Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Give and Take

Lieutenant De Dragon Landry De Saint-Aubin,
Louis-Marie Sicardi,
oil on canvas, 1811.

And some faces I just don't...

Noticed something in my daily perambulations.

Let an agent or an editor express irritation with some small element of technique or plot line and wham - every snippit put up for critique elsewhere will be nailed for violation, whether its portals or passive voice or POV or something quite minor.

The pieces in question may well deserve it - given that amateur writers are ubitiquous sinners - but sometimes they do not.

Many critics are amateurs too.

Someone observed recently that the word that would soon be top of the hit-list, trotted out and trotted on throughout critique sites. Irrespective of utility.

These are the trend critics who leap to obey when the slush gods speak.

Unfortunately such critics sometimes have a feeble grasp of the concepts they condemn and see evil where it does not exist.

Interesting how writing is like religion.


kmfrontain said...

One of the first things I noticed about multiple critiques of different stories on critique groups. In some cases, the "give" part of critiquing was annihilated by the "take". That's why it's important for writers to develop the facility for analyzing their own work in a logical and impersonal fashion. Only then can they discern which "take" is worth taking.

writtenwyrdd said...

I hear ya, Bernita. I get that a lot with my own stuff.

I think the key is to not let yourself get emotional, whether you are the writer or the critiquer.

To make a possibly poor analogy, I think this bandwagon trend is very much similar to the the overuse Freudian symbolism, e.g. every oblong or pointed object suddenly becoming a phallic symbol.

Bernita said...

So true, Karen.

Writers do not assume that if something isn't mentioned that it's fine, a critiquer should mention what works as well as what doesn't.

Caveat emptor, definitely, Written.
That's not a bad analogy.

Anonymous said...

A person has to have thick skin if they are willing to be reviewed. Myself for one.

Bernita said...

Not sure I completely buy that oft-repeated platitude, Steve.
Writers should be sensitive to criticism - when the criticism has merit.

December Quinn said...

Yes, I know what you mean, I certainly do. And it feels like a concept or idea gets played out, even though we haven't seen it anywhere.

And as soon as the picture came up I thought, "Oh, I don't like him." :-)

The first guy was definitely far more appealing.

Jaye Wells said...

Ah, the grammar mob--close kin to the nitwit horde. Both groups reflect a struggle to feel superior among the bottom feeders.

Anonymous said...

Bernita, I agree with you. When the criticism has merit, but I don't always know when it does. When you get two conflicting comments, it's hard to tell.

DBA Lehane said...

If criticism is constructive then it can be some of the most "useful advice" a writer will ever receive. I would always welcome constructive criticism.

Bernita said...

Maybe it's the smug, supercillious expression, December.

Sometimes, I suspect, such comments are based on that, Jaye.Some simply by an incomplete understanding or improper application of what is basically a good guide.

Then you need more opinions, Steve!
With only two, you have to go by logic and your gut.
If it's three out of five, you may have something that may need to be addressed - but beware those who do not give reasoned explanations for their points, or if their explanations don't make a crumb of sense.

Bernita said...

The definition of "constructive criticism" may vary, however,Dbh.
I have seen "constructive criticism" devolve around a theory of style - as if there were only one acceptable.

Rick said...

I don't like Lieutenant Saint-Aubin's sneer. There's an arrogance to Admiral Fisher's look, too, but it's a rather pleasantly self-satisified (not without reason) arrogance, not the whiff of cruelty.

Too much amateur criticism - perhaps even too much well-thought-out criticism - is what bleeds the life out of stories and makes them "workshoppy."

If you know how to deal with it, the most important criticism you'll get is from the people who really like your story. After all, they are the ones who would buy the book, and tell their friends about it.

You can't please everyone, but if your goal is publication you had better be pleasing someone.

EA Monroe said...

Hi, Bernita.
I have good reason to thank you and let you know how much I truly value and appreciate your insights, plus the time you take to visit and offer advice. I still have much to learn and "awareness" is everything. Again, thank you! I will always welcome your critique advice and pointers!

~smiling~ Just wanted to let you know!

ORION said...

There is a reason I come to read Bernita's blog everyday - I don't necessarily have time to comment but I DO read - It's because of posts such as this.
The criticism de jour...
Let us all write as one- no voice - no style- no flagrant misuses even if the story is told more compellingly.
I think many critiques come from ignorance.
Yanno I got more hurtful stuff from other writers than I ever did from agents or editors...makes one think...

Bernita said...

Rick, Saint-Aubin makes me think of that Regency word "popinjay"...makes my palm itch.
And that's an excellent observation.There is always the danger of voice destruction as a writer tries to write along lines approved by committee and describe things in a conventional way.

Elizabeth, remember, my opinion is just that - a single opinion - about a particular piece.
You are a very good writer.

Bernita said...

Makes me think too, Pat, and along the same lines.
Writers may succumb to the hyper-critical mode and not see the larger context of a piece.
If a writer is unpublished, the writing must have serious flaws, right?
I've even seen a piece slammed for cliches - but the critics missed that they were in dialogue for heaven's sake - and illustrated the character.

Gabriele C. said...

The trick is to distance oneself from the crits and figure out if the critic is

- Showing his own wit off,
- Someone with a crit textbook (omniscient? bad, paragraph of description? bad),
- Someone who wants to force her taste on everyone else, or
- Someone who can really point out what's wrong with your stuff - the points that make you feel they're screwed even before you get a crit. Recruit those pearls as beta readers and chain them in a dungeon if necessary so they're there when you need them.

Bernita said...

Good comment, Ganriele!
The "crit textbook"/ check- list people - yes, that sums them up - who router by rote.

Bernita said...


sex scenes at starbucks said...

I do a great deal of my critique for my zine and for writer-friends. In my experience,
"voice" thrives with a proper paring of mistakes. (I don't think I'm quite a grammar cop, but I might be a volunteer firefighter.)

I've made art in some shape or form for a long time, both to sell and for my own pleasure. I've learned to adjust my vision to others' in order to sell it. Does it make it any less "art"? Not to my mind. I like working within parameters. I like to be read. Like Rick said, if you want to be published, you'd better be pleasing someone.

I find the three most valuable questions to remember about the crits I receive are:

Have I made the reader ask the right questions and worry about what I meant them to?

All critique takes place in a vacuum. What is the shape of their vacuum? Is it personal? Is it a single chapter within a novel? How does that vacuum impact their asking the right questions?

Does the crit speak to my overarcing vision?

Bernita said...

Perhaps I need to make it plain once again, SS.
I have no patience with those who consider critical suggestions as interference with their "artistic vision."
I have no patience with those who ignore basic spelling and grammar.
But I also have no patience with those who seek to buttress their personal taste with imperfectly understood rules of the road.

Marva said...

Yea, verily, Bernita. As soon as a critter gets hold of an editor's or agent's pet peeve, they make it their own.

spyscribbler said...

The "that sin" is already rampant. I wish I could remember it, but I just saw the most ridiculous sentence that avoided the word "that." It made no sense!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

It really cracks me up because one of my critter's (and fellow editor and good friend) main peeves is eye color. To him it stands in for the essential character descriptions that get neglected in lieu of the "laundry list" approach (eye color instead of "he wore blue socks with his black pants"--that sort of thing). Anyway, in my series eye color is a device I use to suggest heritage--a clue to the reader that if they pay attention they might figure out what kid goes with what parent even when the POV himself doesn't know. I'm driving him freakin' batty with it.

And I agree with "that". I personally hate excessive usage, but I just mention it rather than scratching them all out on subs. Most usage is actually technically correct and a matter of taste for brevity, or not.

Bernita said...

Marva, thank you for stopping by.
Interesting to see the latest in crit fads.

That's the truth, Natasha!

So, you're having fun with recessives, SS!
Exactly. No need to go to hell in a hand basket with it. I think elimination should be decided more by sentence flow.