Blog # 20
By Sandy Bernstein
By Sandy Bernstein
Have you ever had a bad critique? Or worse, a bad review? Unfortunately, if you’re a writer or author it comes with the territory. Better to receive the hard blows in a writers group or workshop first so you can fix problems before putting your work out there only to receive bad reviews.
The problem is, both are painful. Not everyone has tact when it comes to giving feedback. I believe in constructive criticism. It’s the only way to help another writer who may be struggling with a particular piece, improve. Speaking of which, here is how Dictionary.com defines both constructive and criticism:
1: Helping to improve; promoting further development or advancement (opposed to destructive).
1. The act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.
2. The act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.
The above could pertain to either a critique you’d get from your peers or reviews from readers. When it comes to criticism both groups can be harsh. So how do you minimize your chances of getting damaging feedback? And is there a difference between a critique and a review? Both are similar, but one may be more critical than the other. Let’s start with a critique you’d get from your peers.
It all starts with you. You are your own critic before anyone else can judge your work. In a writers group or workshop several people may hear or read your piece whether it’s a story, article, or poem. The constructive explanation in the dictionary says it all. Helping to improve. . . In a group setting you should expect a mix of comments, some of which may not be welcoming. Some writers may feel they are under attack, but that depends on the work in question and experience level of the group.
It’s wise to put things into perspective. Listening to feedback from others with an open mind is key as you consider suggestions for improvement. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the concept of being constructive. Everyone has an opinion and some people are more opinionated than others. A good group is designed to give constructive and structural advice, hopefully congruous in nature. In the end you decide what works and what doesn’t. So, what are your expectations? And do you plan to publish?
If so consider your options for revising. Reading aloud in a group shouldn’t be your only critique. Hearing a piece alone will not catch grammatical errors or typos. It’s best to cover all the bases and have as many eyes and ears on the work as possible. Remember, the longer the work, the more room for error. If you’re working on a novel, for example, keep in mind your group may not hear the work in its entirety. When you’re done revising have a professional editor or proofreader read over the final copy. Better to fix things beforehand, no matter how small.
After reading several unfavorable reviews recently, some on authors I like, I couldn’t help but think of readers’ expectations. One bad review stood out on a novel I had just finished. The reviewer wasn’t happy with the story for many reasons. Her comments were overblown, but the last statement was killer. She said she would never read anything by that author again. Ouch! Talk about harsh. I hesitated to add my comments. Although the story was fast paced and suspenseful, there were some flaws. I can overlook a few typos, but there were also issues with frequent shifting points of view and too many pronouns on several pages that left me confused. My review was positive overall, but it wasn’t a glowing one.
Why? It wouldn’t be honest. But honesty doesn’t have to be harsh or overly critical. If a reader has nothing good to say about a novel or its characters and only points out mistakes, or worse, rips the story apart then I have to wonder about the mentality of the person writing the review. They are critiquing the author, not the work. My mother used to say (as most did), If you have nothing good to say - don’t say anything at all. Good advice. Unfortunately, not for writers.
In this case both statements for Criticism apply, especially the second one. The act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, etc.
There are many reasons why a reader will pick apart a story. In general they may find fault with the plot or characters or both. Is the story believable? What about the ending? Did something go wrong or not make sense? Sometimes an ending doesn’t justify the means. We’ve all read stories that disappoint. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can turn readers off from the author completely. So can glaring grammatical problems and typos. Most readers can forgive a few mistakes, but bigger issues with editing or structure and storyline are less forgiving. So, are readers expecting too much?
Perhaps some are when it comes to new authors or certain genres. And that’s where things can get tricky. Some genres like science fiction or fantasy may require lengthy explanations or descriptions. Not all readers are on board for trudging through heavy text, but it is often the nature of the beast. And what about writing style? Is it the author’s individual voice or genre that drives the flow and rhythm of a story? I think both. When it comes to reviewing a novel, readers are mostly judging the overall work. The story itself. Mostly.
In short, it’s best to get an honest critique from your peers first. Don’t rush to submit your story or upload it before it is ready. A good story takes time. Be patient, be honest, and be fair when critiquing yourself and others. Getting good reviews start with getting good constructive feedback first.
Remember writing is a craft. And craft takes time. And while you won’t please everyone, it’s important to know you’ve done your best. If you are happy with the end result then by all means put your story out there. After all that is the goal, to share and entertain. In the end the art of evaluation is in the writer’s hands. Hopefully you get more good reviews then bad.