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

RK Capps

Full Member
LV
0
 
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

Full Member
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

Full Member
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.
 

RK Capps

Full Member
LV
0
 
It's alchemy. Like cooking or creating a perfume. Enough people have to want to eat it/smell it/read it.

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.
 

Katie-Ellen

Full Member
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.
 
Top