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).]
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.
[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).]
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.
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).]
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.
[This message has been edited by Netstorm2k (edited January 11, 2005).]
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.
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.
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.
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).]
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).]
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.
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).]
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.
I know I hate opening attachments and figure most others do as well.
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."
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).]
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.
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.
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.
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).]
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.
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.
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).]
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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 critiquers...to 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
OK. I'm glad you've made your position clear.
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.
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.
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..
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.
But all right, it sounds as if that isn't what you meant.
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.
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.
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
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).]
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).]
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.)
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.
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.)
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?
"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
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.
The writer is always right, and the reader is never wrong. Eventually you will learn that aguments between the two are always pointless.
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).]
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.
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.
[This message has been edited by Spaceman (edited August 09, 2005).]
And as a comment on the side note, my friends would never have moved back to point A.
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.
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.
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.
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! )
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).]
[This message has been edited by NewsBys (edited August 11, 2005).]
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.
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.
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 critique...it'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.
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.
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 .
But I think that just highlights why you should NOT respond to critiques.
Descretion is the better part of valor.
[This message has been edited by Spaceman (edited August 12, 2005).]
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 respond...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.
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.
In other words, you can argue with someone else's critique as long as you are very careful about how you do it.
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.
Another thing I've learned over the years: it's better to be kind than to be right.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next week I should have more actual work to keep me from spending too much time here
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.
That isn't always the case with critiques, but the main thing is to find the helpful bits and let the rest go.
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).]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).]
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).]
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.
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.
[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited December 21, 2010).]