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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Is a negative reaction better than no reaction at all?

   
Author Topic: Is a negative reaction better than no reaction at all?
LucyintheSky
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So, is a strong, visceral, negative reaction to a story better than no reaction at all?

I recently wrote a story that received immediate, passionate, but negative responses from my cold reader. He doesn't talk about or criticize my actual writing in any way; he's too wrapped up in outrage at my story.

It got me wondering. Clearly my subject matter and my treatment of it affronted him. The email goes on and on ... and on. But isn't such a strong response better than apathy?

Clearly I made this reader feel something intense, and that's good, but ... I don't want to turn readers off ... that's bad!

I keep getting caught in circular logic, so I thought I'd open the topic up for discussion.


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dreadlord
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it seems to me that you probably just hit a wrong nerve with this guy. he didnt go into ANY detail about the story? e-mail the guy back, asking just what exactly it was about the story that got him angry. a negative response is better than no response at all, (unless the negative response offers the alternative carreer of flipping burgers...) because a negative response (generally) tells you exactly what it was about your writing that got the big no.
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TaleSpinner
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In an Analog editorial some while ago, Stan Schmidt said that Ben Bova had told him that the best stories generate strong reactions, both positive and negative.

I have one like that; while some people seem to like it, others are outraged by the morally questionable tactics of the main characters. I've decided I like it and that if it upsets some people, then maybe the characters are believable, for readers would not be upset by cardboard characters.

So maybe your reader's strong reaction is a good thing. Can you get more readers for it, perhaps in the appropriate F&F thread?


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LucyintheSky
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Well no, his comments about my mechanics were all vaguely complimentary, in this sort of way:

"There is clearly a lot of native ability at work here and it's a shame to see it so underutilized in this way, on this material."

and there was this one:

"If the goal here was to create a sort of anti-storytelling, then I think the author has succeeded admirably."

and this one:

"I think I'd like to read something else by this author that's a little less hell-bent on breaking the spell."


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satate
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That's ridiculous. Those comments are just rude. I can't imagine any piece of fiction writing being so awful as to merit that kind of reaction. I would never have that person read my stuff again and get another reader.
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rich
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There's a lot of bad fiction writing that merits those types of reactions, or stronger.

However, I don't see those comments as being particularly rude or beyond the pale, or even indicative of LucyintheSky's abilities as a writer. I think he's just underwhelmed and a little outraged that the writer's talents weren't properly utilized for that particular story.

I also don't think this is the kind of reaction Ben Bova was talking about. As TaleSpinner said, it's a reaction, positive or negative, about the characters, not "anti-storytelling".

Don't change readers, LucyintheSky, but I'd be curious as to what exactly he took offense at, other than "this material"? What was the subject matter, and what about the treatment of it that caused the strong reaction?


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Robert Nowall
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Sometimes I wish I could write something that offends that deeply...well, at least outside of political commentary...

In the days when I was writing Internet Fan Fiction, there was a story circulating that drew these incredibly passionate reactions, pro and con. (In fact, the argument was still percolating here-and-there when I finally left the field, some four years after I started.)

The story involved a rape, and, it seemed to me, a lot of the "con" point of view confused writing about rape with rape itself. In addition, there was a lot of denigrating of the story, the writer, and anybody who took a "pro" position.

Now, I know you can't expect professional responses from the fanfic field---I found that amateurishness part of its charm, actually---but, I gather, published stories in the SF field have provoked similar responses.

I gather, back in the 1950s, there was a fairly long argument over the merits of Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations." I don't want to spoil it for any of you who haven't read it---you all should have---but the argument raged over the laws of physics and whether something that was done in the story had to be done or could have been avoided. Eventually, the argument pushed on to other issues, and there were accusations that Godwin had lifted the basic idea from a comic book published a few years earlier. (Kill the message, kill the messenger.)

Were these stories good? "The Cold Equations" has lingered with me since I read it, though I never thought I particularly cared for it. That Internet Fanfic story I mentioned has stayed with me---I liked it enough to mail the writer a lengthy unsolicited critique---and practically set off my own fanfic career.

I'd suggest, LucyintheSky, that if any story you've written provokes that kind of reaction, you may be on to something.


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Zero
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Does he have very specific reasons for disliking it? Like a plot outcome didn't happen the way he wanted, or he just couldn't identify with any of the characters?
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Owasm
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As a reader, a strong negative reaction might make me cross the author off of my reading list if it isn't balanced somewhere in the rest of the story.

If your intent is to shock, then you can become identified with it. I think Harlan Ellison is a case in point for me. I can't remember what I read of his, but I was so put off, I never read another thing he wrote.

In my experience it all depends on context.


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satate
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I think a piece of fiction can create very strong negative reactions, whether that makes it good I don't know. I just think those comments are phrased cruely and it's not necessary to use backhanded compliments when offering comment or critique on an author's work.
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LucyintheSky
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Nothing he said offended me. I've got thick skin, and if I ask for an honest reaction, I should be prepared for what I get. I was more surprised than anything. I knew the story wasn't a happy tale, but I had never considered myself much of a shock artist. I've never approved of scandal for the the sake of being scandalous. I'm a little shocked myself that the first time I venture towards a mildly taboo subject, I get this kind of reaction! My worry is exactly what Owasm articulated. Although this:
quote:
I think a piece of fiction can create very strong negative reactions, whether that makes it good I don't know.

has been on my mind as well.

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satate
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On second thought, you must have engaged him. Books that havae made me mad have characters that I love and then the author does something stupid with them. One that made me made was a love story about a husband and wife and in the end the husband dies but there's no reason for it. I think the author just wanted to write sequels with the wife and be able to use different guys. I loved the story until the end. Stories that are just bad never engage me enough to care.
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dee_boncci
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I think the answer lies in the source of the negative reaction.

If the negative response was based on an emotional reaction to to the story characters and events, as in, for example, relatively famous works like Lolita or Ulysses that offended morals, then it could be a good thing from an artistic perspective. The story itself evoked the emotions.

If the negative reaction was based on the reader feeling duped somehow, or her/his time was wasted, etc., then it's probably not so good. The quality (lack of, actually) of the story evoked the emotions.

And it could be relatively neutral if the simple existence of the subject matter caused the angst. The story might have had nothing to do with it.

Of course, any single opinion by itself should be regarded with caution.

[This message has been edited by dee_boncci (edited February 26, 2009).]


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rich
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What exactly was the taboo subject? The comments from him that were posted didn't indicate one way or the other if he was offended by the subject matter or the writing. I'm not sure what he meant by "anti-storytelling".

Any hints on what he was talking about? Or what the subject matter was?

By the way, in my opinion, nothing is taboo. I've been told on more than one occasion that I'm a sick puppy, and though they may be right, there is nothing that is forbidden to write about. Absolutely nothing.

And lest that means that I'm in favor of stuff like NAMBLA fiction, or shock for shock's sake, I'm not. There must be a point in tackling a taboo subject as opposed to just writing about it for a gross out factor.


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extrinsic
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quote:
"There is clearly a lot of native ability at work here and it's a shame to see it so underutilized in this way, on this material."

and there was this one:

"If the goal here was to create a sort of anti-storytelling, then I think the author has succeeded admirably."

and this one:

"I think I'd like to read something else by this author that's a little less hell-bent on breaking the spell."



The issue I see with those excerpts is that the responder criticizes the writer, does not analyze the story's failings or story qualities, which both breach the tacit contract between a writer and a reader-critiquer. Browbeating with written word is still browbeating; "to imtimidate or disconcert by a stern manner or arrogant speech" (Webster's 11th), an attack upon a person. Also, those excerpts read more like what I'd expect a neophyte restaurant critic to say in the lifestyles section of a bourgeoisie newspaper about a restaurant experience.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited February 26, 2009).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I agree with extrinsic. The quoted comments don't say very much about the writing, but they do say things about the writer. Feedback like that is no help at all, because it doesn't provide any constructive comments on the writing.

The purpose of a critique is to help the writer turn the manuscript (the words on paper or screen) into the best vehicle possible for conveying the story (which is what is in the writer's head) to the reader.

Feedback that doesn't help the words on paper/screen do a better job of recreating the writer's story in the reader's head is not worth worrying about.

The quotes above say more about the critiquer than they do about the work.


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LucyintheSky
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I don't mean to be cryptic about the story and its subject matter, but I wrote it for TaleSpinner's current writing challenge, as per the decree of the Witch o' Words . Once the cat's out of the bag everyone can feel free to throw stones my way. Although now I'm so nervous about this dang story that I kind of want to bury it, and myself, under a rock for a while.
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C L Lynn
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Please, don't bury it or yourself! This thread has provided you an excellent ... advertisement? I think everyone who's read the thread will be interested in looking into this story now. Personally, I'd enjoy providing you a far more constructive critique. Now I wish I'd taken part in the Witch o' Words. Bummer.

Just stick it out. No doubt this critiquer had some serious personal issues and vented on you.


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LucyintheSky
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Advertisement? For crying out loud! Guess I have once again proved that I have a talent for exacerbating my own problems.

I don't think I'm cut out for scandal.


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melme54
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I know I'm intrigued what all the hullabaloo is about... Can't wait!
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Greenscreen
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Where do the Wotch O Words go?

Also I would have to agree, critique is about writing, not to degrade the writer. The writer undoubtedly has potential, but needs to be offered outside opinions about how effectively the story is written to convey it's intent to it's readers. If that makes sense.


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LucyintheSky
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Hey, I just wanted to thank everyone in this thread for helping me through my ... um ... literary issues. haha. Results are in: some loved it, some hated it, and some can't decide. The story is a retelling of Cinderella, sans fairytale ending. Anyone who is still curious enough to want to read it is welcome! And by the way - I already knew there were a lot of talented writers here at Hatrack, but WOW! There were some incredible stories in TS's challenge.

[This message has been edited by LucyintheSky (edited March 22, 2009).]


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