Friday, September 08, 2006

The Baleful Eye

Between Miss Snark and Evil Editor, we are provided with - not just examples of professional reaction - but the opinions of drive-by writers, some with professional credentials and some not.

To those on the pedestal or pillory, the second opinions should not be dismissed lightly - because they are not your mother, your high school English teacher, your bestest buddy, or your Aunt Velma (see above.)

Criticism from the latter group may be helpful or negative. Negative comment may fall into some of the following categories:

Criticism by taste:
Either for subject or type. Some cannot recognize the tropes and conventions of a specific genre because they despise or dismiss that form.
They may have an absolute distaste from personal experience for certain subjects, such as suicide. These critics tend to believe their experience is universal.
Consider the source. Govern yourself accordingly.
Remember though, you may have just cut your general market in half because their reactions may be shared by many, many book buyers.

Criticism by nazis:
These are bibliolaters who refuse to entertain the use of sentences fragments, "towards," or more than one adverb per page because such usage deviates from whichever holy manual they revere above all others.
Not much a violator of the canon can do about these, but ask yourself if your sins are minor or mortal.

Criticism by rote:
These critics read somewhere that something was a no-no - without understanding the why in a specific instance.
Sometimes they are right for totally the wrong reasons. They may deride on the basis of cliche - when the problem is not cliche but the irrelevance to the action of the passage in question.
Their objection may hide a heads-up.

Criticism by ignorance:
These critics never heard of a certain terminology or reference, therefore it must be wrong, obscure and distracting.
Their objections deserve attention, because the writer must always consider the LCD.

One should pay particular attention to those who pounce on plot holes and inconsistencies of character and action. Pay attention to the grammarians and the POV pundits. Pay attention to every type of criticism.

Never forget: most of the critics are sincerely trying to help - and not everyone who simply loves your stuff is right or honest.

Any other examples of silly or bull's eye criticism?

Pardon My Pimp: My tech-child is a guest speaker in Toronto tonight at Salon Voltaire. The event is SOLD OUT.
Among other credits, she has an article coming out soon in Spacing magazine.


S. W. Vaughn said...

Criticism by proxy: Miss Snark said this is good/bad/crap-on-toast; therefore, it is good/bad/crap-on-toast.

I saw a lot of that going on this time. :-)

kmfrontain said...

Criticism Nazi. I may be one. I get very very upset when I see "I. We. You." instead of "I... We... You..." in a manuscript that has a character not finishing a sentence due to passion or whatever. But I can't stand this "from the internet, we don't care about sentence syntax, fuck all punctuation rules" so called "style". I can handle broken sentences. Sure. I can handle a lot of artistic choices, but I refuse to believe the above exampe is truly "style" or author voice.

There are other things that upset me as well, but there are too many to list, but none really have to do with being inflexible, so much as seeing when a "style" starts hurting a story. At least, I hope. I look at writing in this fashion: is this sentence working, or not? And that's about it. Sentence by sentence. Eventually, that gives me para by para, then chapter by chapter, until it's, yes or no, the story worked or not.

Good one, S.G.. Criticism by proxy. I prefer to make up my own mind.

Bernita said...

Noticed that too, Sonya.'Tis always thus. Good description!

Gawnd, no! That does NOT make you a language/style nazi, Karen!
Or if it does, I'm one too...that would drive me insane.
The rulz have to be broken very, very carefully, because most of them are there for a reason - like effective communication.

kmfrontain said...

LOL. We aims to break dem rulz, we does, we does.

Yeah, I applaud anyone who breaks rules such that reading is fun. It's when it's a chore that you know the endeavour failed.

Bernita said...

Am inclined to think that those you describe are more "nazis" than you are, Karen.
Their way or the highway.

kmfrontain said...

The "from the internet..." thing I wrote in my first comment is where I think it came from, and also the attitude that seems to come with it, but yeah, there are those that call it style or author voice. I do believe that anyone agreeing that this particular "style" is valid really doesn't know when style needs a fix.

Here's an example when it does work, for example: when someone is angry and being emphatic, as in "Sit. Down. Now!" In that case, we have definite pauses between words and the period shows it. So, you know, I can see when it will work.

I'm wondering if I should start compiling a list of memorable writing flaws, the nit picky flaws instead of general ones, and make a blog for it. The blog would have to include reasons why or why not said flaw doesn't work, and how to fix it, or what's the use of mentioning them?

Ric said...

Being a Friday, with a full moon and all, criticism isn't going to have any effect on me at all.

Why aren't we talking about sex?

And our Proud as Punch Blogmaster shouting out her prodigy, congrats.

Dennie McDonald said...

tis true, tis true - I belong to a critique group where my genre is two folks - just two - and the group is 50 strong - at times it is helpful for the craft and technique but there are times when it is detrimental as they don't "get" the genre.

Flood said...

Bernita, this is great. I'm gonna visit a writer's group next week, and I'm nervous about it. These points are going to help me understand what criticism is helpful and what's not.

Also, I need some thick skin. Know where I can find some?

Scott said...

I think we all could use some criticism, and I'm lining up for it with a new class. But one thing to keep in mind is that we ultimately answer to ourselves. My wife is a great sounding board for my work, but our tastes are different, and I'm finding that people like phrases that she rejects out of hand. So, pardon the cliche, you have to take criticism with a grain of salt. Be receptive, but use your own judgement too.

Bernita said...

Sure to be valuable, Karen.

Do you think I should make it a Friday feature, Ric?
Thank you!

Oh, oh, Dennie. Can just imagine!

You'll learn to sort the types quickly, Flood, I'm sure.
Think thick skin can be over-done. Some get so thick-skinned, they are calloused.
What are named "hurt feelings" are sometimes just a sense of failure - that's the attitude to avoid.
Ya gotta believe, despite imperfections.

That's exactly it, Scott.
Your story, your judgement, your responsibility. Not theirs.

kmfrontain said...

That's exactly it, Scott. Ultimately, it's writer choice. Until it at last finds a way to the editor, and then it's a combination of "Hey, don't you think this should be..." and "Yeah, but..." and "Ok, I see that." ;-)

Rick said...

I'd make the caution (as Scott did) that even well-thought-out criticism needs to be taken in meassured doses, or it will leach the life out of a story. Consider that "workshoppy" has a distinct connotation, and not a positive one. Try to please everyone and you'll end up exciting no one.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Those are all good points! And one editorsor agents poison could be another editor or agents gold. I think what writers should pay attention to is when multiple people make the same particular criticism....that's where the work needs to start!

Congrats to your "Tech-child"...LOL...that apple fell far from the tree! LOL!

Dave said...

I've noticed some of this.

You have a nice, succinct way of stating the types. Thanks.

It's tough to get the butt-kicking over something obscure or over someone else's tastes.

Bernita said...

Absolutely, Rick.Some never listen, some listen too much.

Bonnie, think rather I'm an apple core and she's a whole orchard.

Thank you, Dave.
It can be quite intimidating.

Ric said...

Interesting topic - of course, not as interesting as you-know-what?

Bonnie hit the nail on the head. You must keep going and going until you have a pattern. If two people say your writing sounds like Archie & Jughead, that's one thing. If twenty do, it probably does.

Which would be a bad thing unless you were going for that Marvel thing.

Your friends will not be good critics - even if they say they can, they will not hand you a ms and say, "This sucks." What you have to do is take all your beta reader feedback, line them up and look for similarities in their comments.

If you're lucky, like I was, you'll get three or four comments on something you didn't even think about that struck them as odd. After some thought, I agreed.

Criticism by Literary Snob.
"Oh, I never read romance." while sticking nose higher.

"Stephen King isn't a real writer; he's a hack."

Bernita said...

Yep, that's the best thing to do with most criticism rather than tell them to...
Look for patterns, both for strengths and weaknesses.
But you have to know WHY, you have to understand why something sucks or doesn't suck.
Always think about it.
You notice that editors like Tami and Karen - when they comment or on their blogs - often explain the reasoning behind it.
It's not good enough just to check off do's and don't's - or one will make the same mistakes over and over.

December Quinn said...

I think the Nazis bother me the most, largely because I've had editing experiences where my voice was changed in the name of "don't start sentences with and, but, or because". Even in dialogue. Which really bugged me. And that was a fragment, which I would have been tagged for, too.

Bernita said...

A rigid attention to a single form over substance, December.
Pfui! I say...