Monday, January 10, 2011

In Which We Discuss Critiques Pt. 1

How was everyone's weekend? Was it fun? Did you win the lottery? Can I have some of your winnings?



Anyway, for all you people who didn't win the lottery, I hope your weekend was full of fun and also of sleeping in.

Today, and for the next post, I want to talk about critiques and some of the weird things that can come about and some of the rage emotions which can sneak up on us during a critique of our work.

For today's post I want to discuss the "hit and miss" critiquer. That is, a person who gives you both a good and a bad critique.

And by "good and bad" I mean "useful/constructive" and "not useful/not constructive"

I'll start with my own example. I had a critique recently from a person I don't know. It was on an online critique... club I guess we'll call it? So the crit was solicited, but I've never met this person, not even in the Internet sort of way we've all "met"

We'll call her Jane (because I'm not super creative right now. Also Jane is easier to type than Shamalamadingdong, which is the first name that came to mind)

So Shama Jane writes a lengthy critique and I would say a good 50% of it is useful. Places she had troubles visualizing. World building questions. Helpful things that I was looking for in a crit.

But, for the remaining 50%, the crit was just crap. Crap to the point where I got really angry. To be fair, I'm quick to anger and quick to cool off (especially if I have no clue who you are and you're giving me a bad crit). Also, some of it was the tone she used (also, to be fair, she had stated straight up that she could be blunt in her crits and she didn't mean anything by it) but here's an example.

Pier hits someone in the face and I make note that the punch hurts his hand.

Her response is "Have you ever hit someone before? It doesn't just hurt your hand, it hurts your whole arm"

So right there, I'm annoyed. Of course I've hit someone before. Actually, Twin, Brother and I smack each other around quite a bit. Alone, I would ignore it. But it continues on in this vein for quite a bit more.

Later I make mention that Pier is a free diver and that he can hold his breath for five minutes after spending months working at it.

Her comments is along the lines of "That's completely unbelievable. No human can hold their breath that long. You've completely lost me as a reader"

(This is when I freaked out in my head.)

It frustrates me, as a writer, that she just assumed I was pulling this out of my ass, that I hadn't done the research on free diving (clearly she didn't even know what free divining was. Otherwise she would know that 5 minutes is pretty average and that the world record free-dive is somewhere around 12 minutes)

So, my question for you is, how do you handle someone who has, what you think are, fair crits and then has a junkload of crits you can't even begin to respect?

Obviously the answer here is to take what you want and discard the rest, but it's hard to separate the good from the bad when the bad makes you question the validity of the good.

Thoughts? Opinions? Stories about horrible crits you'd like to share? Please do so in the comments!

Wednesday will be part 2 of this critique blog post series (Critiques when you least expect them/didn't ask for them)


Tracy said...

That's a really good question, actually. There's nothing wrong with a crit partner giving you advice you don't agree with and decide not to use. But there's a big problem with someone who shuts down your ability to hear what they're saying because you're too busy wondering what the hell planet they came from.

I'd like to say I can get over those kinds of critiques...but I don't know that I could.

Anne said...

is that gif from Look Who's Talking Now?

Christine Danek said...

Great question and one that I'm learning to deal with. You obviously have done your research so therefore as a reader if I don't believe it, I look it up. If she doesn't know anything about free diving, she should not have any negative comment on it. Seriously, I don't know about free diving so I would believe you, and if I didn't then, like I said, I would look it up myself.
I'm rambling cause she made me angry.
I guess--you know what you have written is true so stick to that. Take the things that may help strengthen the writing if needed (I know, so not the answer you looking for).
Have a great day!

Hannah Kincade said...

I've not had that happen too much but I don't think I've had as many people crit my work as you have.

But I like to think of critiquing really just opinions, unless someone is discussing grammar, sentence structure and blatant plot holes, most of what people say about the story is opinion...unless, you can back it up with some facts to disprove what I wrote.

And that bit about free diving, I don't understand why she didn't just look it up. If I read something and thought, "that's impossible," I would look it up. The End.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Tracy - exactly! I want to take her good advice and put it to use, but every time i think of it, i'm reminded of the bad stuff and it makes me angry again

Anne - yes? That would be my first guess

Christine - true, but your repsonse is certainly the way i KNOW i should deal with it. Pesky emotions, always getting in the way

Hannah - right? I mean, if you read something you found unbelievable, wouldn't you be excited to look it up? I mean, if someone wrote "so and so flew" at first i'd be like "yeah right" but then i'd go look it up, because it would be AWESOME if i learned something awesome like that

Summer Frey said...

Or I would thin, "hey, this is a fantasy novel. Maybe these fantasy people have bigger lungs. Cool." End of story.

Ellie said...

This is true - my neighbours (as in down ten steps and knock on their door) won the Lottery in December. Millionaires. Bless them, It could not have happened to a nicer couple. But I'm pig-sick jealous. LOL.

Now on to critiques. I'm sorry to read about your bad experience; I think many a curse-word would have escaped my lips. I've only had short stories critiqued so far and all of them were of the useful/constructive type, except for one. The critique I paid for, which was advertised as returned within 10 days, took five weeks to come back. And that was after several emails. So, I expected it to be damn good when it arrived.

The critiquer (let's call him Bob) reviewed (and I use that word in its vaguest sense) my story in six lines. For example, 'I liked your story...' or 'it could do with a bit more to it...'

You get the picture! I was very annoyed.

Suzi McGowen said...

Ok, first I think the criter is stupid, and I ignore them. (Or argue with them, in my head or in person.)

Then I take a deep breath and think, ok, s/he may be stupid (or ignorant), but I don't want my reader to stop and look up every single fact in my book. And I won't be there to point out to ever reader that this "unbelievable thing" is a fact. So maybe I need to build the believability a little more.

Maybe part of Pier's training can include more about the limits of human breath holding, or whatever.

Justine Dell said...

LOVE that vid! I've felt like that a time ... or two.

Getting critques are hard. Giving them is hard, too. Jane sounds like she was being too literal. I'll bet she's boring in person. Don't let it bother you. You're awesome. ;-)

I take crits pretty well, so no horror stories here!


Holly Ruggiero said...

Ooo, that would be tough. For me the way in is written is annoying rather than helpful. I suppose the best thing to do is ignore it, but I would be tempted to ignore the whole thing.

Talli Roland said...

I'm with Tracy. It all comes down to how they do it. Crits are hard enough as it is, but if it's delivered in a cutting manner, then... yes, rage is the appropriate word!

Stephanie said...

This is the exact reason I stopped doing those kind of anonymous crit forums. Some of the people on there I swear just do it for some sort of power trip. More often than not, the crits aren't worth it. Much better to do it in a circle where there's more than a passing contact. People don't choose to wise off when they know they're running in the same circle and will may want a return favor some day.

Anne Gallagher said...

I love my crit partner but sometimes he says the stupidest things. I know this is different than having an unknown crit your work but the rage is the same.

Sometimes he just doesn't get that women are crazy and we do crazy things so when he says, "She wouldn't do that," I say, "Yes, she does. Most women do, they just don't talk about it."

As for Jane, just blow her off. If YOU know what you're talking about, then don't worry about it. If you KNOW you're right, then you are and she's not.

I totes love that little girl throwing the fit. You know she looks like you don't you...

Maria Zannini said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aspiring_x said...

dah!?!?!? i KNOW!! they make you question everything!!!!
i'm going to tell you platitudes: don't worry about what jane said, what was she thinking???, how rude!!!, just let it roll off your back!
now i'm going to tell you the truth: listen to everything! think about every comment she gives you. weigh each one individually as though each come from a different person. apply what you judge needs changed. delete the crit. reward yourself with chocolate (or whatever you like).
understand that she is trying to help- but she may not know as much as you do. that's going to happen online. you are going to know better than some and less than some. just tell yourself that everyone is trying to help! otherwise you'll be mad all the time! self-delusion can be a beautiful thing! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Note what you think is valid and then wait for the next critique and see if any of it matches up.
Ignore the rest.
And I knew people can hold their breaths for longer than five minutes.

Teebore said...

As the whole "holding breath for five minutes" thing goes, I feel like for things like that the key is to strike the balance between what a normal person can do and what is so superhuman it's unbelievable, so the reader is left with a feeling of "this character is better than average, but still normal".

And I think holding your breath for 5 minutes strikes that balance perfectly. I didn't give it a second thought when I read it initially. Sure, I can't hold my breath for five minutes, but even if I didn't know it was possible, I wouldn't have a hard time imagining a young, athletic person who works in the water (like Pier) being able to do so.

Which is my long-winded way of saying Jane is dumb. Which you already knew.

Tony Benson said...

I feel your pain on the annoying crit front. I'm just starting to get crits back and so far it's been ok, but I dread that day...

My problem is that my emotional reaction to something that I think is unreasonable or stupid is enough to stop me getting much out of the rest.

I keep telling myself that it goes with the territory if I want critique of my work, but it really doesn't make it any easier.

Maybe I'll get my wife to edit the crits before I see them... Hmmm now that might work.

Maria Zannini said...

You gotta swill with a lot of pigs before you reach the apple.

After giving more than 700 crits and probably receiving just as many, I can tell you your experience isn't unique. I have the scars to prove it.

The thing that's irritating is the patronizing tone. Sometimes the person is being helpful but in an obtuse manner. Other times they're just asses wanting to hear themselves talk.

I had one who was similar to this. She was brilliant and terribly observant but she could rile me out of a 3 day old coma. When her crits came up I scanned for the useful info and ignored the rest. Once I pegged her for what she was it was easier for me to ignore her insults.

I still got mad, but until I learned to be as observant, I used her shamelessly, then cast her aside like a cheap whore. LOL.

Keep trolling if those kind of critters bother you. There are good ones out there, and they can deliver without being patronizing.

(and yes, I had to repost this because I found a typo and those things drive me batty.)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Summer - very true. I didn't even think about that, bu that is also how i would think

Ellie - OMG, that is so awesome for your neighbors! And i would be LIVID if i paid for that crit.

Suzi - see that's the thing, i thought i had made it clear by saying how long he had trained and obvs we know how long most people can hold their breaths because we are ourselves most people. eh, i'll just have to look at it again

Justine - lol thanks. And actually i think this is the first crit i got that even after a cooling off period i'm still having issues with it

Holly - that's my problem. Because i try to just take the good, but when looking at the good i'm reminded of the bad again, and my emotions get all bothered again

Talli - and it sucks being all full of rage because then nothing gets done

Stephanie - yeah, after this crit i think i've pretty much decided to drop this club. I've done them before and always have the same issues, or don't get enough help. I need to just learn my lesson

Anne - she does indeed kind of look like me. weird. and HAH on your CP! that's hilarious

Aspiring - this is very true. Sometimes we all need to remember to be adults

Alex - ok good. Because for a bit there she had me questioning the research i'd done

Teebore - thanks! That's what i was going for. I didn't want to mary-sue him up and make him the best free diver ever, i just wanted him to be able to ride the effing sea serpent for more than 30 seconds

Tony - that is my exact problem with this crit! Often i can let bad crits sit and then i get over them, but this one just stays under my skin. also, the wife idea is kinda genius

Maria - i think that's very true. She could have said the exact same things, but worded differently, and i wouldn't have been so worked up about them.

The Words Crafter said...

Ah, this is one of the parts of the whole writing process I'm not looking forward to. Thankfully, it will be a bit before I'm ready for a crit partner.

I'm big on tones. A person's tone can set me off faster than almost anything. Grrrr!

I think everyone offered the best advice-YOU know what you're talking about, so blow it off if you can. I'd have to explore my colorful vocabulary myself :)

Lola Sharp said...

First, that vid is PERFECTION! I feel like I make that face at least once a week...I have a 15 y.o. daughter, she inspires that freak-out face once/month or so. The dogs eating 'treats' out of the cat box inspires several/month. People that drive slow in the fast lane, or just can't drive...they inspire the bulk of my rage. I'm gonna think of this girl and you forever now, when I start to flipout. ;)

Okay, now to your topic. This is precisely why you want to get LOTS of critiques (or at least several), then you can compare and contrast & see the common denominators. It sounds like at least she was thorough, if not delicate...which I prefer to those that say vague nothingness or just mark a few copy edits (waste of time). At least she was specific, which again, is better than vague, and she gave you things to think about. If you learned even one thing to improve your story, your craft, then I'd put it in the plus column. But, I'm sorry she frustrated you. *hugs*
The way I handle a 'bad critique' (which to me is getting a sloppy, lazy, vague a sentence or two at the end and a couple copy edits...WTF?) is to politely say thank you. And immediately search for someone(s) better. And also, visualize holding her head under water for 5 minutes while you laugh maniacally. ;)

And, this is also why if you find a few good critiquers, CLEAVE to them. Send them cake and flowers. Write them sonnets. Hug them and squeeze them (don't name them George) and never let them go. And, most importantly, give them the best damn critiques back that you can.

Where/how did you get/post that video?


Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I've been really lucky to have crits that are helpful. This is the reason I love my CP's/beta so mucH.

Lol to the clip. I'd be pulling that face. :)

Cheree said...

I used to care about every piece of critique I got, trying to please, now I agree that you take the comments you want and discard the rest.

Nate Wilson said...

That Shamalamabastard!

But even idiots can make good points once in a while. My advice mirrors Alex's: Use the comments you find useful, and reserve the rest for later judgment based on what you get back in other critiques. It may be hard to take any of her crap seriously at first, but after a week or two you should be able to look at them objectively.

And if I recall, the record for holding one's breath is about 9 minutes (more than twice that if oxygen-aided), so 5 min is child's play. Even if, as a child, I only made it to about 2:30. Perhaps add in a detail about the average time for free divers (or the world record) to account for the more skeptical readers, and you should be safe.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Crafter - in general, i'd say crits usually go really well. And with actual partners it usually goes great, so no worries there!

Lola - LMAO! you rock my world. Also, on the same chapter i got a crit that was more or less "i'll come back and crit later but just want to say i love this!" and then never came back.
I get most of my gifs from jezebel. they have a library of awesome gifs which are usually used in their comments

Lindsay - in general i have been extra lucky as well. Which probably doesn't prepare me well for when i do have craziness

Cheree - i find it extra irritating because i personally try so hard to make my crits not harsh at all, so even when i'm giving some tough advice, it still comes off as friendly

Nate - did you actually make it to 2:30? Because that is AWESOME!

Naomi Ruth said...

Ahahaha.... I love that pic/vid. That was me as a child.

Anyway: I have been blessed to have a lot of good critique people, but I do remember one time I had this guy I had never met before critique my work and was so Sarcastic, that it hurt. But it was also probably one of the best critiques I ever got.
I don't know how a person is supposed to draw the line between what is helpful and what is not. I am trying to figure that out. That's a hard question, m'lady.

Kimberly Franklin said...

Oh my. Poor you. I'm so sorry. A long time ago I tried one of those online crit group websites. It was a nightmare. Let me repeat: A NIGHTMARE! I'm sure I made that same face as that little girl. Most, if not everything I got was crap. Crap! I mean, who has never heard of a LCD TV before?? Hmm.... I wish you luck in the future!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

So true. It's hard to accept the validity of the positive when the negative sucks arse. I've only had it happen a couple of times, but there have been times where a critiquer's condescending tone clearly implied that my writing was somehow pissing them off. My guess is that your writing makes them feel threatened and see the problems inherent in theirs (or you've written an idea like theirs, or something about it just ticks them off), so they reach to find things they can not just critique, but criticize. Sort of like when someone sees a better looking person than them and will say something like "bet she's wearing a girdle." Don't let it get to you. Try to fish for the good stuff--why not, right? But if you can't be sure of it, just set the whole thing aside. Not worth the pain.

J.C. Martin said...

*shrug* I'd just ignore it, particularly if I know I have done the necessary research. I have gotten similar ones before. Just take on board the ones that seem fine. And get opinions from more than one person. If 4 out of 5 people criticised X, then chances are X is something you need to revisit.

P.S. You have an award waiting for you at my site!

Janel said...

I was invited into a crit group a few months ago. I went to one meeting and decided to never go back again - and they weren't even discussing my work!

Trisha said...

Yeah, I would just take what you feel are the good points, and run with them. The stuff that makes you roll your eyes, ignore ;) You know your story better, and you've done your research. So you know where critiquing is on the money, and where it's not.

Hart Johnson said...

Urgh! I so hear you! I would have a really hard time not PROVING to her that I had my facts straight, when in reality, that is such a waste of energy!

And maybe Piers is tougher than her, so only his hand hurts... so there! teehee

DEFINITELY take what helps and ignore the rest, but I really get how hard that can be!

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Naomi - ooh the sarcasm would suck. Because you'd never know if they were being truthful

Kimberly - LMAO! Seriously? And LCD TV?! ahh that's hilarious, though i'm sure it was painful at the time

Carolina - ooh, critique not critisize is a perfect way to put it. Also, do people still wear girdles? And i wonder where i can get one...

J.C. - ooh thanks! I'll head over and check it out right now

Janel - wait, what? Then what did they discuss? I mean, my crit group spends about 50% of the time just hanging, but we always get down to the actual critting before the evening is over

Trisha - very true. Very true

Hart Johnson - oh i know! It took so much effort for me not to send her an email with a link on free-diving. But i knew that wouldn't accomplish anything. Also i'm anti-confrontation

C. N. Nevets said...

From time to time I'm able to pick out the good bits and ignore the bad, but honestly I get fed up with the sort of misinformed authority that those comments betray, and am more likely to toss the whole thing.

Which is by I try to be careful when I'm doing a crit for someone because I know I'm missing good stuff when I do that, but it's just not worth my emotional energy to keep messing with it, not at the crit level, and especially not from someone I don't know.

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