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  1. #21
    Destructive 'Criticism': Your book is a pile of garbage.

    Constructive 'Critique': I felt the beginning lacked some character development and needed richer presentation of setting. The middle lacked voice, and the ending could be improved by adding some improvements. I also think you need to work a little bit on the title. I wasn't a big fan of the premise as I feel it lacks originality. I do like the font! Definitively use that font more!

    ^These mean much the same thing, ultimately. They are both personal opinions, the second one is simply dressed up for dinner.

    In the second case, a self-aware author can easily parse from the 'critique' that the reader thought the book was terrible and yet, for whatever reason, felt unable to say so. Instead, the critique indulges in this silly, wasteful charade of offering tokenistic 'constructive feedback' that indicates the piece has potential when absolutely everybody who reads it knows it doesn't. I suppose if we're just talking hobbyists and children, that sort of thing is fine but for people who want to be 'professional writers'? I just find that sort of thing ghastly, I'm afraid.

    The truth is, nobody owes you 'constructive' feedback, and they certainly don't owe you encouragement -- which is really what the plea for 'constructive critique' comes down to being code for. I would argue that, for the serious writer, encouragement can be a poisoned chalice. If it wasn't for goddamn encouragement, I would have pulled my head out my ass ten years ago, stopped trying to write extravagant epics I was simply not capable of executing on (which I was told were 'really good but...') gone back to basics and learned within my lane.

    Being told your book is shit can be the most valuable critique you'll ever get. Why? Because shit is shit. There's no parsing the meaning, no equivocating, no wobbling, no hinted promise at the thing working out if X problems are corrected. Sure "your book is shit" is heartbreaking to hear but, from a developmental perspective, sometimes it is incredibly necessary. Sometimes shit can be salvaged into gold, yes, but often it cannot be. Some ideas are rotten, some characters are toxic, some books need hurled atop the pyre.

    Personally, I will take a good faith 'I hated this' over a bad faith 'This part didn't work for me but...' any day of the week. It amazes me that people want to be lied to, merely to preserve ego. Not for me, thanks. If you hate my story, tell me.
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  2. #22
    I agree The Mighty Adz, that personal opinion matters little in critiquing. So often I've read critiquers say something like "Well, I'm supposed to say something negative in my critique so I'll say this . . ." -- as if it's an obligation to be negative. That's not the case at all. I love to watch a good critiquer in action.
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  3. #23
    But you're not everyone, luckyscars. Some beginner writers in particular are unsure of themselves and to be in the hands of a "your work is shit" evaluator could throw them out of the writing arena altogether. If I read a critique of the "your work is shit" variety on anyone, then that critiquer will never get a critique from me (even though it's not my ox being gored). (When I put my mind to it, hard, I'm pretty good at the job of critiquing.) Being nasty doesn't necessarily translate to being right. Any two-year-old can shout "This is ugly!" Brutality in critique language doesn't impress me.
    Last edited by Pamelyn Casto; February 22nd, 2021 at 01:45 PM.
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  4. #24
    I always find it helpful to determine what a writer's goals are. That helps me pitch appropriate critique. Also having some idea of what the writer will engage with helps; I try and gauge what sort of person they are and crit accordingly. But yeah, I do find that then when I go back to my own stuff, those crits are still fresh in my mind so I can apply them to the text.


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  5. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by Pamelyn Casto View Post
    Some beginner writers in particular are unsure of themselves and to be in the hands of a "your work is shit" evaluator could throw them out of the writing arena altogether.
    Pretty much all writers are 'unsure of themselves'. That isn't unique to being a beginner and it doesn't go away.

    More pointedly, at some point every beginner becomes a non-beginner. When that happens, at some point somebody is going to provide 'destructive feedback' based on the merits of the work -- because that's life. So, when should the Rubicon ideally be crossed? Far better to be told your book stinks before investing in the publishing effort and hearing it on an Amazon review, isn't it? I think so. Because once you submit the book, it's over. You don't get to try again with the same project. You can't recall a book from the marketplace, have another stab, and go back for people to give you another chance. Your reputation is on the line.

    With that in mind, I am talking about an act of colossal kindness: Preserving the writer from the inevitable humiliation that comes from publishing bad writing. Nobody told Norman Boutin this when he was writing his book, when it could have mattered, and so he heard it from the whole world instead. Now he will never publish a real book no matter what he does.

    I agree with bdcharles -- this all depends a lot on goal. A friend who dabbled and wrote a story? Sure, encourage them, be supportive. They're your friend. But that's not what we're talking about, is it? We're talking about serious critique for people who want to be taken seriously by people who have no investment in them as a human being.

    As far as people being 'thrown out of the writing arena'... I just don't believe it. I have never met anybody who quit writing over negative feedback who was truly invested in the first place. If you truly want to write, you're not going to let an internet opinion change that. If you truly want to write, you will channel negative feedback into resolve. I think it's an imaginary problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pamelyn Casto View Post
    Being nasty doesn't necessarily translate to being right. Any two-year-old can shout "This is ugly!" Brutality in critique language doesn't impress me.
    I didn't say it did.

    The point isn't that people should be brutal in feedback, merely that they should not be condemned for being so when it is appropriate. Some books deserve it. Some writers need it. I both needed it and deserved it and I am (now) happy I got it.
    Last edited by luckyscars; February 22nd, 2021 at 03:03 PM.
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  6. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by indianroads View Post
    As was alluded to, there is an art to critique.

    Criticism:
    1. the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

    2. the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.

    Too often people issue the later which is destructive, rather than the former which can be constructive.

    I teach martial arts. If I were to criticize a white-belt (beginner) harshly on his front-kick, he's likely to quit training. Learning is a process, no one ever gets it right when they start. Teaching, like critique, is an art to itself. First I praise the white-belt on what he is doing right, then I pick one or two aspects of his form and show him how to improve. The student comes away feeling encouraged, eager to work on the improvements I suggested, and knowing that there is a long road ahead but if they work hard they will attain their black-belt.

    I also believe that those that critique have to step away from their personal preferences. If the piece is written in first person POV, and I don't like that POV, I shouldn't rail on the writer for not writing in the third person.

    A large aspect of the martial arts is learning how to defend oneself. I usually teach people to keep their techniques low (no kicks to the head), keep their response simple but savage, and do the minimum necessary to escape the situation.

    A long time ago I had a student that loved doing jump spin hook kicks. This is a technique where you jump straight up, spin 360 degrees, then slam your heel in your opponent's head. It's used a lot in tournament fights, but on the street I like having my feet on the ground. So, I kept telling this young man to not use that kick in a life or death situation.

    Well, one night after class, I received a phone call after midnight. It was the young man I spoke of, he was sobbing, but I heard another voice in the background saying, "You did good kid." Of course, I went down to the scene to aid my student.

    The police and paramedics were there. According to the police, when my student was leaving a pizza place a man was walking in pulling a pistol out of his coat. Guess what technique he instinctively used: Yup, jump spin hook kick. The kick hit the would-be robber and according to the paramedic it reduced the robber's jaw and cheek bone to 'gravel'.

    After that, I never criticized my student's choice of technique.

    Just as it is with writing, as long as the job gets done, how we get there doesn't much matter.

    If you're going to critique someone's work, first give positive reinforcement, then pick a few things for them to work on. You want them to continue writing, not feel discouraged and give up.

    Just my opinion.
    That's what I meant.
    A constructive criticism.



    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    I think you are mixing criticism with critique. It is very difficult to differentiate exactly, but this is how I see it.

    Basically criticism is the presentation of a personal opinion, critique is an attempt to present an objective opinion. With criticism they are simply telling you how it affected them, and to a large extent that has come to mean in a negative way, "He is very critical" has come to mean he only has bad things to say, though as you say people do make positive criticisms, "I found this a wonderful, uplifting read". A critique is more about pointing out ways that the writing may be improved. That may involve pointing out errors in the writing "This part is a list where sometimes you use commas and sometimes 'and' " but should then suggest how it might be improved, "better to use commas consistently, unless you are trying for a particular effect by using 'and' consistently, consistency is usually best"

    Compare that to "You have 'and' and commas all mixed up, unreadable!". That's critical.

    It is partly difficult because this is a comparatively new area of language that is still evolving, fifty years ago I don't think I ever heard the word 'critique'.

    You are right.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pamelyn Casto View Post
    But you're not everyone, luckyscars. Some beginner writers in particular are unsure of themselves and to be in the hands of a "your work is shit" evaluator could throw them out of the writing arena altogether. If I read a critique of the "your work is shit" variety on anyone, then that critiquer will never get a critique from me (even though it's not my ox being gored). (When I put my mind to it, hard, I'm pretty good at the job of critiquing.) Being nasty doesn't necessarily translate to being right. Any two-year-old can shout "This is ugly!" Brutality in critique language doesn't impress me.
    It's true.
    I had stopped writing for this reason.
    It was not constructive criticism. They were insults. People who laughed at me, and offended me.
    There was no criticism, no help to improve.
    I will have been unlucky in the past.
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    Thank you all for the help you give me to improve my English.

  7. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by LadySilence View Post
    It's true.
    I had stopped writing for this reason.
    It was not constructive criticism. They were insults. People who laughed at me, and offended me.
    There was no criticism, no help to improve.
    I will have been unlucky in the past.
    Can you give some more detailed examples of what was said?

    I don't disbelieve you, but people do have a tendency to take criticism personally, especially criticism that does not offer some sort of sugar coating. That doesn't make such criticism 'insulting', nor does it necessarily mean anybody is laughing at you. It just means you perceived it as such.

    Have you ever heard of a film critic called Roger Ebert? Probably one of the most famous movie critics of all time. His critiques of certain movies were legendary. Here is his view on Stanley Kubrick's famous A Clockwork Orange:

    Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is an ideological mess, a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading as an Orwellian warning. It pretends to oppose the police state and forced mind control, but all it really does is celebrate the nastiness of its hero, Alex... But they've really hyped A Clockwork Orange for more than it's worth, and a lot of people will go if only out of curiosity. Too bad. It is just plain talky and boring. You know there's something wrong with a movie when the last third feels like the last half.
    Here he is lambasting another great movie, Dead Poets Society:

    Dead Poets Society is not the worst of the countless recent movies about good kids and hidebound, authoritarian older people. It may, however, be the most shameless in its attempt to pander to an adolescent audience. The movie pays lip service to qualities and values that, on the evidence of the screenplay itself, it is cheerfully willing to abandon. If you are going to evoke Henry David Thoreau as the patron saint of your movie, then you had better make a movie he would have admired.
    Arguably, these are pretty insulting, right? They're certainly not what most people would call 'constructive critiques'. He offers no suggestions, no real balance. He simply let's loose with his opinion. He hated it. He says so.

    Some people may, understandably, think of Ebert as a big mouth asshole. I get that. But nobody can doubt that he was honest in what he thought. Importantly, he was fair. Some movies got this sort of thing, but Ebert always tried to assess things based on their merits and how he thought most audiences would appreciate them (a bit of that 'objectivity' Olly mentioned) and he would applaud things done well as vehemently as he would slam things done badly. Consequently every movie maker during his lifetime wanted the 'thumbs up' from the guy. It meant as much as an Oscar, to many.

    And, like, this is what critique is! Real critique is honest, reactionary, but fair. It tells you when something is wonderful. It tells you when something is awful. These are things you need to know. If it is good critique, it will give an idea as to the reasoning behind its conclusion, but it ISN'T about offering pastoral care to the writer nor being considerate of egos. If you want that, get a mentor...or a mother. The industry is hard, it can be cruel, it can be hurtful sometimes. But if what you want is to be a good writer you absolutely have to learn from destructive criticism as well as constructive criticism. It's a destructive world, you can't pick your audience.
    Deactivated due to staff trolling. Bye!

  8. #28
    Just gonna throw my two cents in here with an analogy:

    I have worked in manufacturing for many years. The jobs I have had require a degree of mechanical aptitude in order to be proficient. I was asked to train new hires for a job in which I was very proficient. Over the six months of training upwards of twenty people, there was one case where the person was not even remotely qualified to do the job. I tried everything to help him, using every tactic I could think of to instruct him. He simply didn't understand.

    Nineteen other folks had no problem grasping the concepts. I really liked him and I felt like I was letting him down.

    Sometimes it just isn't meant to be.

  9. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Nobody told Norman Boutin this when he was writing his book, when it could have mattered, and so he heard it from the whole world instead. Now he will never publish a real book no matter what he does.
    Norman Boutin will never publish a real book because he's a shit writer who deluded himself into thinking he's a superstar before he ever started. He spams the damn thing everywhere, and was incredibly insulting to EVERYONE who tried to offer constructive criticism. Boutin never had a chance to be a good writer. Finally, the people he both insulted and defamed started making fun of him, and he deserved every bit of it. No one has ever been as nasty to Boutin as he is to the world, but no one ever mollycoddled Boutin.

    I'm intimately familiar with the [pick your own pejorative]. He spammed his trash under my reviews and then harassed me for years after I got his spam deleted. (I'm far from the only one with that experience with him).

    He's not alone in the locus of shit writers who think their first work is marvelous, but he's in the running for most deluded and obnoxious. Frankly, I NEVER ran across a shit writer who had delusions of grandeur who ever had a chance to improve. To improve at anything, a person needs to believe they have something to learn, and that just doesn't jive with the whole deluded psychology. Just like Boutin, those people are a guaranteed failure before they type a word.

    However, here's the dividing line in the discussion between you Pamelyn: shit writers who think they are superstars don't come to communities like this with an eye to learning. It simply won't happen. They might show up to spam, but they get banned forthwith. So we can afford to take a bit more of a nurturing attitude here.

    Also, on that subject, I believe every writer is responsible to honestly evaluate their own skills and take charge of their own development. That's why I constantly advise hopeful authors to study, study, study. Learn the common mistakes and identify them in their own writing. Learn how to edit those mistakes into something better. No critic pointing out a poor writing feature means so much to a developing writer as figuring it out for themselves.

    That doesn't mean criticism can't be valuable, but it's a bit of a dartboard. Read great writers. Read great lessons. Evaluate our writing by taking those lessons SERIOUSLY. Then employ them.

    Pamelyn's point is that most writing isn't ALL shit. So tell the writer their strengths, then point out the poor features. Yes, be honest. Maybe someone should have told you, "Great story idea, just don't drag it out to infinity." LOL Then you'd have had the good and the bad.

  10. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Pamelyn Casto View Post
    But you're not everyone, luckyscars. Some beginner writers in particular are unsure of themselves
    and to be in the hands of a "your work is shit" evaluator could throw them out of the writing arena altogether.
    Some are unsure of themselves to a point where one negative critique ends their writing career right then and there, and not because they
    don't want to write or improve, but because they've always had enough self-doubt hanging around them that even the smallest set back
    helps to crumble their fragile world.

    I've received so many rejections that you'd think I'd be used to it, but I also have a degree of self-doubt. Lucky for me, my passion for
    writing and improving my product always keeps me going. A lot of writers aren't as driven as some of us, and it's completely unacceptable
    to ruin someone in such a way, especially if they writing is their main creative outlet that gives them happiness.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pamelyn Casto View Post
    If I read a critique of the "your work is shit" variety on anyone, then that critiquer will never get a critique
    from me (even though it's not my ox being gored). (When I put my mind to it, hard, I'm pretty good at the job of critiquing.) Being nasty
    doesn't necessarily translate to being right.
    Any two-year-old can shout "This is ugly!" Brutality in critique language doesn't impress
    me.
    100% agree. There's really no other way to look at it.

    -JJB
    ​"Strong convictions precede great actions....."

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