So I took a WIP story that so far has received very positive feedback from readers here and on two other websites I participate to my live critique group today. I was a little nervous bringing it to this group because they really don't read much SFF, and the feedback was really mixed. The only published author in our group was pretty negative, and the guy who is always negative, was well, negative.
So I'm really at a loss, I was very confident about this piece until today, but I don't know if the problem is the story or the fact that I put it in front of people who don't read SFF. A negative critique doesn't usually sit with me for very long, but this one bugs me.
Anyone else have this kind of experience, where they got positive feedback from people familiar with SFF, but negative from those who are not?
Ignore the non SFF folks. There are genre conventions and expectations that are sometimes lost on others.
Unless they gave you some really great points about grammar that you had previously been unaware of, there's no problem with putting aside some critiques and paying attention to others. Don't doubt yourself because of some critiques. Writer's groups are notorious for having a few bitter writers in them who think everyone else's writing is crap. I like my writer's group because we're a Writing Support Group - critiques are extra and only on request (we can read a piece and say we're looking for crits or looking just for people to enjoy it, our choice. People only bring in other writing to crit every few meetings.)
At any rate, my opinion is that there are definite genre conventions about SFF that people who don't read it don't get, and thus their feedback is off a bit. It's okay to ignore that kind of feedback, and feedback that just takes off in a different direction than you want to go with your story. Your story, you decide!
I took a story to a group of writers who didn't read SFF and asked for feedback. All they could say was that it seemed derivative of STAR WARS (which happened to be in the movie theaters at the time--so you can imagine how long ago this was).
They were correct that it was derivative, but it was a Darkover story (Marion Zimmer Bradley's world) that I had planned to submit to her for a Darkover anthology she was doing.
But all they knew was STAR WARS, so they were totally unable to give me any useful feedback at all.
Needless to say, I never bothered with that group again for anything related to SFF.
I got the same thing from my recent creative writing class. Well it's wasn't negative per say, but the feedback showed that they didn't really get it. (That group was a little too polite in my opinion.) Don't worry too much about it. (Unless your goal is accessibility to non-SF readers.)
Also beware of the 'only published author in the group.' Sometimes a little success can go to a person's head and they begin to think that every idea they have is anointed. Contrast it with here where we have many published writers, some of them quite successful, but they realize that they still have things to learn.
Thank you everyone for your encouraging words, i do feel better now. Thanks KDW for sharing your experience, I think I've come to the same conclusion for this group. In my case the particular thing that was bugging me is that the person said the story was having an identity crisis because it was both funny and serious, and I don't see why that is a problem. Posts: 1020 | Registered: Jul 2010
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My experience was fairly similar as an undergraduate thirty years ago: many, including southern author John Yount were anti-genre. If it wasn't "real", it wasn't "writing." However, many were open to my novice attempts at writing, particularly author Thomas Williams (who was Stephen King's mentor and became mine)recognizing and helping me on the basics: narrative, voice, character, conflict: choosing the best words and phrasing for each and tying them together.
My experience is there are as many genre snobs as literary snobs. Recognize them, but listen to everyone willing to comment on your stories. They are all potential audience.
But, in the end, at least in my opinion, writing is a personal experience and exercise. Do bot lose the "you" in your art, for then it is not yours, not unique.
Osiris, I've read your stuff, you're a good writer. Trust your instincts.
I'll add though, is he the only one who said something like that? My rule of thumb for critiques is that at least two people have to say something before I consider it a major point (preferably three, because then I really know I screwed it up). Any singular comments I look at and ask whether there is a truth to it that resonates with me, or if I think they have given me a better idea. If this is a singular comment, then really don't worry about it.
The story I'm working on now has gotten exactly opposite comments on the same bits. It seems what resonates for some, grates on others. Some stories garner stronger reactions than others just by their nature.
And remember, non-genre readers aren't necessarily snobs; they just have a different set of expectations when they're reading. If it's resonating with your intended audience, trust it.
From the non-genre readers, I've gotten responses on my work ranging from "great, brilliant," to "stinks," along with some who I thought missed the point altogether---and many "I didn't understand this at all"s. But I've also gotten some detailed stuff that was useful. (Most of this was when I passed around some SF-derived Internet Fan Fiction for comments---they knew The Series, of course, but not much about SF---or writing, some of 'em.)
I'm of the school of thought that says, if you like some particular thing in your work, leave it in, no matter what---unless someone's waving a huge check in your face if you make changes. Take all crticism with a grain of salt, then follow your own feelings.
I recently encountered some advice on this with respect to SF which I thought quite valuable. An SF story - obviously - consists of its integral 'SFness', which is what the readers mentioned above have had problems with. But it also consists of good old-fashioned prose.
So the advice was: Give your SF story to your non-SF reader with the explicit request they critique only the prose.
They're the ideal reader for that type of reading: They aren't going to be distracted by worldbuilding or wow-factor or other special effects. They're not the reader to tell you whether the story 'worked' for them. But they are a reader who can spot a grammar mistake in the middle of that intense action scene where your hero is single-handedly taking on that entire rogue battlefleet... because all your SF readers are likely honing in on the action at that stage and completely ignoring the typos and other mistakes.
The approach BenM mentions is the one I take. Eight years ago I joined a writing group, being the only speculative fiction writer there. When I submit a story to them, they critique the prose. They might say if I managed to suspend their disbelief or whatnot, but really, all fiction needs strong characters, and conflict, etc. I still belong to that writing group, and they give me awesome feedback about the actual mechanics of the story. I'm very lucky to have them, because I also find it valuable to have someone outside the genre read my stuff. They can tell me if I am a good writer, no matter what genre I am writing in. They can still tell me if it is a good story or not. I just go into it know ing that they don't know the specifics of writing speculative fiction.