I want to preface this with the fact that they were, in fact, respectable to me. I had no issues with my recent manuscript that I turned in (it's also published on the site if anyone is interested) and everyone gave good feedback that was both helpful and critical. I didn't feel I was being led along, nor did I feel I was being trampled. In fact, I felt really good, but that's a story for another time.
This all changed today. Another student in the class had handed in a manuscript for us to read and review, and our discussion was based around her work. I will admit right away that I was not thrilled with what was on the page. It was clear that they were a bit out of practice, or that they had no idea where to start with this sort of project. Despite this, there was some good stuff in there. The setting was interesting, the characters had potential, and I was interested in making it better (I actively marked up on her manuscript little suggestions where she could add voice or expand imagery because it was ripe with openings). So I came to class with a marked up manuscript and a critique written in the hopes that I would be able to convince her to keep at it, because ultimately, if it's something you love you should keep at it. Unfortunately that's not where we ended up.
The discussion started well enough, with suggestions about expanding the characters (but mentioning that there was good groundwork laid already) or saying that the setting was strong but that she needed to incorporate it more, ensure that we felt invested. All stuff I readily agreed with. But as we went around the room, the collective jar of compliments to take from dwindled until people were essentially repeating each other.
Around this point, we ended up getting into some real critiques, mentioning the plot holes that were scattered in the piece, or how certain motivations seemed lacking or the confusion caused by structure. At some point, someone decided that they could cross a line and told her that the work felt broken, piecemeal, and uninspired. They said it felt as though someone had taken a paint-by-numbers story and handed it in.
At this point, I was officially done with the conversation. I had nothing more good to say, and my critiques were all written nicely on her paper with smiles and kind words so as to not offend. So I decided to keep my mouth shut and watch. The author was visibly shaken. She was looking from her paper, to the table, to the window, to her pencil – anywhere that she didn't have to make eye-contact. It seemed like the only thing keeping her composed and there were a few pieces of tape.
The professor somehow didn't notice this and allowed this shit to essentially continue, while also adding to it himself. Having your work fucking shredded is hard enough. Having it done in your face with 18 people watching and all you can do is smile and take it is a whole different thing.
So yeah. I was a little shaken. I still am honestly. I hope that she doesn't drop the class, because she wasn't bad. She wasn't good, but there was room for improvement is all. I think if she was dedicated enough, she could absolutely have made the piece into something more readable. But now I'm worried that'll never happen. I don't know, maybe I'm not being hard enough, maybe I'm just trying to be nice to keep any blood off my hands because I can't take that sort of thing weighing on me. Maybe they were all right. But I still can't help feeling that there was a better way to let her know.