to present arguments in favor of doing it that one particular way?

Also, said arguing involves the special circumstances, like, say, one guy looking over the work of another guy...or this kind of bulletin-board forum posting, where a slice of this or that is presented. Seems to me there has to be a certain amount of give-and-take in a forum like this.

I can certainly see situations where that kind of arguing wouldn't work, would be completely pointless, would even be counterproductive. Say a bad book review, or an editor's rejection.

The above-mentioned mention of a story I hated in a rejection slip---as I recall (and this was, oh, twenty-five years ago, so some details have faded in my memory), I did send a short note to the magazine, on the tail end of an ordinary fan letter. (Shorter than what I've written here.) I don't know what they thought of it, but I'm pretty sure they published the fan letter---minus the note, which wasn't for publication anyway.

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
But if the writer has a reason for doing something one particular way, shouldn't the writer be able to present arguments in favor of doing it that one particular way?



Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
All right, all right, I'll elaborate, but I'm getting blue in the face with repeating myself.

I (the critiquer) don't give a damn. You (the writer) are only trying to be right.

But guess what? You are right! It's your work and you cannot be wrong about your work.

The thing is, I'm also right. It's my opinion and I cannot be wrong about an opinion.

This isn't a debate over who's running for president. Back and forth and point-counterpoint is not going to win votes for a candidate.

No, this is a piece of art. Once it is put out there in the world it speaks for itself. The writer does not get to speak for it. Arguing in favor of the piece of art having been done exactly the way it is is redundant. The method speaks for itself through the finished product.

But the critiquer isn't "getting it?" You fool! DId you think everyone was going to read something exactly the same way? Did you suppose that your intentions would always ring through loud and clear? Do you think that defending your method to a critiquer today will make it all right for critiquers/editors/readers in the future?

Oh no, Christine! I already explained that to Beth, you see, and she understood after I explained it to her so it's all right now.

P.S. I feel like I'm getting more and more sarcastic as time goes on. I'm wondering if it's hormones or if I'm just not a nice person.

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited August 11, 2005).]

Posted by NewsBys (Member # 1950) on :
(I liked it when you just said No.)

[This message has been edited by NewsBys (edited August 11, 2005).]

Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :

I understand, though, how wonderful it would be to find someone who's willing to put that much effort into your story, to lovingly oversee every step you make, to sit and drink brandy and have enlightened conversations about Great Literature etc. That's just not what's on offer here. I'm offering to read a story and let you know what I think about it. That's it. I don't actually *care* about your story even a quarter as much as you do.

Have you ever said "Hi, how's it going" to someone, only to have them spend the next half hour telling you their life story? It's kind of like that. By reading and commenting, I've put in all that I'm willing to on your story.

One thing you might want to do, if you want to argue for the effectiveness of various techniques, is to open a discussion in *this* forum and argue the point more generally. If, say, you think that randomly shifting POV is a great and effective literary technique, start a topic and argue your point. You might learn more from exploring your argument in a broader context, and find people more willing to engage in a discussion.


Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
One of the reasons I don't read through a story first and THEN start making critique remarks is that isn't how I read. I generally read one book, one time only. (There are a few exceptions, of course, like Lord of the Rings, but they are rare.

The author needs to know how the reader perceives the draft the first time through. Yes, I am reading with the goal of picking nits when I critique. But I only mention the things that really jump out at me. As a writer, I assume the majority of readers (and editors) won't give a mediocre story a second read-through to see if it grows on them with repeated exposure.

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
If I don't want to read a story again, then I didn't like it the first time. That's just how I define it. Of course, I'm one of those people who never gets tired of reading a good book.

Robert, I know it kinda seems like we're all picking on you. But you have to understand, we're just talking about what works here. It's that simple. Writing an argumentative reply to a's a very natural impulse. We're not saying that you can't feel that way. We're telling you that actually hitting "send" after writing such a reply will not help you get better feedback. It will quickly cut off your access to most helpful critiquers and soon you'll be left with the loons who feel like they have to win an argument with you.

You'll notice that I'm not addressing your reasoning anymore. That's because your reasoning in support of arguing with critiques simply doesn't matter. What matters is that it doesn't work in real life.

Posted by MaryRobinette (Member # 1680) on :
Dear Author,

Thanks for submitting your thread, "Arguing with Critiques." I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass on it. There's some nice writing here, but overall the thematic structure got a bit repetative and didn't hold my interest.

Best of luck to you with this one, and thanks again for sending it our way.


Posted by BuffySquirrel (Member # 2780) on :
Arguing is a natural impulse that has to be quashed .

I remember one infamous occasion on which the impulse got the better of me and I engaged in a somewhat spirited debate with a critiquer who was insisting that men never, ever complained about illness. He was a psychologist and he KNEW!

I think what made me so annoyed wasn't so much that he was criticising my writing, but that he was telling me I was entirely wrong about reality. He was treating my experiences as of no account. Looking back, he may well have been right about his reality. Who knows?

Anyway, the argument was pointless, and nearly got me into trouble with the powers that ran the workshop. I knew perfectly well I shouldn't argue with critiquers, I just...forgot? got carried away?

There have been many occasions on which I have had to force myself to swallow critiques that I would dearly have loved to argue with. Or where I longed to stamp up to their door and point out that I knew perfectly well they'd only done the absolute minimum in order to get credit, and I'd be grateful if they left my work alone in future. Etc.

All that achieves, however justified it may seem at the time, is to get YOU the writer a bad reputation. Smile through gritted teeth and complain to your friends instead .

Answering critiquers' questions is another natural impulse I have learnt to quash--it's a question! must answer it! So if you really want me to answer something, please say so .

My tendency is to throw out general rather than individual thanks. Hope that doesn't offend anyone .

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
I just have this image of my father, lying on the coach, moaning in exaggerated misery, "Take care of me, I'm sick!"

But I think that just highlights why you should NOT respond to critiques.

Posted by Heresy (Member # 1629) on :
Lol, thanks for the laugh, Mary. I needed that, since I'm quite ill today and have been all week. I never really intended this thread to get so long, and I'm surprised that it has (Most threads I start last for a few posts and die). Must have touched a few nerves. Of course, that's why I started it, cause someone arguing with critiques touched a nerve with me.
Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
It's because the whole topic of the thread is arguing, so of course it will go forever. I just wish I could start topics that had legs like this.
Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :

Descretion is the better part of valor.

[This message has been edited by Spaceman (edited August 12, 2005).]

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I hardly think of it as "being picked on," but, rather, "defending my stated positions." How can I be sure I'm right if I don't listen to and consider any arguments against? I may even be swayed by the arguments.

Remember, I also consider this a two-way street. If I hand a work to someone for criticism and commentary, when I receive said C & C, I feel it may be necessary to ask for clarification, to explain my choices of story construction...but not to meaninglessly argue petty details.

If someone hands me something for C & C, I feel that someone should respond. I may have misunderstood...I may have been misunderstood...I may need to clarify...I may have been flat-out wrong...I may have written out the C & C too hastily.

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
I actually have a new question to pose.

What do you think of disagreeing with other people's critiques of someone else's work? For example, if on Fragments and Feedback someone said something about a fragment that you completely disagreed with, does it help anyone to say so?

I haven't run across this much here, but on another site I even observed someone "corecting" another person's correct grammar with incorrect grammar! I just didn't know what to say. I hoped that the writer knew they were right, but I know not everyone is that confident.

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
I think it can be useful if one critiquer disagrees with what another critiquer says, as long as the disagreement is expressed politely and not argumentatively and as long as the disagreer supports the disagreement clearly and constructively.

In other words, you can argue with someone else's critique as long as you are very careful about how you do it.

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
How can I be sure I'm right if I don't listen to and consider any arguments against? I may even be swayed by the arguments.

Are you referring to the position you've taken in this argument or to a hypothetical position that you might take in an argument with a critique?

Not that it makes much difference, since I have the answer to both

If you're confident you're right about something, then the argument isn't over whether you'll change your position. It's over whether the other person will change positions. If you're not confident you're right, then don't start an argument over your position.

Now, in a private exchange of messages between yourself and another writer, this means that there is never really room for argument. When I realize that a private exchange is becoming an argument (as opposed to a discussion), I bow out. It means that both parties are closed to the idea of changing positions.

In a public exchange of messages, like this forum, I presume that there may be people who are uncommitted to either position. So an argument isn't completely pointless in this context. It is still not the case that I'd start an argument, but if one starts I don't regard it as pointless to clarify and defend my own position.

To extend that to the current question, I often make statements that contradict another person's critique. Something along the lines of "that was perfectly clear to/fine with me" is the most frequent case. But I don't bother to turn that into an argument, it is simply going to be the case that people disagree about literature. That's what makes literature different from chess, where almost nobody will bother to argue over who won a game unless someone has no knowledge of the basic rules.

Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
I have learned, much to my chagrin, that the times I am absolutely, 99.99% certain I'm right... those are the times that are most likely for me to be wrong. There is nothing quite as embarrasing than to be adamant to the point of rudeness about one's position and to be caught in error. Sorta makes you hesitant about taking an inflexible stance. And, in my case, the more certain I am, the more I acknowledge I could be wrong.

Another thing I've learned over the years: it's better to be kind than to be right.

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Well, the only certainty is, as they say, death and taxes. If I was that sure of myself and my opinions, there'd be no need to look for the opinion of others---and, hence, no need for critics or critiques.

Suffice it to say that I'm looking for confirmation---which is not exclusively somebody saying something I've written or said is wonderful. More likely it'll be something I thought bad, that somebody else agrees with me that it was bad.

More likely yet it'll be something I missed completely. After all, from where I'm sitting, I can't see the back of my head, but maybe somebody else can. Storytelling is like that.

Posted by Kolona (Member # 1438) on :
I haven't really been following any of this, but each time I log onto the Hatrack site, I see this thread growing. Must be a lot of arguing going on about arguing with critiques.
Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
No there isnt...
Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
Is so!
Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
Is not...
Posted by Mystic (Member # 2673) on :
Don't argue with critiques, otherwise get off the board because that is the only real reason to be here, unless you have some wish to argue for the sake of doing so (which I see may be the case on this thread).
Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
Surely no one can consider us an argumentative lot? Perhaps that's the best reason to not argue with a critique... it's a losing battle!

I always keep in mind something that I once read by a politician, which paraphrased went something like this: "For every letter I read, I keep in mind there are a thousand other people who feel the same way but didn't take the time to write."

I feel that percentage is a good measuring stick. For every inconsistency or point of concern that is noticed by your critiquer, there will be a thousand other readers who notice it too. You need to be alert that those points are there.

A critique is just a roadmap to where the bumps are in your text.

Posted by Monolith (Member # 2034) on :
I recently got back a rather harsh critique, however, after carefully rereading what I wrote, I agreed with the critiquer.

Did it hurt my feelings? A bit.
Did it make me open my eyes and carefully look things over? You better believe it.

Would it have helped to argue with the critiquer? No.

The reason I answered 'no' is because, no matter what your feelings are towards your work or what the person said about it, it is what will be seen if your work gets published. And besides, remember, YOU asked for the critique.

This post has bothered me for a bit, but I haven't had the time to respond since, I work a ton.

In the end, I'm just going to say: You ask for an in-depth crit, that's what you're going to get. No need to get personal with responses.

I guess that's all I'm going to say for now.


Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
I recently had a very harsh critique that had many valid points, but also had some comments that showed that person completely missed the point of the story. You take what is valid and reject what is not. You decide what works for you, and the reader decides if it works for the story.
Posted by Kolona (Member # 1438) on :
recently had a very harsh critique that had many valid points, but also had some comments that showed that person completely missed the point of the story. You take what is valid and reject what is not.

Keeping in mind -- and this may or may not be the case here -- that a reader completely missing the point may mean the writer didn't present the point well enough. Sometimes we miss the point of critiques, or even answers to posts in these threads, by assuming we've been perfectly clear, when we haven't. The fault doesn't always lie with the receiver.
Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
If it's one critique of ten, I ignore it. If all the critiques miss the point, then consider it confirmation.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Not a very profound argument, but one that leaves one somehow unable to answer it.
Posted by Smaug (Member # 2807) on :
Back to the original post--I don't normally debate a point if someone crits my stories for me. I may discuss it, and try to tell them what I was attempting, but then I conclude that if they didn't get it, others might not either. That's why I try and have several people give me feedback on any one story--because if the same problems with the story get noticed by more than one person--there's got to be changes made.

On the other hand, a critiquer should keep his or her comments specific to the actual text of the story and not conclude with something like "this story sucked" or "you're a better writer than that" or something similar. To me that's just rudeness and not critiquing. I definitely appreciate someone taking the time to read and critique my story--as a long-time member of a critique group, I know how much work is involved. However, it should be left at critiquing the particulars of the story and not a generalized "you suck" kind of statement.


Posted by Pyre Dynasty (Member # 1947) on :
There is something I saw in a dumb movie once that I think belongs here. A writer was trying to explain something in his story and the other person (I assume he was an editor) pointed to the writer's mouth and said "Don't tell me here," then he moved his finger to the manuscript and said, "tell me here."
Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
that is *exactly* it.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
Oh no, what sin have we committed now? Why is this thread back to haunt us? We plead for mercy and forgiveness...wait a second, why am I saying this? I loved this thread
Posted by pantros (Member # 3237) on :
/whistles innocently, looks away.

Next week I should have more actual work to keep me from spending too much time here

Posted by Paul-girtbooks (Member # 2799) on :
Actually, I,m glad Kathleen bumped it or else I wouldn't have come across this thread otherwise.

I would like to think that I am very receptive to critiques, namely because I am coming to the conclusion that I'm really not much of a stylist, but mostly because I always recognized that editing was my weakness. Instead of cutting 10 percent from a first draft, like you're supposed to, I was more likely to add 10 percent, if not more!

I almost always incorporate the cuts that are suggested to me, simply because I read these comments and think, "Duh! this person is so right! Why didn't I see that!?"

Immediately upon becoming a member of this site I also joined up to one of the private critique groups (Hatrack_group2). My first submission was a 7,800 word short story. This story was originally 10,800 words, but earlier in the year a deleted an entire middle travelog section of 2000 words. I then edited the remaining 8,800 down to 7,800. I was pleased; I thought, damn, that's the first time I've really put on my editor's hat. Then I sent it to the group.

They liked it. One woman in particular, Gina, did an amazing line it on it. It was, of course, headlined with the usual disclaimer, i.e. this is all IMHO.

What did I do? Hell, I enacted every one of her cuts, all 300 words of them, and then came up with an additional 100 of my own. Was that painful to do? Nope, because she made a good story far better than I thought it could ever be. The result? The story is now 7,400 word. A total cut, including my own initial edit, of 3,400 words.

Since joining Hatrack some two and a half months ago this has been the greating gift that I've received from it: editting.

Thanx, guys!

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
GZ really has a masterful sense of wordcraft and evocative prose. Her sense of story isn't half bad either. You're getting some high quality help there.

That isn't always the case with critiques, but the main thing is to find the helpful bits and let the rest go.

Posted by abby (Member # 2681) on :
I think it helps a lot if critiquers know the genre of the story, ot story type of some sort. For instance at a flash contest I accidentally wrote a classic ghost story. My mistake, as the reading audience is expecting fiction, not a ghost story, so they all say I didn't tell it was a ghost soon enough. In most classic ghost tales, you don't know its a ghost till the end, and the place that seemed alive, well, everyone else knew it was deserted for years, and it suddenly reverts back to deserted. I think I will look for some critiquers who wnjoy reading mysteries, that isn't exaclty what I write, but it is closer.

So, the hardest part is finding critquers who recognize the type of writing you do. There was a few good comments in there, but most, well, would have deleted the story to one sentence if implemented. One day I may do a one sentence story just to prove how boreing it can be. With the actual story already written, and let them compare to decide which they would rather read.

[This message has been edited by abby (edited October 22, 2005).]

Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
Instead of cutting 10 percent from a first draft, like you're supposed to, I was more likely to add 10 percent, if not more

Just because Stephen King says this is right doesn't make it so for you. He only knows how to write Stephen King books. It could be that your first draft is just a skeleton and you need to flesh it out. On the other hand, a lot of writers (probably most) do drop in a lot of verbage that isn't needed.

Posted by keldon02 (Member # 2398) on :
I think there are levels of critique and we need to make sure we don't end up arguing on one level when we agree on three other levels. This would tend to discourage both the writer and those trying to help.

My harp discussion with Survivor was a good example. I got sidetracked and focussed on trying to convince him until I realized that he wasn't talking so much about the validity of the idea so much as the reader's perception of validity based on my inept style presenting it.


Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
The fact that I was harping on the particular word "harp" also had it's place in that conversation
Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
<don't feed the troll ... don't feed the troll...>

Just in case he's not one, I'll say: it's also a very effective way of ensuring people stop offering you critiques. That's all I intend to say on the matter.

Posted by trailmix (Member # 4440) on :
To discuss, disagree and debate, are not the same thing as arguing.
Posted by trailmix (Member # 4440) on :
If you beleive argue means the same thing as debate, then we may just be in agreement.

The sole purpose for me posting on the F & F topic string is for people to ask questions that I haven't thought of yet. It allows me to make the world or story more 3-D. The correction in grammar is great too but that is more of a bonus.

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
The rules here are that you either ask for clarification from someone who has given feedback (because you didn't understand what the feedback meant) or you say, "thank you for the feedback."

You do not explain what you meant in your 13 lines.

You do not disagree with the feedback.

You do not say anything else about your 13 lines unless you would like to know if anyone would like to see more of your story in email.

If, in the feedback, someone asks questions about your 13 lines, you may ask if they really want you to answer (they may have just asked those questions so you would know what was unclear in your 13 lines). If they say they really want you to answer, then you may answer.

If you would like feedback on what you are trying to do with your story (because your 13 lines didn't do what you had hoped they would do), you may ask if anyone is willing to brainstorm with you on your story. We tend to be lenient about brainstorming, but that's because we don't really consider it actually arguing with feedback.

I hope that helps clarify things.

Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
A critique is not a debate, nor is it an argument. Apples and oranges, my friend.

You write. The reader reads and forms an opinion. The critique is merely feedback of the reader's observation: "You lost me/confused me/I thought this was good." What you do with that information is up to you.

Fortunately, we have two forums to provide a platform for BOTH critique and debate. F&F is for critique. If you want to debate, there is always the Open Discussion on Writing forum. Two separate forums because they are two separate things.

Posted by Chaldea (Member # 4707) on :
I don't know if anyone said this already:

If two or more people are saying the same thing about your work, a passage, a chapter or whatever, then it bears looking into for changes/additions/staying the same. If one person contributes a singular opinion, not echoed by anyone else, take it with a grain of salt and carry on.

Arguing is pointless. You are asking for a person's opinion. Why would you want to negate that? You will not get the chance to explain your work to the reading public. If it isn't clear, informative, well crafted, you are getting help to make it so. The constructive criticism isn't a personal attack. Sheesh! New writers are vulnerable, feel attacked, sabotaged, fear for the lives of their new-born babes, and wanting to protect them, lash out in argument when they could be spending their time making their writing stronger. Arguing merely wastes time that one could be learning.

Here on the forums we get free advice. I'm sure all of us are aware of the big bucks to get it otherwise.

[This message has been edited by Chaldea (edited January 22, 2007).]

Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
Stateman, I understand the purpose you intend; you wish MORE feedback than a general critique provides.

The solution is to join a writing group. F&F is NOT the appropriate forum for a debate on your writing.

A writing group has several advantages: once you get to know the others in your group, they will often provide more detailed critique and be open to the sort of questions you have about your work.

Just as a critique is more helpful if the critic is specific ("This didn't work for me because..."), so do you need to be very specific in your questions as you attempt to clarify your writing. In my writing group, if someone suggested something wasn't working, we generally felt free to say: "Here is my intention and what I was trying to accomplish... do you think it would work better if I did XYZ?"

The trick here is that DEBATE is normally confrontational. You need to avoid being confrontational or argumentative. Honest and polite questioning opens doors. Debate and argument -- within the context of a critique -- shut them down. In other words, while it may be your intention of "delving deeper at unprecidented level" you are going about it wrong if you choose debate as the avenue to make that happen. If you truly want to dissect your work, you need first of all to open your mind to the possibility there is a different way.

As I said earlier, critique and debate are apples and oranges. If you want the "juice" out of the opportunity, use critique as a juicer. Debate is like using a sledgehammer. Yes, you might get some juice, but it's not likely to be very useful and you will destroy more than you gain in the process.

Now I've given you an honest and polite "critique" on your approach. However, I've "debated" this topic long enough. Take what you can use from my suggestions and leave the rest. Any further argument will not benefit ME, so I choose to no longer participate.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited January 22, 2007).]

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
Elan, I suggest you read more of Statesman's posts before you claim to understand his motives.
Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
I was taking him at face value, based on the most recent comment in this thread. I don't see any particular benefit for myself to research all of his past posts -- or anyone else's, for that matter -- in order to respond to a single comment. I reiterated my understanding of his comment: he wants more feedback than he's getting in F&F critiques. Any deeper meaning than that seems... well, it seems not worth my limited time to microanalyze.
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
This thread is about a thousand years old but far be it from me to let it lie in peaceful retirement And I'm not sure how the heck the quote mechanism works here, but...

ChrisOwens said: "Currently, I'm a dedicated 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 actually wanted to chat about it. If he felt I was offbase about something, I wanted to know."

This is precisely what I, as writer, need from a critical reader. Whine and gripe about stuff, and I'll respond (and maybe object), but my response grows into what's needed to fix whatever ails my writing, and your discussion back at me helps that. It's a feedback loop and the critter is part of that, or they're not really useful to me. Generally I already know what's wrong; what I need is a two-way sounding board to initialize that part of my brain that does the fixing.

Or to put it another way, while the one-way impersonality of the formal crit can be highly educational, it doesn't *inspire* the way discussion with a Wise Reader does.

Posted by Brad R Torgersen (Member # 8211) on :
It's been said before, but the reader's reaction is never "wrong.' Thus arguing for a better reaction and/or against a poor reaction is generally not going to work. Which is not to say YOU as the creator of a piece of work should take that and set it up as gospel. Reader and critiquer impressions are subjective. Just because someone doesn't like your piece or picks it apart doesn't mean it's bad.
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
Yep, until we find a way to wire our writing directly into the readers' brains -- they see what they see. I've had a couple of seriously WTF experiences with that myself... long time ago, I wrote a little sonnet that was just a straightforward condensation of a minor fantasy novel, with absolutely no other intent. Readers (including one who knew I'm an atheist) almost uniformly interpreted it as having all sorts of deep religious symbolism!!

I still find the most useful part of a critique to be the discussion afterward, tho. I intended this; why do you see that instead? If I alter this part, does it change how you see it? Hmm, now I don't like it, sorry if you prefer it that way... or Eureka, this made a big difference, I'm glad we hashed it out all the way to the end.

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Well, there can be a big difference between arguing with a critiquer and asking for clarification or brainstorming or additional feedback on changes, etc.
Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :
I agree with Kathleen. And I admit I have done both. Actually, in the majority of the few times I have felt like arguing I didn't. But boy have I felt like it once or twice.

[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited December 21, 2010).]

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