Litopia

Register a free account today to become a member! Once signed in, you'll be able to participate on this site by adding your own topics and posts, as well as connect with other members through your own private inbox!

Dealing with criticism

Season's Greetings

Amusement You are so Yummy!

RK Capps

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
This popped into my email box today...


HOW TO DEAL WITH CRITICISM

I’ve been talking about how to deal with criticism, and I’d like to talk a bit about how to deal with criticism that you disagree with. There are a lot of reasons that people will dislike your work that have nothing to do with your work.
If you look at online reviews of Lord of the Rings, which is widely acclaimed as perhaps the best fantasy novel ever written, you’ll find a lot of people who hate it. Does that mean that the book stinks? I don’t think so. Does it mean that the critic is wrong? How can they be wrong in telling you that they don’t like it?
What it really comes down to is that the book isn’t to their tastes. Lord of the Rings is a fantasy adventure that is slanted heavily toward a male audience. It’s a metaphor for life during wartime during WWII, and so it’s something of a “buddy tale,” that plays strongly on beats of wonder, adventure, and friendship. It’s a great novel, if you have a taste for that kind of thing.

SCRUTINIZE THE CRITIC

So when a critic speaks, you have to look at that critic closely. What is the person’s age and sex? What is their cultural heritage and religious background? What are their political assumptions? All of those things (and more) play into their critiques.
So just be aware that any critique may have more to do with a preference for chocolate over vanilla rather than the genuine value of the work.
Then of course you must ask, did the critic read the story properly? Did they understand it? Very often a momentarily lapse in the critic’s memory will cause the person to rant and rave for hours about how the author messed up. Even my own professional editors will often say, “Now wait a minute--I thought this character’s mother was still alive!” Then I have to refer the editor to that touching four-page scene that he or she forgot about. It happens to all of us. We get distracted by ringing phones or children or our own problems.

DID YOU MAKE ANY MISTAKES?

In fact, assuming that you really do tell your story beautifully, achieving the effects that you desired, then virtually all of the negative responses that you get from critics will typically fall into one of these two categories—the reader either has different tastes from you, or the reader made a mistake.
If you have “errors” that you can’t account for, it’s typically that you are forced to exchange one value for another. For example, you might find that in order to maintain your pacing during a fight scene, your character just doesn’t “have time” to explain the internal functions of the fancy new gun that he’s firing. You will have a gun enthusiast rail that “I really want you to explain why these Glocks have such a great recoil!” But you just don’t have time for it.
Other than that, you pretty much have to own up to any real “mistakes,” and just be grateful for readers who will point them out to you.
 

RG Worsey

Full Member
LV
3
 
Awards
2
Good advice. I am not going to cut badger baiting from my story, just because it doesn't mean much to readers outside Britain. If you try to please everybody, you'll get a bland story.

I don't think LOTR is a good example, though. Many people hate it because it's full of racist undertones, that offend people today a lot more than they used to. That doesn't mean that the same readers don't admire the world building or story telling.
 

Josephine

Basic
LV
0
 
Good advice. I am not going to cut badger baiting from my story, just because it doesn't mean much to readers outside Britain. If you try to please everybody, you'll get a bland story.
FWIW I watched this popups and really liked the idea of badger baiting*, even though I don't actually know how it works (sheltered suburban upbringing perhaps?) - the theme of cruelty to animals seemed pretty clear to me. Although, I am british, so maybe I've absorbed enough background-knowledge on badger baiting to know that it's a thing...

*I'm not into badger baiting, obviously. I mean I liked it as a conflict, or theme, or whatever.
 

CageSage

Basic
LV
0
 
Good advice. I am not going to cut badger baiting from my story, just because it doesn't mean much to readers outside Britain. If you try to please everybody, you'll get a bland story.

I don't think LOTR is a good example, though. Many people hate it because it's full of racist undertones, that offend people today a lot more than they used to. That doesn't mean that the same readers don't admire the world building or story telling.
I'm Australian and I know what badger-baiting is, and that's it's both cruel and illegal. Even if people don't know what it is initially, they can easily 'discover' the knowledge.

And the reason I don't highly praise LoTR is the over-description of setting -- to the exclusion of story in many places. A great story wrapped up in too many words for the place he created (a common world-building fault, I'm told, but then some people love that aspect and others don't - we're all different in what we enjoy in a story).
 

Katie-Ellen

Basic
LV
2
 
Awards
1
LoTR is a good example I think, for what is being discussed, precisely because it is a fantasy novel and not say, a dystopian novel or political thriller.

Racist 'undertones', like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder. Tolkien might want to say, excuse me? if he was still here, but is not here to defend himself, while clearly, he was a man of his times. We all are, and how do we help it. That's why history is important.

A book is a contract between the writer and the reader. The words are released and now they are out there to be analysed, discussed, dissected, and often with few allowances made for the fact of fiction.

That's what makes writing so brave. The book is a hostage to fortune precisely because the reader brings their own understanding to the book, recasts it as it were, as a world re-imagined in their own image. But a book invites us to imagine ourselves in a new or different image, place, time or situation, while all the time bringing us home to eternal truths of the human condition.

I read somewhere that Frederick Forsyth was frustrated after he got called out by some gun expert on the climactic scene in The Day of The Jackal (which required unbelievable amounts of research and was written in 35 days, just crazy) He got stick for the climactic scene where Lebel shoots the Jackal. dead. People aren't really slammed back against the wall by the force of bullets etc etc. I'm not a ballistics expert and I don't care.It is still a superb and completely enthralling read. I get why he, the author would be annoyed, not with the critic, but with himself.

But it's an art, not a science, and the art is story so in the end, does it work? And what do we mean by work. It's alchemy. Like cooking or creating a perfume. Enough people have to want to eat it/smell it/read it. That's all. Enough = market hit or a classic. How to deal with criticism...it seems to boil down to a Teflon coat.
 

Katie-Ellen

Basic
LV
2
 
Awards
1
When it's still in development, yes, of course that's different. Beta readers, and the only thing then is to listen, say thank you, do not argue, and unpack it in your own time.

With luck, someone will offer feedback - a criticism - that will exactly nail something you had vaguely felt wasn't quite working, but you weren't sure, and now they are holding up that mirror. You know it when that happens, and that's a criticism to work with.
 

kjmiller

Basic
LV
0
 
There are four steps towards writing effective criticism of anything creative.

1) What are the creators trying to do?

2) Do they succeed?

3) Is it worth doing?

4) Do they provide something extra?

As an example, I'm a fan of the 2nd and 3rd films in the Harry Palmer series of the 1960s.

1) They are trying to make a spy genre movie.
2) Oh sure.
3) As much as a good kung fu or musical movie, of course.
4) Oskar Homolka playing crusty old Soviet Col. Stok. On the surface, Stok is Harry's biggest adversary in these Cold War movies. But Stok is also the only one who respects Harry.
 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Good advice. I am not going to cut badger baiting from my story, just because it doesn't mean much to readers outside Britain. If you try to please everybody, you'll get a bland story.

I don't think LOTR is a good example, though. Many people hate it because it's full of racist undertones, that offend people today a lot more than they used to. That doesn't mean that the same readers don't admire the world building or story telling.
People hated it before there were sensitivity readers, truly. I remember reading a parody called Bored of the Rings back in the 70's. More people respond to the environmental message today than when it was published. Tolkien returned from WW1 to a career that supported his writing simply because he was one of the few survivors of his university class. He saw the destruction of English forests, hedgerows and villages as a different perspective of the same kind of dangers Orwell saw. Tolkien warned about the Great Acceleration from the beginning. LOTR wasn't really popular in fact until the 60's. It was considered a kiddie story, compared to the gritty realism of Hemingway, Steinbeck, HG Wells etc.
 
Last edited:

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
The old adage is : "If one person tells you you're a horses ass you can disregard it, if two people do-maybe you should consider it, if 3 people then buy the bridle and saddle." I think that applies to critiques. That still doesn't mean that the idea is bad or wrong. It probably means you are just not getting the idea in your head out well enough for readers to get it. Try a different angle. Check the zeitgeist. Personally I think the times have changed with murder mysteries and crime novels. They weren't always about horribly mutilated dead girls. The commerciality of that is a certain kind of porn for a time when it shocked as well as titillated. Reporters have to deal with the reality that they are making money off trauma and grief. Fiction writers need to look at what they are writing for entertainment. Maybe a plot centred around the rape of a little girl is not only lazy, but passe. We now know the reality of that too well from victim accounts. One piece of advice I think is gold. "Write what you want, but sell to the zeitgeist.".
 

Vagabond Heart

Full Member
LV
0
 
@kjmiller has got me thinking about his question 1.
What are the creators trying to do?

And I reckon we might all have the same answer, whatever fiction genre we write in: -
We are trying to build a world.
We want our readers to be engaged - and stay engaged until the end.
And anyone critiquing that is basically saying, ‘this is what made me jump out’, don’t you think?

And as @Pamela Jo and @katie Ellen said, it’s a numbers game. One gun expert railing at FF is probably not enough of a majority to make a rewrite worth it, especially if it ruins the drama of the scene.

But if one’s story keeps causing people to disengage in the same place, then that’s worth ‘buying the saddle’ and sitting down to rethink.

I also think @RK Capps article makes a good point.
It’s worth asking ‘does the person giving the criticism even fit the demographic you’re writing for?’

Case in point, I’ve got a kids’ book I’m working on, and it’s getting read both by children and their parents.
All of the parents are concerned some of the language may be too difficult. None of the kids are. Not one.

I think it’s because , at their age, most of their developing vocabulary comes from words they’ve never seen before. They don’t know the meaning but they figure it out from the context. They’ve been doing this since they started their ABC’s five or so years ago. They don’t find it a problem.

But because it’s an issue for some people, I’m being very thoughtful about how many I put in, and what reading age they are for.
So am using a mix of listening to the brilliant and gratefully received feedback, and applying my common sense as an author to it.
And then keeping my attention on it with each further bit of feedback I get, so I can tweak as necessary.

Ultimately, criticism allows us to make our worlds as congruent as possible. So our readers happily stay there till the last word. And isn’t that what we all want?
 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
This was interesting to me. Especially when Lee Child asked someone in the military if it was believable to him. The guy said it doesn't work that way in my unit, but I figured you must be talking about another unit. If you can get to the suspension of disbelief all that matters is the ride to the end.
 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
@kjmiller has got me thinking about his question 1.
What are the creators trying to do?

And I reckon we might all have the same answer, whatever fiction genre we write in: -
We are trying to build a world.
We want our readers to be engaged - and stay engaged until the end.
And anyone critiquing that is basically saying, ‘this is what made me jump out’, don’t you think?

And as @Pamela Jo and @katie Ellen said, it’s a numbers game. One gun expert railing at FF is probably not enough of a majority to make a rewrite worth it, especially if it ruins the drama of the scene.

But if one’s story keeps causing people to disengage in the same place, then that’s worth ‘buying the saddle’ and sitting down to rethink.

I also think @RK Capps article makes a good point.
It’s worth asking ‘does the person giving the criticism even fit the demographic you’re writing for?’

Case in point, I’ve got a kids’ book I’m working on, and it’s getting read both by children and their parents.
All of the parents are concerned some of the language may be too difficult. None of the kids are. Not one.

I think it’s because , at their age, most of their developing vocabulary comes from words they’ve never seen before. They don’t know the meaning but they figure it out from the context. They’ve been doing this since they started their ABC’s five or so years ago. They don’t find it a problem.

But because it’s an issue for some people, I’m being very thoughtful about how many I put in, and what reading age they are for.
So am using a mix of listening to the brilliant and gratefully received feedback, and applying my common sense as an author to it.
And then keeping my attention on it with each further bit of feedback I get, so I can tweak as necessary.

Ultimately, criticism allows us to make our worlds as congruent as possible. So our readers happily stay there till the last word. And isn’t that what we all want?
My oldest son was/is severely dyslexic with both visual problems and audio processing disorder. With Lindamood Bell he learned to read, but even at age 25 it is still difficult to read a lot of print so he listens to audio books. We had a 2.5 hour drive to visual therapy and back when he was 6. We went thru the Illiad twice. If a kid really hates big words then there is another problem that has to be dealt with in his learning process in my opinion. There is however this idea that has taken hold in US schools at least, that children should have nothing above what is "age appropriate." I don't know if that is what you are running into but it annoyed the hell out of me. For example a jump rope that counts with a child will only count to 99-because that is as far as they are supposed to learn in that age group. Anyway, sympathies. Hook the kids on the story, I say and they'll learn how to google the word.
 

Robinne Weiss

Full Member
LV
0
 
Hook the kids on the story, I say and they'll learn how to google the word.
Slightly off topic from dealing with critics, but this is absolutely true. In my first kids' book, I explained lots of things I knew kids would have no experience or knowledge of. My developmental editor told me to take it all out. 'If they're interested, they'll look it up' was her justification. I was a bit dubious, but did so. Lo and behold, when I sent it out to my 10-year-old beta readers, they came back saying they'd looked up lots of info on what I'd removed, because it intrigued them. They took it as a little side mystery to be solved, and they actually loved it. I now work with lots of kids on literacy, and I can confirm that kids these days look up EVERYTHING on Google--they'll sit there with a book in one hand and an iPad in the other, looking up words they can't figure out in context. If the story engages them, they desperately want to understand every word, and are keen to learn new words that are relevant to a story they love.

I don't pull punches in my middle grade books. I challenge kids' vocabulary all the time (and do my best to make sure the meaning of the difficult word is clear from context). But then, my ideal reader for most of my books is a child reading above their age (you know, the 6 year old who has finished the entire Harry Potter series, but isn't quite ready for the scary/difficult/sexual themes of YA books). So, yeah, I get the occasional complaint about how much difficult vocabulary is in my MG books--but the truth is, those complaints are probably from outside my target market.
 

Terry Lowell

Full Member
LV
0
 
This was interesting to me. Especially when Lee Child asked someone in the military if it was believable to him. The guy said it doesn't work that way in my unit, but I figured you must be talking about another unit. If you can get to the suspension of disbelief all that matters is the ride to the end.

Thanks for posting the interview. Enjoyed that.
 

Katie-Ellen

Basic
LV
2
 
Awards
1
My oldest son was/is severely dyslexic with both visual problems and audio processing disorder. With Lindamood Bell he learned to read, but even at age 25 it is still difficult to read a lot of print so he listens to audio books. We had a 2.5 hour drive to visual therapy and back when he was 6. We went thru the Illiad twice. If a kid really hates big words then there is another problem that has to be dealt with in his learning process in my opinion. There is however this idea that has taken hold in US schools at least, that children should have nothing above what is "age appropriate." I don't know if that is what you are running into but it annoyed the hell out of me. For example a jump rope that counts with a child will only count to 99-because that is as far as they are supposed to learn in that age group. Anyway, sympathies. Hook the kids on the story, I say and they'll learn how to google the word.


Children adore huge long words, has been my own experience. They love the power of them, brandishing them like incantations. I think too much early years children's telly has gone completely the wrong direction, and undermines the child's self training in learning to be still and to focus. Everything so loud and bright, all designed to stimulate, but the child needs agency too and quietus now and then, not a barrage of inputs which at the same time asks so little of them. I watched early years telly with my first child, who is now 35. I watched it with my second child, who is now 26. I found it less watchable by then, and now find it almost unwatchable. Well, so what, I am not the target audience. But I remember what I watched too, that my parents also enjoyed, if only to laugh at. It has definitely been dumbed down, and the children are not well served by it.
 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Children adore huge long words, has been my own experience. They love the power of them, brandishing them like incantations. I think too much early years children's telly has gone completely the wrong direction, and undermines the child's self training in learning to be still and to focus. Everything so loud and bright, all designed to stimulate, but the child needs agency too and quietus now and then, not a barrage of inputs which at the same time asks so little of them. I watched early years telly with my first child, who is now 35. I watched it with my second child, who is now 26. I found it less watchable by then, and now find it almost unwatchable. Well, so what, I am not the target audience. But I remember what I watched too, that my parents also enjoyed, if only to laugh at. It has definitely been dumbed down, and the children are not well served by it.
I like that "brandishing them like incantations!" Too right. It's a pity the BBC has been so influenced by sell, sell sell! The "WOW" factor. When we first went to Leighton Buzzard 1998, it was the last year sheepdog trials were televised. I and my then 3 year old found them riveting. I think you're right. The parts of the brain that reason and deduce need training. Too much media today only stimulates the parts that react and hunger for more. Bread and Circuses. Psychologists have told me the rapid eye movement and flashing lights in computer games, gameboy etc... could be a factor in the depression you see in many young people. They know those stimuli effect the brain, they haven't had time to understand exactly how and how much.
 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Annoyed today by someone in another writing group who unbidden has decided to advise me on my writing. This is someone who has a creative writing degree and apparently I have coloured outside the lines. I am reminded again of Neil Gaiman. "

“I suspect that most authors don't really want criticism, not even constructive criticism. They want straight-out, unabashed, unashamed, fulsome, informed, naked praise, arriving by the shipload every fifteen minutes or so.”​

Oops not that one. This one.​

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”​

 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
And art is never perfect as far as the artist is concerned, so why not listen to what someone else says while you're developing it? Just be careful that you don't take advice from Monet if you want to paint like Picasso.
I learned this from the only creative writing course I ever took. The prof said "It takes two to make a work of art. The artist to create it and another guy to hit them with a hammer, take it out of their hands and declare it finished."
 

Katie-Ellen

Basic
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Which monumental writers started out with a creative writing degree? OK, it is too recent perhaps for that to be a fair question. Time will tell. You carry on colouring outside the lines, Pamelo Jo and let them tend their safe little furrow. The Muse is one thing. Inspired editing is another. The day of the super editors, like Monteith, seems done, that made that true, and helped land the writer's vision with their own added craft. Now it is mostly 'let's all playsafeplaysafeplaysafe because... the money and whoops, we don't want to be cancelled...and who knows what might upset someone?'

Writers are supposed to 'upset' us, one way and another. That is what it is about. The tail is now wagging the dog.
 

Galadriel

Full Member
LV
0
 
And the reason I don't highly praise LoTR is the over-description of setting -- to the exclusion of story in many places. A great story wrapped up in too many words for the place he created (a common world-building fault, I'm told, but then some people love that aspect and others don't - we're all different in what we enjoy in a story).
And perhaps that is because Tolkien was a linguist first and foremost; he wanted to create a world where he could manifest his love of creating new languages and embed them in a strong sense of place.
 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Which monumental writers started out with a creative writing degree? OK, it is too recent perhaps for that to be a fair question. Time will tell. You carry on colouring outside the lines, Pamelo Jo and let them tend their safe little furrow. The Muse is one thing. Inspired editing is another. The day of the super editors, like Monteith, seems done, that made that true, and helped land the writer's vision with their own added craft. Now it is mostly 'let's all playsafeplaysafeplaysafe because... the money and whoops, we don't want to be cancelled...and who knows what might upset someone?'

Writers are supposed to 'upset' us, one way and another. That is what it is about. The tail is now wagging the dog.
Thank you. This person means well. She's trying to help me.. but she's one reason I gave up submitting to this group for feedback. The limit is 400 words which is really too short to get a feel for what you are trying to do, especially when any critique is always as if the submission were the first paragraphs of your WIP. ( I don't have to say , who, what and where. It's the middle. Where stuff happens.) At some point it became obvious to me that there was a bit of an unconscious agreement to make whatever was submitted conform to the admins rules for writing thrillers, her genre. The result is more like following a class assignment than offering the reactions of a reader. I survived as a freelancer, albeit by the skin of my teeth, by figuring out what would sell at that moment in time. This is like playing the market as a City broker. No school can teach that skill. Ultimately you pays your money and you takes your chances. My mental image is of aspiring writers as sellers attending the local market craft fair. We lay our wares out on the ground unable to afford a booth like published writers, then try to attract the attention of passing buyers. Maybe nostalgia will sell this market day? Maybe it will be a literary widget spinner, which is how I class Terry Pratchett. You can keep re-crafting the same products you were taught to make in your apprenticeship, but probably whoever has something new will clean your clock. Like the woman wearing shades of grey who sold out her crude boobie and willy salt shakers before the day was half over.
 

Katie-Ellen

Basic
LV
2
 
Awards
1
I went just once to an evening writing class, hopeful at the prospect of good company. The woman hosting it wasted no time in giving me a sharp nip, the very first thing I said, which was a solicited response in answer to her direct question. My way was not the right way, apparently. One man remarked on her comments, called it straight out. I kept a stone face, not to dignify it with my acknowledgement but I saw this was not about writing. This was about status and territory. Hers.
Yawn.
OK.
I am OUT.
 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
I went just once to an evening writing class, hopeful at the prospect of good company. The woman hosting it wasted no time in giving me a sharp nip, the very first thing I said, which was a solicited response in answer to her direct question. My way was not the right way, apparently. One man remarked on her comments, called it straight out. I kept a stone face, not to dignify it with my acknowledgement but I saw this was not about writing. This was about status and territory. Hers.
Yawn.
OK.
I am OUT.
Rebel, Rebel.
 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Life is short.

Many years later (via a novel, Dark Matter by Michelle Paver) I found Peter @AgentPete and this altogether more inclusive, nicer place, back in...not sure, 2010?
I bought the Wolf Brothers book set for xmas for my son's this year. I know they would have loved them when they were younger so... I keep gathering books for the grandchildren that may never come. I didn't buy Dark Matter because of a review on Amazon that the 2nd story was the same as the first. To think but for that review I might have found my way to Litopia... I'm enjoying the variety of voices. It does seem the sort of bar Han Solo would walk into.
 

Katie-Ellen

Basic
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Personal Opinion. Thin Air is good. But Dark Matter was first and I think, best. Masterly. Virtuoso in long stretches. She was really down in 'that' well.
 

Pamela Jo

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Personal Opinion. Thin Air is good. But Dark Matter was first and I think, best. Masterly. Virtuoso in long stretches. She was really down in 'that' well.
You need to go and write that review on Amazon, stat. I am buying it probably next month as next book is horror so I'm kind of researching how you deal with a supernatural scary. The trick is not showing too much, or too little. The Thing is still one of the top terrifying movies ever. If Paver can riff on that she's got me.
 

Katie-Ellen

Basic
LV
2
 
Awards
1
The reviews are very varied. We do take pot luck. I read inside whenever poss, and the first page sells it, or doesn't. The voice and calibre of the observation.

I once remarked to @AgentPete that the title of 'Dark Matter' made me think of an observatory, and he said, how strange, because the novel was originally set in an observatory. This bespeaks a long hard slog, and lengthy gestation. I read somewhere that Michelle said she was almost embarrassed to admit how long she worked on this book one way and another. But, there, for me, is the gravitas. You can tell with 'Dark Matter', that this story was brewing a long, long time.
Did it frighten me? Well, the landscape certainly frightened me, and one knows that something truly hideous has happened somewhere along the line. There is an unpleasant mix of claustrophobia and agoraphobia. What TC Lethbridge might have called a ghoul...a nasty residue held in a place,
I had a taste of that once myself...in a beautiful place in Suffolk. But wild horses wouldn't drag me to Michelle's Gruhuken.

Katie-Ellen Hazeldine's review of Dark Matter

 

Season's Greetings

Amusement You are so Yummy!

Top