Saturday, February 11, 2006

Give and Take


Since we're on the subject of snippits, I have a question for you - how do you read?
Negative or positive?
A negative reader is one who expects to find problems in a piece of prose.
Mind you, they may not be disappointed, but that's a different thing.
They actively look for problems and are determined to find them.
I think it was Victoria Strauss, now of the excellent Writers Beware Blogs who pointed this out somewhere, sometime.
These readers assume that any piece they read is not up to standard. They approach any passage pre-judged, as inferior and amateurish.
The positive reader, on the other hand, begins with an open mind, stops only when something tickles their critical gene and only then figures out just why something makes them wince.
I try to be one of the positive type, though I probably don't always succeed.

Then there's the other foot: reaction to criticism.
The majority of writers I've seen receive critical suggestions with grace. They may explain just why they choose a certain form/word/whatever and what they intend. (I like to see this. What may appear obviously wrong in a short piece may well be excellent in the longer context. This sort of defence reminds us of the limitations of snippit criticism and we should factor and flavor our critiques accordingly. Further, one can learn from these explanations.)
These explanations - discussions on the craft really - never, however, slip into temper, excuse or resentment.
These writers understand that, for the most part, criticism is intended to be helpful.
But it takes all kinds.
Have also seen writers(?) provide the following reactions.
(1) I'm young (or sick), so you must forgive me (entitlement).
(2) I was so excited, so happy, how dare you trample on my enthusiasm( meany, my life is ruined! ruined!).
(3) Unless you never made a mistake, you shouldn't mention mine (how dare you - sometimes by a fan/friend).
(4) I will never post anything again ( beg me).
(5) You're all just jealous (qui s'excuse, s'accuse).
(6) Your suggestions are trivial and picayune and I have no intention of altering a single thing ( I, Claudius, or the Olympian reaction)

Things that make one go hmmmmm.

Ace of spades: (1) A widow, 19th c.>; (2) the female pudend (Have only seen this term used in fiction once) low, mid 19th c.> (3) a black-haired woman; "proletarian" slang,c.1900.

38 comments:

Savannah Jordan said...

I try to approach others snippets with an open mind, looking for the good but keeping an eye out for points upon which I can offer advice.

When I receive comments, or criticisms on my own pieces, I always take them into consideration during the next round of edits.

Erik Ivan James said...

Good morning Bernita!

I try to take the positive approach. But, if something trips me, I try to make a positive comment accordingly. I have to be very careful about my attempts to add humor to a comment, however, because it is sometimes taken as being cynical or sarcastic when it was not intended in that manner. My personality tends to be rather dry and cynical--so I've been told, and I have been working on not getting "carried away" with my comments.

Bernita said...

Yes, Savannah. I try to bear in mind they might be right for the wrong reason - that something twigged and it needs careful examination.

I'm afraid I am sometimes too abrupt, ie.brief, Erik, and therefore my comments might be read as more critical than I intend.

Sela Carsen said...

I take the same approach as Savannah -- in my own edits as well. I often save comments in a separate file and read them over frequently as I approach the rewriting stage.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I find that if I give myself permission to critique something, then I read it with a more critical eye.

I sometimes deliberately read for the education of it. Like sitting down reading first lines of books. Or prologues. Then I'm comparing, contrasting, seeing why one works for me more than another does.

But I do try to read for enjoyment. Lord knows how hard it is to fix everything in a ms. Authors can be under pressure for deadlines and such and sometimes, things fall through the cracks.

I've even heard of typesetters changing something in the text they thought was a mistake that was deliberate and wrecked the whole premise of that clue.

So it isn't always the authors fault if something falls through. And I try to leave that wiggle-room out there.

Bernita said...

So much to read, so little time.
I've found that at times I have the lamentable tendency to skim a piece and, as a result,come to some quite stupid conclusions - which a little more attention would have dismissed.
Fortunately, I usually read an item twice.

Ric said...

I think agents, and I assume editors as well, look for Bernita's list of 'defenders' whenever they interact with potential clients.
I've spoken to a number of agents by phone and you can tell they are listening carefully to your reactions. Presumably in an attempt to determine if you are one to take criticism well.

Miss Snark claims this is the reason for generic rejection letters. Apparently there are lots of folks plying this trade who don't take criticism very well.

Personally, I try to read for the content, the flow of the words, and whether the author is worth continuing. Something has to jump out harshly to get a negative comment.

ivan said...

Sandra,
You are a wit and, I hear, about to get an opus out.
Strange that the current post is on critcism.
You still say ms for manuscript?
Uh-oh.
When I was carting my baby around to about l7 publishing houses, people would say "book".

Just being a pain in the ass.

Your comments,wherever, are always witty, right-on and entertaining.
Exes and Oh's.

Bernita said...

One has to wonder, of course, if they react this way simply because the critics are merely other writers, and if they would be MUCH more circumspect and less resentful towards editors and agents.
One is inclined to think though that they have a ways to travel down the emotional road.

Bernita said...

Nothing strange about it, Ivan, and nothing to do with Sandra's prospects, or Sandra - whom I admire, relish and respect.

Rick said...

I think it is a difference between ordinary reading, and reading in writer mode.

When I come here to read Bernita's posts and everyone's comments, I'm simply reading. The subject is writing, and a lot of the writing is good - that's why I come here - but I'm not scrutinizing it.

But let her post a Damie snippet, and she's inviting me to read it in writer mode. So I'm automatically going to give it closer scrutiny. As Sandra says, it's a matter of invitation.

Bernita said...

I hope most of us read casually that way, for pleasure, information, etc.
You view posting a snippet then , Rick, as an invitation to search out defects? Or just a request for a closer and different attention?
Even if - unlike what I usually do - an explicit invitation for critique is not offered by the writer?
Actually I'm sure you fall into the fair and positive category from my experience.

Rick said...

A request for a closer and different attention?

Exactly that, which is why I call it writer mode, not negative mode. I'm not looking for flaws, as such - it's not like reading my own stuff in revision mode, when the mental red pencil is out - but I am looking with an eye for things that work nicely, or that clunk, rather than just reading for the story.

Even if - unlike what I usually do - an explicit invitation for critique is not offered by the writer?

I think it's all a matter of context. If someone is blogging about writing a book, and has snippets, that seems like an invitation to discuss it as a work in progress. If someone puts out a whole story on their site, that's more intended just to be read.

I read very little fiction online, though. I don't look for it, and when I stumble across some, it's usually all too clear why it won't be showing up in print.

Bernita said...

All of the company that sometimes assembles here excluded, I do hope, Rick.

I don't have much appetite for long fiction either, but I do enjoy reading snippits. They're like snack food.

Carla said...

That's a shame. I do read long fiction online, especially if it's a PDF I can print out, and I'm in process of building a website for stories that are too long to go on a blog. Alas, looks like I'm a minority of one again :-)

Bernita said...

It's simply a matter of eyes, Carla.

Rick said...

Present company excluded! The stuff I've stumbled on, that I somewhat ruthlessly described, was much more "fannish" in flavor, though not fanfic in the technical sense.

I'm sure there is good stuff out there online, intended simply to be read, not as snippets of a work in progress. With short fiction especially, because there are so few markets (and even those don't pay much), people may just put their stuff out to see if it pulls in some readers.

Gabriele C. said...

I can deal with criticism that is meant to help me - even if I decide the suggestions don't work for me. What pisses me off is the attitude I've met sometimes (not here) that the critic wants to show off his own wittiness. And in case (s)he's a writer, too, I can get snarky in a return crit. Mwuahaha

I'm also a bit sensitive towards Moulding Into My Syle crits, and I've left one online circle after two helpful critics got replaced by one of those, and one whose book I just didn't want to read.

I don't mind crits on my blog snippets - I even invited them once.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bernita, that's so kind of you to say. Thanks.

Ivan, Sandra Ruttan's Opus will be in theatres this fall. Lead role to be played by Sandra Bullock, who's had to work on the accent extensively.

Seriously, where did you hear that? Someone told me on Monday they heard I signed a book deal. I swear, I didn't the signed contract in the mail until today.

Bernita said...

Payback is sweet, Gabriele.
"Moulding in my style?" - writers who think there's only one style? And it's theirs?

Carla said...

I wasn't sure whether to comment on this because the method I use doesn't work on snippets by definition. I do a lot of critiquing in a professional capacity, because part of my job as a senior writer is to review articles before they go out to peer review or to print. I haven't done much fiction critiquing but I apply the same technique to it, and from the feedback I've had it seems to be considered helpful.

I read the whole thing through start-to-finish as a reader, and note down only where I got lost or where something really seemed out of place. 'WTF?' as Miss Snark would have it. That read gives me the shape of the piece. If it's a scientific paper it'll tell me the premise, the key results, the key conclusion, and what this research adds to knowledge in the field (if it doesn't, there's a problem). If it's fiction, it'll tell me the key plot, the main characters and the theme(s). So I know what the writer's trying to achieve. Then I go through it again and mark up anywhere where I think the writing doesn't work. In a paper that will be anything from 'the results don't support the conclusion', 'this doesn't flow logically from the previous point', 'where's Table 3?', 'you haven't included XXXXX' to spelling mistakes, typos, data that don't add up, references that don't match the text and misused terminology. In fiction it will be things like 'I got lost here because....' or 'X is important later on, can you foreshadow it here?' or 'why does she do this?' or 'this makes me think of XX, should it?' or 'how does this fit with the bit 100 pages later where he does X?' or 'this action doesn't seem to fit with the character, you may need to make the motivation clearer' all the way down to 'this word/sentence/phrase gives me image X whereas I think you may have intended image Y, what about XXXX instead?'.
Then I read the whole thing again a day later, and then I send my comments to the writer. If they don't understand or don't agree with something I said, we discuss it - quite often if I've got the wrong end of the stick, it means someone else might and they can alter it to make it clearer.

There may be a difference in reaction between a private critique exchanged via email, and a public critique on a web page? Criticism on a web page or forum could easily look like a public humiliation no matter how gently the critic tries to word it; I should imagine that could really hurt. I know I was terrified when I put my synopsis through Miss Snark's Crapometer and I wouldn't have dared do it if it hadn't been anonymous (even as it was, I changed all the names so that if I'd made a fool of myself I wouldn't also have made fools of my characters).

Gabriele C. said...

Yep, Bernita. For example, she likes lengthy descriptions. But she won't get lengthy descriptions from me, no matter how much she complains she can't see the scene. None of the others had any problem with that.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I always read for enjoyment, unless someone asks for my opinion.

For myself...I too, save all of my critiques, so as to be able to compare for common threads. I noticed that people who don't read in the same genre that I write, look for different things or don't understand certain momentums.

On the first few critiques that I recieved, trying to explain my motivation for the faux pas was construed as being argumentative, when in reality I agreed with their assessment and was only telling why I had done it.

I've learned to stop explaining!

Rick said...

Carla - for sure there's a difference between a public critique on a blog, and a private email critique. In a private critique I might get much Snarkier, "the aliens have just arrived," or whatever. In a public post I'd be more careful about tone.

And there's probably a middle ground, where a community is developing, as here. Then it is rather like a semi-private discussion in a public place, like people at a restaurant table, speaking pretty freely among each other, but knowing they may be entertaining people at surrounding tables.

Critiquing novels poses a problem in getting the overall view, because it is usually a work in progress. So you get stuff one chapter at a time, like an old time seriel, and it is easy to forget details from previous episodes.

ivan said...

Oh dear.
All my English friends went to
Victoria College here in Toronto and I had to settle for good old
Ryerson Pyromaniacal Institute, where I at least learned some science.
Writing, howeve, is not particle acceleration. It is esthetics, that candy apple polish your put on reality while at the same time
knowing the reality behind the apple. Not for nothing the Adam and Eve story. Not for nothing old Play Dough who dealt with all these matters. Writing is an intoxicant and you don't need to actually drink. Kind of an esthetic high,certainly something you may want to read for pleasure and pleasure alone.
I can actually see Mr. Spock reading Allen Ginsburg's HOWL, for exampla and snortng, "Illogical!"
It's just got to be purty, that's all.

Bernita said...

Seems to me like a logical and sensible method, Carla.

People at a restaurant table...I like that comparison very much, Rick.

Bonnie, it was only one person. I know I was interested in the fuller explanation, and I didn't see it as argumentative.

Mark Pettus said...

So, if I had an ace up my sleeve...

I'm an ultra positive reader. I am seldom critical unless I'm reading to critique or edit.

A few times I've read something expecting it to be bad based on a review, but even that hasn't forced me to remain negative (Stephen King just blistered The Bridges of Madison County, but I enjoyed it even though I approached it expecting syrup).

However, there is one writer who has been killing me with his stilted prose for almost a year - I like his damned story too much to quit reading.

v said...

Assless chaps!

"(2) the female pudend (Have only seen this term used in fiction once)"

I had to look this one up, although I am familiar with "pud" as a "dirty old man" word.

pu·den·dum
The human external genital organs, especially of a woman. Often used in the plural.
[Latin, neuter gerundive of pudre, to make or be ashamed.]


Are you familiar with the oeuvre of Lemmy of Motörhead? Sublime:

Pushing up the ante, I know you've got to see me,
Read 'em and weep, the dead man's hand again,
I see it in your eyes, take one look and die,
The only thing you see, you know it's gonna be,

The Ace Of Spades
The Ace Of Spades


Eh? Eh? The sheer talent is quite frightening. Put that in your borsht bowl, Dostoevsky!

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Whoops,
Fox in the henhouse.
Hey Anonalogue, we're pals.
You leave my harem alone.
I admit I'm queer straight off.
Queer for all the sensitve folk over here.
You and I can take a shit-kicking,but some of these people can't or won't.

v said...

Snob! I'm mindful of the delicate ecosystem here but Bernita has a potty-mouth theme this week and I'm just doing what I can to contribute. I happen to think my comments are just fine, notwithstanding your trivial and picayune criticisms, old chap!

Shesawriter said...

Words live forever, so it's best to take great care with what you type. Especially on the internet. Eyes are everywhere and memories are long. :-)

Tanya

ali said...

Depends why I'm reading. If I'm reading to give someone a crit, I'll read negatively. If I'm reading for enjoyment, you have to do a lot wrong to put me off!

As for recieving crits...I find the best thing to do is thank them, agree with them, and then go away and work out if they're right!

And no, Carla, you're not the only one - I've read entire books on line - the Baen free library, for example!

Bernita said...

Mark, that makes you an ace of a critic. Trumps.

Another example of associative dissonance?

Won't, Ivan.

"Potty mouth?"
Moi?
Anon, you infant.

I wonder whose or what post acquired the dire finger-wag from Tanya.

Ali, I see nothing wrong with a writer defending their work, though one shouldn't get into a cat-fight about it.

Carla said...

"As for recieving crits...I find the best thing to do is thank them, agree with them, and then go away and work out if they're right"

Excellently put, Ali.

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