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.
Posts: 2 | Registered: Aug 2010
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.
Posts: 3567 | Registered: May 2003
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.
Posts: 2026 | Registered: Mar 2005
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.
Posts: 293 | Registered: Apr 2003
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).]
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.
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.
Posts: 1750 | Registered: Oct 2004
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.
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).]
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.
Posts: 233 | Registered: Jul 2005
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.
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.
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.
quote: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.
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! )
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.
Posts: 2 | Registered: Aug 2010
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posts: 2026 | Registered: Mar 2005
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.
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).]
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.
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.
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 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.
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 .
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.
Posts: 293 | Registered: Apr 2003
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 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.
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.