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brianm
07-10-2006, 01:10 AM
I'm not sure if this is where this thread should be, but I wanted to touch on the subject. Please feel free to move it if I have started it in the wrong area. That said...

Through my life I have learned to gleen something positive that makes me grow as a person/artist from good and bad critics. You are never as good as the great critique and never as bad as the really horrid one.

But, in AW, we are here to support and give constructive critiques to help our fellow writers become the best they can be as writers.

However, I have noticed in AW that there are members who just want to see their own writings and make smartass comments when they do a critique. That's not constructive. And it only makes you, the long-winded smartass, look immature and unprofessional.

I am not starting this thread because of things said about my work. It's just an overview of what I have seen while reading critiques on AW.

Forgive the title... I meant to write "Being a critic..." Is there a way to go back and correct the spelling?

SpookyWriter
07-10-2006, 01:17 AM
Forgive the title...I just realized I meant it to read..."Being a critic..." and have no idea how to correct the spelling.Personally, I think the title speaks volumes for what you've expressed about yourself, others, and attitude so far. :)

brianm
07-10-2006, 01:26 AM
How do you correct a word in a title?

veinglory
07-10-2006, 01:33 AM
I think that if you want to suggest people be more constructive in critiques you should make an effort to express this in a constructive way yourself. For example by suggesting what makes for a useful critique and opening a disucssion. If a person really is making a smart *** comment, report it to a moderator. however as a reader of the critique forums nothing egregious comes to mind from recent days.

My perspective is this. Critiques are gifts. if you don't like the gift you are given thank the giver anyway and throw it out when they aren't looking.

veinglory
07-10-2006, 01:34 AM
How do you correct a word in a title?

You can't. Don't worry about it--the point is still clear.

Dawno
07-10-2006, 01:46 AM
Forgive the title... I meant to write "Being a critic..." Is there a way to go back and correct the spelling?

I fixed it for you :)

brianm
07-10-2006, 01:53 AM
Thank you, Dawno.

Okay, Veinglory... I'll give you two examples.

1) When you notice a word that is not spelled correctly, politely point it out. Dont make a smartass comment about it. More than likely it will be picked up in spellcheck anyway.

2) When you don't think a passage or paragraph works... don't write your own version of it. Suggest what the writer might do to make it work better. Let the writer re-write or not re-write the part that bothers you. A one word change is fine but re-writing the entire thing in your words doesn't help that person.

That's two examples I have seen while reading critiques.

MidnightMuse
07-10-2006, 02:12 AM
I agree with Veinglory's statement - if someone is bothering to even comment at all on your work, regardless of what they're saying (unless they're being intentionally rude, and in that case report it) then you thank them for their comments, and take or leave what they've offered.

Gillhoughly
07-10-2006, 02:16 AM
If a person really is making a smart *** comment, report it to a moderator.

Indeed.

Immediately after my very first posting on AW I got a snarky message about it from a member that was clearly intended to take me down a peg. While the others on the thread were polite--and I even got my 1st rep point from one--this person had issues. (Heck, she had whole subscriptions!)

After checking her other posts I noticed her own were usually pointless negative reactions rather than anything approaching helpful hints. I thought I should report it, but decided belt up and shrug it off, since the source obviously had more problems than I do.

One may do the same thing concerning snarky feedback. Shark tanks can get ugly, but I only listen if and when that person has something useful to impart. You can usually tell who's had a bad day and wants to take it out on others.

Heh--I was in a critique circle where I gave a number of suggestions to a member who nodded and took notes. His stuff needed a lot of work. When my turn came around his highly offended wife avenged his honor by trashing my piece up one end and down the other--the only one in the group to do so. I had a good laugh afterward and added her to my "character collection."

Sooner or later she'll be in one of my books.

She ain't gonna like it. :tongue

Siddow
07-10-2006, 02:28 AM
Some critiques are golden; some are useless. I'm actually drifting away from getting crits at all. I had one girl go through a chapter of mine and insert about forty instances of 'that'. I haven't read the crits here, but just like in most online groups, I can imagine there's some good with the bad. You just have to decide which to pay attention to.

brianm
07-10-2006, 02:28 AM
I think you're missing the point. I didn't bring this up because I am having trouble dealing with those forms of comments. I have no trouble ignoring them and was taught long before AW to always be polite.

I was making an observation in the hopes that those people might learn from it. If you just ignore bad behavior it will never be corrected.

veinglory
07-10-2006, 02:32 AM
People who behave badly normally don't believe they are behaving badly--so vague condemnations tend to pass them by. Also there is a wide range where offense my be taken without any malacious intention on the poster's part.

Yes, in general critiques should be given with consideration, but I am not sure that a general complaint helps that to occur?

Siddow
07-10-2006, 02:32 AM
I think you're missing the point. I didn't bring this up because I am having trouble dealing with those forms of comments. I have no trouble ignoring them and was taught long before AW to always be polite.

I was making an observation in the hopes that those people might learn from it. If you just ignore bad behavior it will never be corrected.

Then why not address this privately with those whom you find offensive? If you're not willing to do that, then why bring it up at all? Do you think that the writers recieving these crits need your help for their own egos? Send the writer an encouraging note.

writeorwrong
07-10-2006, 02:53 AM
Then why not address this privately with those whom you find offensive? If you're not willing to do that, then why bring it up at all? Do you think that the writers recieving these crits need your help for their own egos? Send the writer an encouraging note.

I tend to agree... the overwhelming number of crits I see here are encouraging and offer productive suggestions. The act of sharing your work implies you are open to criticism of it. I'm not so enamored of my own work that I expect others to feel the same. I don't want anyone sneezing roses for me to protect my feelings, because agents and editors surely won't.

veinglory
07-10-2006, 02:56 AM
I think that a level of courtesy is still required and some people confuse honesty with rude-ness, but the only way to deal with it is case by case IMHO.

brianm
07-10-2006, 03:21 AM
Yes, the vast majority are wonderful and very helpful. I'm sorry I brought this thread up, because apparently you think I am condeming the majority of members here. I am not. If it sounded that way, then I apoligise for it was neither my intent nor my belief. Nor will I go private with people I find offensive. If they get truly offensive, the mods can deal with them. Nor do I think by starting this thread I am helping other writers with their ego problems. Silly notion.

It was an observation of what a few people do and I hoped one of them might read this thread and learn from it. I will keep my observations to myself in the future as I have apparently offended a number of you. That was not my intent.

SpookyWriter
07-10-2006, 04:04 AM
I don't see a lot of offensive remarks here or in the initial thread, but the vague complaint is in of itself a poorly constructed criticism of what you began in the original issue.

Be succinct and get to the point helps to clarify your themes, stories, or other methods of communicating.

I don't think a "I hope the person is reading this..." helps the intended audience or other writers to become aware of insensitive critiques.

There are guidelines to critique other writers work. Point these out in the future and remind the person to follow the guidelines or refrain from offering criticism.

Jamesaritchie
07-10-2006, 05:04 AM
Thank you, Dawno.

Okay, Veinglory... I'll give you two examples.

1) When you notice a word that is not spelled correctly, politely point it out. Dont make a smartass comment about it. More than likely it will be picked up in spellcheck anyway.

2) When you don't think a passage or paragraph works... don't write your own version of it. Suggest what the writer might do to make it work better. Let the writer re-write or not re-write the part that bothers you. A one word change is fine but re-writing the entire thing in your words doesn't help that person.

That's two examples I have seen while reading critiques.

When you put a story up for critique, you'll get all kinds. The smart move is to use the good ones and ignore the bad. Anything else just starts feuds. No one has to believe anything in a critique. Just ignore the bad ones, move on, and skip posts from that critiquer in the future.

But I'll disagree with one thing. Sometimes rewriting a passage can help a writer a great deal. Sometimes an insight comes that the writer can't get any other way. I've rewritten the passages of others, and I've had other rewrite my passages. It's a good thing, if you don't get insulted by it.

It's common practice in many high end writing courses because it can work extremely well, just as it works well to rewrite passages from the works of famous writers.

veinglory
07-10-2006, 05:12 AM
if the typo is funny I have no problem with a well-meanign aside (and if someone donates their time to help me out well-meaning is assumed). I welcome rewrites--why not? I don't have to use the suggestion and it does nothing to erase the original? There are no hard and fast rules.

I would suggest that people looking for specific types of feedback make the request when they post.

SpookyWriter
07-10-2006, 05:32 AM
When you put a story up for critique, you'll get all kinds. The smart move is to use the good ones and ignore the bad. Anything else just starts feuds. No one has to believe anything in a critique. Just ignore the bad ones, move on, and skip posts from that critiquer in the future.

Hi James,

I would like to add to your comments, if you wouldn't mind. I mentioned earlier that there are guidelines for criticism. I hope people use them when reading other writers work. I feel it is important to guage a story on the essential elements and avoid the subjective assessments when possible.

Did the story work for you?
Did you feel like the characters were believable?
Did you feel the protagonist overcame some conflict?
Did the writer have a well-defined plot or was it vague?
Etc.

I do believe that if the person doing the critique followings a simple outline then they should be about to offer valid constructs to what makes the story or what fails.

Subjective criticism is always difficult to accept and understand because the reader might not like the story or isn't enthused enough to read it completely and offer any substantive advice to help the writer.

But the whole idea of offering a critique is to help the writer in areas where they could use improvement and offer praise for areas that were successful.

Just my two kopec...

Jamesaritchie
07-10-2006, 05:48 AM
Hi James,

I would like to add to your comments, if you wouldn't mind. I mentioned earlier that there are guidelines for criticism. I hope people use them when reading other writers work. I feel it is important to guage a story on the essential elements and avoid the subjective assessments when possible.

Did the story work for you?
Did you feel like the characters were believable?
Did you feel the protagonist overcame some conflict?
Did the writer have a well-defined plot or was it vague?
Etc.

I do believe that if the person doing the critique followings a simple outline then they should be about to offer valid constructs to what makes the story or what fails.

Subjective criticism is always difficult to accept and understand because the reader might not like the story or isn't enthused enough to read it completely and offer any substantive advice to help the writer.

But the whole idea of offering a critique is to help the writer in areas where they could use improvement and offer praise for areas that were successful.

Just my two kopec...

Oh, I agree with the guidelines and the purpose, but I know many aren't going to follow them. It's best and easiest to just ignore those who do not. When someone gives you an unreasonable critique, when they're nasty instead of helpful, just ignore them. Skip their critiques in the future.

I've also found it's best not to critique a story you hate, or one you don't think you can help. There's really no point in ripping a story to shreds, in being nasty. It helps no one. There's no point in trying to critique a story you hate for whatever reason.

SpookyWriter
07-10-2006, 05:55 AM
Oh, I agree with the guidelines and the purpose, but I know many aren't going to follow them. It's best and easiest to just ignore those who do not. When someone gives you an unreasonable critique, when they're nasty instead of helpful, just ignore them. Skip their critiques in the future.

I've also found it's best not to critique a story you hate, or one you don't think you can help. There's really no point in ripping a story to shreds, in being nasty. It helps no one. There's no point in trying to critique a story you hate for whatever reason.

James, I find the stories I hate the most challenging to critique and will take them on simply because it helps me to become better at my own work. If I can point out the technical flaws and areas where the story didn't work then I should be able to apply this towards my own writing.

I also agree that it is important to take each critique with a eye toward the competence of the person offering criticism. Nasty reviews are not helpful and should be reported to a mod. If people can't use the guidelines here or follow common sense then maybe they should not be given the opportunity to give unsatisfactory reviews.

Oh, and I do appreciate all your efforts here.

Bye,

me

BuffStuff
07-10-2006, 06:47 AM
The problem in attempting to critique stories that you hate is that more often than not, you won't be able to see the forest for the trees. You might THINK you're being objective, but honestly, how possible is it to be impartial to characters, subject matter, or plotlines that you hate? If you want, critique such stories but only for yourself in private in order to train yourself to attempt to find the 'good' or the salvagable in what you believe to be dross. It MAY help in teaching you to be more objective in your own reading/critiqueing but that said, it really tends to do a disservice to the writer of the piece in question.

Would you accept to read/listen to a critique from someone who prefaced his comments with "I hated your manuscript but..."? A person will ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS critique a piece that they like, slightly (or vastly) differently from a piece that they don't, no matter who they are. It's just not fair to expect a person who hates your piece to be objective in judging it and likewise its not fair to expect yourself to give a balanced review of a manuscript that sets your teeth on edge.

I feel i need to say this as a general trend I'[ve noticed in writing crit groups all over. Many people confuse a "harsh" critique with a good one. I have seen comments all the time from writers who say things like "be hard!" or "tear this up" when they want a critique. Many such writers often confuse a harsh critique with it somehow being 'good'. Always remember this: A good critique is a good critique. PERIOD. Harsh is not good. 'Hard' is not good. Nitpicky is not good. Only Good is good. "Harshness" " has ZERO to do with it. A complete know-nothing jackass can give you a line by line or an overall crit that has used up a gallon of red ink.... and yet still be completely worthless.... A seasoned pro can, in the exact SAME MANUSCRIPT put in a single comma and say "good to go, buddy!" And yet somehow, we all want to believe that the man who bathed our manuscript in red ink, did a more 'thorough critique' when.... he might be a complete know-nothing jackass.

I just felt I needed to say this because I've seen dozens and dozens of so-called "thorough" critiques that are literally useless to the original author, despite how much red ink (or red type) was used...
Red ink isn't hard. Veiled cynicism isn't hard either and there is nothing necessarily 'thorough' or 'professional' about either one. ALWAYS remember that! More amatuer/young writers need to engrain this into their brain, so the next time they do get a 'harsh' critique (Harsh is good in a heck of a lot FEWER cases than it is perceived to be) they won't automatically change things or weigh the 'red inked line-by-line' as having a higher value, or coming from a higher position of authority than the guy who simply writes "here's what i liked......nothing more i can add, great job!"

As an aside, a reason why i've always HATED crit groups that stupidly give a length-minimum to a given critique in order to be "accepted" as your earning points (so you can stay on the list or submit your own work, or whatever) is that:

1. Its stupid because it teaches the critter to be OVERLY critical in hopes that their critique will be deemed of an 'acceptable length' by the mods.

2. It indirectly teaches the author to weigh the longer crits or the more nit-picky line by lines as automatically having more worth than "i loved it, here's why 1. 2. 3."

Take care everyone,
BS

SpookyWriter
07-10-2006, 07:04 AM
The problem in attempting to critique stories that you hate is that more often than not, you won't be able to see the forest for the trees. You might THINK you're being objective, but honestly, how possible is it to be impartial to characters, subject matter, or plotlines that you hate? If you want, critique such stories but only for yourself in private in order to train yourself to attempt to find the 'good' or the salvagable in what you believe to be dross. It MAY help in teaching you to be more objective in your own reading/critiqueing but that said, it really tends to do a disservice to the writer of the piece in question.

I can't say I review and critique every piece that I hate, because that would be a lie. I am saying that I don't discount the work simply because I might not like it. I do pass on work. Sometimes because I can read the first paragraph and know how much work I'd need to invest in the criticism.

Is that beneficial for me or the other person? Maybe not. Sometimes it helps to read material that is awful and try to explain why it doesn't work. Other times it is easier to just pass on the material and offer some encouragement on their next draft.

Harsh? I've been described as a person who can be harsh, and constructive. My feeling is that too much meddling in the story hurts it more than helps. I don't try to re-write someone's story, but do pick out grammar or mechanical mistakes in such things as use of dialogue tags, etc.

But I do agree that a professional editor, in the business, is the best source for providing critiques. However, how often is this done and when is that last time you remember an editor offering to critique someone's work who is not an established writer?

Cheers,

Jamesaritchie
07-10-2006, 07:33 AM
James, I find the stories I hate the most challenging to critique and will take them on simply because it helps me to become better at my own work. If I can point out the technical flaws and areas where the story didn't work then I should be able to apply this towards my own writing.

I also agree that it is important to take each critique with a eye toward the competence of the person offering criticism. Nasty reviews are not helpful and should be reported to a mod. If people can't use the guidelines here or follow common sense then maybe they should not be given the opportunity to give unsatisfactory reviews.

Oh, and I do appreciate all your efforts here.

Bye,

me

Well, by hate, I mean a story you truly hate because of subject matter or genre, not one that's horribly written. It's a real risk to let your bias get in the way.

I think you can critique pretty much any story for grammar and punctuation, but when it comes to content I think it's best to stick close to areas you know something about.

cwfgal
07-10-2006, 07:46 AM
If you don't come to a critique with a personal agenda, it is quite possible to do one on a piece you generally hate for one reason or another. Most people are capable of being objective if they put their mind to it.

A harsh critique (however you want to define that) may or may not be of any value. Same thing with a friendly critique (again, define as you wish.) The trick is in being able to distinguish good, usable advice from bad, unusable advice, and I don't think that skill comes about until one has participated in a number of critiques, both as a giver and a receiver.

There is an art to good critiquing. It takes practice to recognize when your critique alarm is jangling because of bad writing as opposed to personal taste. It takes practice to understand and interpret other people's comments about your own writing, and to learn how much weight to give them. It takes practice to become comfortable with a voice other than your own, and to learn when to trust your own inclinations.

I have yet to see a rewritten paragraph that was any better than the original because most writers can't shrug off their own voice enough to fit the piece they're critiquing. Or they're too busy trying to show off their own writing muscle. Or they've brought their own preconceived notions to the work, which are quite different from the author's.

I have seen rewritten sentences work, however. It seems to work best when the critiquer simply substitutes a word here or there, or rearranges the original sentence for clarity.

I think critiques can be a very valuable tool, but only if the users know how to use them.

Beth

Cabinscribe
07-10-2006, 08:29 AM
I see two sides to this. (And I had a much better post but I lost the connection so here's the abbreviated version.)

On one hand, there is a way to point out errors or problems in a crit without being mean or nasty. (I'm not saying anyone on AW has been mean or nasty, because I haven't read any of the crits.)

On the other hand, when you send your work out into the world, you will have no control over what other people, e.g. editors, think of it, and you won't be there to defend it.

So, even if you think a crit is nasty, put it away awhile, and come back to it when your emotions are out of the way. If the opinions in the crit have merit, then use them to improve your work. If not, then forget about them.

I hope this makes sense, and I hope it helps!

citymouse
07-10-2006, 08:41 AM
My writing seems to be like opera, one either loves it of hates it.
I've had people praise my work and I've had people trash it. Fortunately for me I never met any of them so I'm free from extreme influences.

"I could never be satisfied with just the approval of the critics, and, boy, I've certainly had to be satisfied without it." Norman Rockwell

SpookyWriter
07-10-2006, 09:06 AM
In the end it is all about getting published, yes? So if you found a few people who helped toward that goal I would think their feedback was worth something. But the flip side is "as James said" getting nowhere from people who lack the skills to offer anything of value that will help you to become a published writer.

Difficult situation for both people involved, wouldn't you think?

DamaNegra
07-10-2006, 11:04 AM
I've corrected other people's stuff (of course, always marking it properly) because I think it gives the author a different perspective so he/she can decide what works better. I always put a disclaimer on my critiques saying I shouldn't be taken as an absolute truth.

And yes, I may be held guilty of poking fun at the pieces I'm critting, but I only do it for humor and it's just light humor (IMO). Is that a bad thing?

Linda Adams
07-10-2006, 04:09 PM
This discussion makes some interesting points about critiques. I personally agree that it's a good idea to NOT rewrite passages of someone else's work. In my experience, it's actually not only been not helpful, it's been harmful. I remember several of us trying to explain the concept of show vs. tell by revising small examples, and she just did not get it. She resubmitted the manuscript several times with the same problems, so all the time we invested didn't make one bit of difference. And I could easily see someone just putting the revised passages in without really understanding the difference of what he did in the earlier one and learning abosolutely nothing. Ultimately, all a critiquer can do is identify a potential issue, but it's up to the writer to figure out how to work it out.

Andrew Jameson
07-10-2006, 07:15 PM
This discussion makes some interesting points about critiques. I personally agree that it's a good idea to NOT rewrite passages of someone else's work. In my experience, it's actually not only been not helpful, it's been harmful....I disagree, at least as a general rule of thumb. At one point, a while back, I critiqued a story that had major problems, specifically with point of view. I rewrote a short passage as a compare-and-contrast exercise. The crittee rewrote and resubmitted, and changed the entire scene to have a very intense, hot, and (more importantly) consistent POV. I think the crittee actually *got* it.

Point is, I think it can be very useful to take someone's own words and ideas and rewrite them to change the pacing or POV or whatever and contrast the two versions. It's a bit different to see a concept illustrated with one's own writing than with something generic in a book. Sure, some people won't get it, but some people aren't going to get *anything* contained in a crit, and that doesn't invalidate the usefulness of critiques.

C.bronco
07-10-2006, 07:28 PM
I've been lucky so far to get some thoughtful feedback on the few things I threw up. (No pun intended).
As for misspellings, well, I advise you to blame it on your secretary and then promise to fire her. That's what I do.

BardSkye
07-10-2006, 07:48 PM
I've both had some work critiqued on the SYW board and tried my hand at offering some.

When I put mine up for opinions, everyone shuddered at the purple prose, a term I'd never even heard of. They kindly told me I was guilty of doing way too much showing, which made me sigh in frustration because I didn't know how to fix it. Several people suggested alternate wordings, using my own words to say "This is telling, the alternate wording is showing," which finally allowed me to get it mostly figured out. I re-wrote, tried again and the opinion was that while it still needed work, it was improving. Show versus tell didn't click until I saw it in my own work and the rewording that people did helped immensely.

When I offer opinions, I do so from a reader's standpoint, exactly what I would be thinking if I was flipping through books at the bookstore looking for something to buy. Why would I put this one back? Because of...

Critiques are opinions. Sometimes they point out glaring mistakes that you, the writer, didn't see because you're reading what's supposed to be there as opposed to what actually showed up on the paper. Sometimes two critiquers offer completely opposite suggestions. I had one memorable one years ago where the bits I'd taken a bit of license with were ignored, while the parts the critter found unbelievable were all things I could point to or attest to on personal experience.

Take the parts of a critique that help and leave the parts that don't. If a critter says "You can't do that, it's breaking a rule," feel free to go ahead and break that rule anyway, just know that you are doing so and why.

CaroGirl
07-10-2006, 08:31 PM
I feel the work I've posted in the SYW forum has benefitted greatly from the many crits people have offered, and I thank everyone who's taken the time to review my work.

I had only one crit that I wasn't sure was very helpful. The poster began by saying if she read the work in a bookstore, she'd immediately put it back on the shelf. And then she rewrote great swaths of my prose for me. The poster's approach got my back up slightly, defensive little me, so I left it alone, mulled it over, and went back to re-read what she had said. To my surprise, the poster had stuck up another post in which she appeared deeply offended that I hadn't replied to the crit. What does one do with something like that?

Jamesaritchie
07-10-2006, 08:55 PM
This discussion makes some interesting points about critiques. I personally agree that it's a good idea to NOT rewrite passages of someone else's work. In my experience, it's actually not only been not helpful, it's been harmful. I remember several of us trying to explain the concept of show vs. tell by revising small examples, and she just did not get it. She resubmitted the manuscript several times with the same problems, so all the time we invested didn't make one bit of difference. And I could easily see someone just putting the revised passages in without really understanding the difference of what he did in the earlier one and learning abosolutely nothing. Ultimately, all a critiquer can do is identify a potential issue, but it's up to the writer to figure out how to work it out.

Nothing helps everyone, and the sad truth is there are people who can't be helped, no matter what you do.

But I know from experience that sometimes you do have to show a writer what's wrong. You can tell until you're old and tired, and they still won't get it.

Those who can't be helped, well, there was one writer a bunch of us tried to help over the course of several years. She was smart, she worked hard, she read everything, and she listened. She had two pro editors and a couple of pro writers to help, and we even took her to a couple of high end workshops.

During those years, she wrote nine novels. Despite all the help, the ninth novel, if anything, was worse than the first. She never did get it. Not even the basics of what good fiction is. Whatever talent is, whatever it takes to be a writer, she simply didn't have it.

At other times, with other writers, I've seen a light come on almost instantly, no matter how poorly they began. Rewrite one problem passage for them, and you could amost hear the click as things fell into place. Whatever else they did wrong, they would never, ever make that mistake again.

But in all honesty, I've never been convinced that critiques generally do much good at all, once a writer is past the bad grammar, poor punctuation, lousy sentence structure stage. There comes a point fairly early on where a writer needs to do it himself, needs to figure out what's wrong, how to correct it, and trust the judgement of editors and agents (And maybe idiot reads.)to point out any flaws.

In my experience, once a writer has reached this stage, critiques help the person doing the critiquing more than the writer. In college, the main reason we did critiques was not to help the other writer, but to help ourselves. Sometimes you can see your own mistakes in the writing of others far easier than you can see them in your own writing. And in trying to correct the mistakes of others, you learn to avoid making those mistakes yourself.

"Idiot reads" are another matter. It can be helpful to have someone or three go through a finished manuscript just to make sure you didn't do anything stupid, didn't overlook a major plot hole, etc. But these are NOT critiques in the true sense of the word.

I think almost anyone can be taught to write well, but darned few can be taught to write fiction well. I wish everyone could sit in on an MFA program. Almost without exception, every student there is an excellent writer. But very few can write fiction that wouldn't make a dog gag.

And even the best teaching can often ruin a new writer. Over the years, from MFA programs, to college workshops, to critique groups, etc., I've pretty sure I've seen ten writers harmed by incompetent critiques for every writer I've seen helped. And most critiques are incompetent.

Most people do not know how to critique, and many who do know how lack any competence at all in what they're trying to teach. This really is an area where if you can't do it, you can't teach it. And even if you can do it, you can't teach it to very many. If you know grammar and punctuation, you can teach it. If you don't know these things, you can't teach them.

It's the same with dialogue, pace, mood, tone, strutcure, etc. Most critiques are the blind leading the ignorant. Most new writers don't know who to listen to, and I hate the advice that if five people say something is wrong, then it's probably wrong. From my experience, it's often the majority that's wrong, and the minority that gets it right.

But, again, idiot reads are another matter. Here, being able to do isn't very important, and the majority often is right because they aren't actually critiquing your story. They're reading as readers, and are simply looking for things any good reader would see.

People should know the difference between a critique and an idiot read, and never, ever mix the two.

My pet peeve in the whole area of critiques is unfinished stories. I don't care whether it's a short story or a novel, having it critiqued before it's finished is just dumb. Being willing to critique an unfinished work is even dumber. The writer probably doesn't know any better. The critiquer should.

veinglory
07-10-2006, 08:55 PM
I don't think that there is any obligation to respond to a crit -- especially if you are still mulling it over. It's a courtesy but certainly not a requirement.

Jamesaritchie
07-10-2006, 08:58 PM
I feel the work I've posted in the SYW forum has benefitted greatly from the many crits people have offered, and I thank everyone who's taken the time to review my work.

I had only one crit that I wasn't sure was very helpful. The poster began by saying if she read the work in a bookstore, she'd immediately put it back on the shelf. And then she rewrote great swaths of my prose for me. The poster's approach got my back up slightly, defensive little me, so I left it alone, mulled it over, and went back to re-read what she had said. To my surprise, the poster had stuck up another post in which she appeared deeply offended that I hadn't replied to the crit. What does one do with something like that?


Ignore it. And there's never an excuse for anyone rewriting great swaths of prose. Rewriting should only be done with a short passage, no more than a couple of sentences, to illustrate a specific mistake. The purpose of rewriting a short passage is not to show someone how well you write, but to give an example of why their sentence structure is wrong, etc.

PeeDee
07-10-2006, 09:25 PM
Generally, I don't give critiques. If I like the story, I'll say so, and if I can point out specifically what I like, I'll do it. The problem is, if I don't like how something's written, or how a certain story goes, I'm not built to respond negatively. A great man (er. rabbit. Actually, it was Thumper) once said, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Which is rather what I do.

In fact, I was disinclined to post in this thread, but there was a point I wanted to mention. You complain, Brian, about people re-writing a chunk of someone's story in the critique.

I've done this a few times, both publically and privately. The reason I generally do this (and the reason, I expect, others do it as well) is that you know exactly what you're trying to tell the author about the scene, you know what's wrong with it...but all of this is being sorted out in part of your brain that isn't articulate enough to be condensed down into a succint and useful sentence. So you show, rather than tell, and hope that's good enough.

That's what I got. Otherwise, I'm unsure what negative or smart-mouthed responses there are to things in the SYW forums that you're talking about. I would love some examples. I mostly read useful, helpful comments from people far wiser than I. Now if stories were generally followed with "this blows goats!" then I would be inclined to agree with you.

batgirl
07-10-2006, 09:46 PM
I tend to do nitpicky line-by-line critiques. I've also rewritten sentences as an example of where words might be cut and the sense retained or even clarified.
I don't usually do a full line-by-line of a longer piece unless the person says they'd like me to continue, because it's a fair bit of work, and I realise it may not be at all what the person is looking for. I often do a sample para, as an example of what I can offer.
I do think it's polite to (within a week or so) offer at least an acknowledgement of the trouble a critiquer has gone to. It doesn't need to be appreciation, especially if the writer doesn't appreciate it, but a one-line 'thanks for your time, but this isn't what I'm looking for right now' doesn't kill anyone, you know?
I strongly suspect that the smart-arses for whom the original post may have been meant will not see themselves, and critiquers not meant to be the targets will see themselves. Not to discourage the original poster from expressing his views, just pointing out a possible consquence.
-Barbara (rethinking sig - gimme the rep point first, dammit!)

Sassenach
07-10-2006, 10:37 PM
Brian, since you've been here less than two weeks, perhaps you should take some time to get the lay of the land before suggesting changes.

And as other members have suggested, ignore the crits you don't find useful.

blackbird
07-10-2006, 11:28 PM
In all fairness, when you put a piece of your work up for critique, you are agreeing to put yourself on the chopping black, for better or worse. This is as true of workshops as online forum groups. I have gotten some really bad advice, and some that made my blood boil, but mostly I feel that the feedback I've received has been beneficial in helping me to shape stronger works.

A rule of thumb I always try to apply to online critiques is that you don't say anything to the writer about the work that you would not be willing to say if you were sitting face-to-face with that person across a table at a real writing workshop. Sometimes it's human nature to be much more respectful and courteous in face-to-face situations, but to let it all hang out when protected by the anonymity of a board and a username. I HAVE seen this sort of thing on some other writer forums, not necessarily this one, but I've seen enough of it to have a good idea of the sort of comments you're probably referring to. There is a difference between constructive criticism and out-and-out sarcasm, which I've seen (again, not necessaroly here, but elsewhere). Examples of such comments I've run across from time to time when reading online critiques: "Learn to use a dictionary, for crying out loud!" or "There's this little invention called a thesauraus...maybe you've heard of it?" Such comments are hurtful and insulting to those writers, all of whom I'm sure are capable and intelligent human beings who are quite aware that these items exist. And again, it's the difference between pointing out something like "You might want to take another look at your spelling" or "You might want to reconsider some of your word choices" and just being plain mean. Every writer's skin doesn't yet have the same level of thickness, especially if one is a newbie. Comments like that could be enough to discourage them from ever wanting to share their work again.

But to bring this full circle, writers also have to be fully aware that this is the sort of thing they are opening themselves up to when putting the work up for critique. It is a totally different mindset than when a reader picks up a published book. If you are being asked to critique something, you are going to be picking it apart, LOOKING for those things that are wrong, as well as (hopefully) what works. The writer has to understand that this is what they are asking of readers when they ask for a critique.
However, there is certainly a responsibility on both sides. The thing about online critiquing (and how it generally differs from actual workshop procedure) is that the reader has choices. You can elect to click on a certain piece, to read and comment on that piece, or not. I don't participate in online critique groups as much as I used to because I frankly just don't have the time for it, but when I did, I always commented only on pieces I really liked but that maybe needed some constructive tweaking. If there was a piece I just didn't get, or couldn't get into after more than a few paragraphs, or felt I wouldn't like because it was a genre I don't read, I would normally leave those for the people who might be in a better position to fairly judge them. I didn't waste time commenting on pieces where I felt I could be of no value to the writer.

Dru
07-10-2006, 11:43 PM
In this, as in all parts of dealing with people, especially virtually, I think communication is key.

Brian was expressing a thought that he felt that certain people might not be maintaining objectivity and following the rules of the road for the SYW forum. Most others seem to feel that the posts in the SYW forum are within bounds. So, there is somewhat of a difference of opinion, and that's where we start getting into a disconnected state.

With critiques, as both submitter and critter, it is generally a good idea to agree upon a standard of communication. Some people like a specific structure with crits (as SpookyWriter listed), while others perfer line-by-line red-ink commentary/impressions, others still just want a summary of how the person felt as a reader and nothing else. I had thought that were was a SYW sticky for critique standards of behavior, but I cannot locate it at the moment.

If as a submitter you want something specific out of the people on the SYW forum, I would say the onus is on you to set the bounds of your expectation, otherwise you can expect a broad brush-stroke of styles of critique. Even with setting a specific expectation, you may be exposed to those who won't follow your request.

I would recommend that people just learn to parse out the input that doesn't help (as others have mentioned) and take what has provided value for you. After a while you get to know the personalities here, and a good feel for whether or not you care for their insight. Each submitter may find different value from a particular style, much in the same way different people have different ways of approaching their craft in general.

If someone has issue with ignoring the input of another on SYW after you put yourself out there (and people are being civil, though possibly snarky), what happens when your book gets in front of "professional critics"? I can certainly understand taking negative comments to heart though, which is why most of the time I prefer IRL critique from people I know and have worked out a system with.

--Dru

An aside, it is entirely possible to have been reading AW for quite some time prior to signing up for an account. I lurked as a reader for well over a year before I signed up.

brianm
07-11-2006, 12:04 AM
The way I phrased the opening to this thread was wrong. I had just read another crit that was posted by someone and they made comments I found offensive. I stress I. I have a great sense of humor, but unless you really know the person you are talking to, you don't know if your humor is something they will find funny or offensive. And you should take that into consideration.

To me a crit is just asking for an opinion of the work. It's not an assignment in a high end writing class so that you can learn to be a better crit. If they don't understand your opinion they can ask for a written example. A few words changed or restructuring a sentence is fine. It's still their words.

I had a query letter completely re-written when all I had asked for was a crit/opinion. Unfortunately, it was so beautifully re-written that I could not get away from it and put it into my own words. Had the person changed a word or two, or said what it was they felt I needed to do, I would have found my way, in my words, and come up with a query letter very much the same. I ended up tossing it out and starting again.

As for examples... I don't like to do this, but I will.

One person began a crit with... "Some of my comments while you wait for the nice people to come by."

This was followed by their not recognising a word and saying... "I guess I could look it up, but I'm too lazy."

This was followed by long examples of them re-writing one passage they didn't like.

First off, the person is telling me they are not a nice person. Second, they are indicating they are lazy. And third, rather than telling me why they had problems with the two lines, they completely re-wrote it in their words. I don't know what it was, but it certainly wasn't a crit/opinion.

I know that it was not a serious crit and have no problem ignoring it. But, I was brought up as an artist and learned to deal with good and bad crits from an early age. Some in here won't recognise that and will take it to heart. If someone puts their work up in AW for your opinion, you should treat it with respect and be as professional as possible in your opinions. If you really know the person, then that's a different story. And, in my opinion, there is an enormous difference between crits in AW and crits in the outside world being given by professionals. Learning to deal with pro crits when your work is before the public takes experience and every individual finds their own way. Some don't read them at all. Others read all of them and then look for something in the good and the bad to help them grow as an artist.

My words were poorly chosen in starting this thread, but it did start a wonderful conversation on what people feel being a crit is. That was my intent and unfortunately too many people decided to ignore my additional responses where I apoligised for the poor choice of words and explanation as to why I started this thread.

I am done apoligising. If you can only stick on the original words I used, then you are a bit like the press hounding only the bad in the news. My intent was to start a thread about what people felt being a good crit was. And in this thread are some wonderful responses that show why people feel the way they do and why they do or don't do certain things when they are doing a crit.

IN the future I will be careful how I word a thread and I will ask the question that I am looking for right in the beginning. I should have started this one with..."I have seen alot of different styles of crits while in AW. What do you think a person is asking for when you write a crit?"

And to correct Sass... I am a new member, but longer than two weeks. You may recall this site lost a great deal of information recently. I have not been a member for months and months but I was registered under a different name when they did lose the information. And as I clarified in later responses, I was not suggesting changes to this site. Let the bone go...

Sassenach
07-11-2006, 12:11 AM
I know that it was not a serious crit and have no problem ignoring it. But, I was brought up as an artist and learned to deal with good and bad crits from an early age. Some in here won't recognise that and will take it to heart. If someone puts their work up in AW for your opinion, you should treat it with respect and be as professional as possible in your opinions. If you really know the person, then that's a different story. And, in my opinion, there is an enormous difference between crits in AW and crits in the outside world being given by professionals.

Are you implying that the crits offered here aren't by "professionals"?

batgirl
07-11-2006, 12:15 AM
Some of this has been previously discussed in the general SYW forum on two threads started by Mistook, one for Critters and one for Writers, on what their 'turn-offs and turn-ons' were. Maybe I should look for those and bump them up, since interest seems to be renewed?
A point to bear in mind, and apologies to brian if he's already considered it, is that the poster and the critter may know each other, and the banter that appears rude on first sight is actually the customary joking between them. While indignation on another's behalf is praiseworthy (I think it comes under 'righteous anger' rather than sinful wrath?) it can occasionally be misdirected.
-Barbara (off to bump threads)

brianm
07-11-2006, 12:36 AM
Thank you batgirl for your comments.

To me, it is very obvious in the writer's response to the crit if they know each other. I enjoy a little rib tickling from people who know me. That's not what I was refering to.

And for one last, and this is my last response, to Sass. There are many good/professional crits in AW. I never said there were not. Quite the opposite.

But, you appear to be trying to start something and I will not take the bait.

And in response to Dru, I also lurked at this site for a long time before becoming a member. I am a member at only one other site. It's for my hometown, Portaferry, N. Ireland, which I miss dearly as I have now lived in America since 1981. I didn't become a member here for a long time because I am wary of online sites. But, I found this one to be quite wonderful and extremely helpful. And I thought, as I do now, full of lovely people who are extremely generous with their time and knowledge which has aided me in my writing career immensely.

Sassenach
07-11-2006, 12:45 AM
Note to self: Don't crit Brian.