Is it me?

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Glelas, Dec 30, 2004.

  1. Glelas

    Glelas Seven Mary Four

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    I recently joined two well-known and popular online writer critique groups geared toward Fantasy/Sci-Fi(hundreds of members). I submitted some swill and expected to be torn apart. I WANTED to be torn apart. Instead I got "wow, i really liked your character Joe Blow and how he developed after the confrontation with Suzy Q" or "That was a great paragraph I can't wait to read more" etc. I can't improve without the brutal truth. I realize nobody is going to say 'you suck, give it up' etc but come on, TELL me what is wrong. An encouraging "keep it up" now and then is good enough for me to keep me writing. I don't need to be cottled.

    On the other side, the critiques (which I have tons more of than submissions) I give I quickly get into the problems I have with a particular piece. I try to be specific when neccessary. I am no way disrespectful, rude, mean or discouraging, hell I consciously think before I write not to offend anyone or their craft. And I make sure they know I ENJOYED what I read (I always do enjoy reading someone else's work). After a few days, what I got were several e-mails from several different people telling me to NEVER critique their WORK again. I was hurt and stunned and well, a little angry. I went to see what others said about the aforementioned WORK. It was all praise not one true critique.

    Is it me or is this defeating the purpose of an ONLINE CRITIQUE GROUP?
    How can someone improve without making mistakes and getting them pointed out? :confused:
     
  2. michaelS0620

    michaelS0620 New Member

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    Unfortunately, many people out there WANT to be told that their work is great. No matter how much they may protest that they want "the honest truth", they really don't. What they want is a pat on the back. What they then do, is do for you what they themselves want. They give you the "pat on the back".

    In some ways I think this is not entirely unjustified or not understandable. Many of these people have lived with their stories for a long time, writing, re-writing, polishing. They desprately want it to "be worth it". They take criticism (however constructive or thoughtful) as evidence that it wasn't all worth it.

    In my mind this is what differentiates those who seek to improve their craft, and those who don't. In reality those who react so negatively to honest criticism, will most likely never improve and never get published. That's not to say you need to *agree* with every criticism someone throws at you.
     
  3. Dawnstorm

    Dawnstorm Master Obfuscator

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    Well, from a critique group, I'd expect...

    ...ta dah...


    A Critique!

    The good, the bad and the ugly!

    But then I'm strange...
     
  4. Glelas

    Glelas Seven Mary Four

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    Exactly, but it seems members of those sites are not to fond of giving or receiving a critique.
     
  5. JamesL

    JamesL Speculative Horizons

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    I'm afraid many critique groups are simply mutual back-slapping gangs where people bask in a few positive words from a total stranger. Nothing wrong with this, but it is utterly pointless if you actually want to improve your writing.

    The only person I let read my work is my girlfriend because she is brutally honest and therefore of immense value in terms of writing. :)
     
  6. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    This is not completely true. I have had some harrowing critiques from one group over the years. I have learned a lot from critiques, from individuals and groups. You need a broad base of people to give you input into a work, nothing against your girlfriend, but you are in a way writing for an audience of one. You will tailor your work to suit her comments, even subconsiously. But in the end you have to go with what you think. Critique groups can help a lot with the basics and how you present you story. The story is up to you.

    And there are some good groups out there.

    Glelas; What is the name of this group?

    As to critiques themselves as I said I have had some horrible ones. They have made me moan and very angry. Then when my temper has cooled I have gone back and gone over what the person has said. It takes time to do a critique, if a person takes the time, whether it is a good one or bad you owe that person a small debit in a way and you should not forget it. The took the time to read your work and that is all a writer can ask. If they took further time to tell you what they thought that is a bonus.
     
  7. juzzza

    juzzza Loveable Rogue

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    I have a perverse habit of asking either very talented writers or VERY hard to please readers, to read and critique my work. I guess I figure if they like it, I am on the right track. I don't always make changes based on comments, but I do take them on board.

    I must admit it was hard at first to take criticism but then as someone above mentioned, if you REALLY want to improve your craft and are serious about selling work, guess what... You have to face up to the fact that you are probably not an amazing writer who is going to blow people away with your new creation. Deal with it. You may however, if you LISTEN and not take criticism personally, write a great story that is tight enough and engaging enough to crack that deal.

    Crit Groups do not appeal to me at all. I also never ask friends to read my work and give me feedback, if they ask me to read my work because they want to 'read' rather than 'edit' and 'critique', of course I let them.

    It's important to find different types of test readers, your 'crit' reader could read a published novel and nitpick on how they would deliver the story... It sure isn't impossible to find grammar, spelling and style issues in bestsellers! There is a danger if you stay in the crit world in a vacuum, that you never get out of it, you will NEVER write something that can't be critiqued... Remember that. Don't expect to EVER here from your 'crit' reader "Couldn't find anything wrong with it, well done."

    You also need readers who are simply reading your work to tell you if the 'story' works and if it flowed and the characters were engaging and interesting, what was unbelievable or what grated.

    Then you have the grammar nazis who are invaluable, as this is the quickest way from the slush into the bin.

    Of course it is great if you find an extremely well-read individual, who has some industry knowledge, either as editors/publishers or of course, published writers.

    You need a mix of test readers, remembering that the story is yours. Take everything onboard and make choices, remove the howlers but keep the passion and be grateful to anyone who invests their time in reading your work.
     
  8. TheEarCollector

    TheEarCollector Cavalryman Extraordinaire

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    I was in a great workshop where about five of us were willing to tear each other apart. If something was good, we didn't mention to hesitate it, but if something didn't fit we would gladly point it out. I was not hurt at all...
    What did make me angry were two things: "I liked it," or "I didn't like it."
    I hate it when those are the only comments I get... "I liked it," because that doesn't tell me anything, and "I didn't like it," because it doesn't tell me anything either. I have never had a problem with someone telling me that a specific part couldn't be understood because then I know I have to focus on that but generalities that apply to the entire work - ARGH!

    One method I have found around this is to break the fiancé in... By that I mean I just bugged her and nagged her about every little part of the story before I started getting responses. She started as a "I like it," person too, but after a while she started to become a real help. I can't get her to tear into me and be entirely malicious, but she will at least point out where something doesn't make sense (and then I can go rework it) or where she would like more information.
     
  9. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    I've test run a few crit groups over the years. I found with the largest two groups, which may be the ones you are referring to, that you initially get a lot of short useless (I love it!/What does it all mean?/You are so funny!/Are you on drugs?) crits but eventually a few excellent crits come in. I get annoyed that people get points for their one paragraph off the top of their head (the bit full of air) tho, when I work hard to do mine.

    I've found that I get the greatest number of thoughtful crits from otherworlds.net. It's a smaller group, they only take fantasy and sf (no horror or alt future), it's harder work to maintain a membership there, and has an emphasis on commercial publication. If you only write for a hobby or experimentation, then you won't like the feedback anyway. The level of the feedback is generally quite high.

    I have a face to face crit group which involves editors and published writers and that feedback is exceptional but I still like to run things through Otherworlds first to knock things into shape, check for comprehension, etc.
     
  10. MrBF1V3

    MrBF1V3 aka. Stephen B5 Jones

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    When I was in managment class I learned to give criticism by starting with something positive, then working to the negative, and to start with general and work to specific. Of course the whole idea there is to improve the behavior of employees, and not to make them all quit.

    I tend to do the same kind of thing when I give a critique, and try to find room for improvment in even some very good work. I figure that's what someone is asking for when they want a critique. (If you want me to say that you're great, you have to say so. :) )

    Glelas, it sounds like you fell in with people who only do the first part of a critique. Did you save the receipt?

    It does help to have a group of friends who will read your work and give you good feedback.
    B5
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2005
  11. Abby

    Abby enslaved to my writing

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    Glelas, I've found that a lot of the large, public critique groups give unhelpful (that was great!) feedback. I think that 95% of unpublished writers are looking for validation rather than striving to improve.

    There are a few critique groups that offer brutally honest feedback--which we need to hear in order to improve. They tend to be private (invitation-only). Keep making connections, and talk to writers whose work you admire and whose opinions you'd value. You can always read e-zines and find favorite stories, and email the author to say that you admired their work, and to ask where you might find a good critique workshop. Sooner or later, I think you'll find one, or one will find you.
    Best of luck!
     
  12. choppy

    choppy The Great Flying Bear

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    I was a member of the OWW SFF online writing workshop for a few years (until they started charging). One problem with online critiques is that you have no idea who is readng your work.

    I've been critiqued by kids who haven't taken high school english yet. I've had someone tell me that photons don't possess momentum. And I've read comments from people who just plain don't know what they're talking about.

    I've also had (one of my pet peeves) people reply to my critiques, as if they have to defend themselves. They point out where they believe I am incorrect and generally explain why a bad piece of writing is bad.

    I've always held to the school of thought that one should accept whatever feedback is returned, thank the reviewer, and then critically assess the feedback. When I get something along the lines of "I liked this" it's not very helpful. It can mean:
    - that the reader really didn't find anything wrong with it (not everyone who reads your work is an english lit professor),
    - that they didn't have time to analyse it deeper than "liked / disliked,"
    - that there were problems, but they can't identify or explain them properly, or (as I often interpret)
    - that the reader wasn't struck by the piece enough to give anything more helpful.

    I find the best critiques come when you ask for specific comments. Before you post you need to figure out what your goals are with posting that specific piece. Ask specific questions to get specific answers.

    When giving critiques you have to remember that some people aren't as thick skinned as others. Some will be resentful if you give them a bad review. And unfortunately they can forget that you took the time to read their work - which in and of itself is something to be thankful for. I've found it's best to use "positive" language to give a harsh critique - suggesting areas to focus on for improvement and ranking what works in relation to what doesn't work.
     
  13. mistri

    mistri Special Member

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    When I've been in crit groups I've usually had good experiences. However, I've also had ones that ripped my work to shreds without a single positive thing being said.

    I'm all for in-depth critiquing and though I don't *relish* negative comments in the way some do, I do recognise they are a useful tool in revising. But I really think all critters *should* be able to find at least one positive thing to say in their critique.
     
  14. SubZero61992

    SubZero61992 Registered User

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    Hey, give me the website, I'll give them TRUE critiques, hate mail?, I dont care, if they want to write they'll have to take the truth.
     
  15. Chlestron

    Chlestron New Member

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    I've been reluctant to submit my longer pieces to be critiqued mainly due to lack of interest and bad means to handle it. Short stories are one thing. Novels are something completely different.

    When I was an active critiquer, I said what I thought about the flow of the story, word choice, some blatant grammar issues that really jiggered things up, and the like. I didn't go after typos or what I thought might have been technical issues because it's a story and there should be allowed some leeway in that, especially if it woudl break how things 'work' in this universe.

    I too dislike the one-liners and I have sorely been tempted to justify my thoughts in the heat of anger, but simmered down and really thought about what was said. I agree that for best results you need to ask specific questions. A story, even a short story, might be to big to cover ALL aspects of it. But if you're only concerned about the inter-relations between your two characters, that's different.
     
  16. TheEarCollector

    TheEarCollector Cavalryman Extraordinaire

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    I don't think a writer should have to ask a specific question to not get a, "I like it," or, "I don't like it." Whenever I critique, I got paragraph by paragraph until I get through the thing... If I get hung up on something, it gets mentioned (and WHY I got hung up on it).
    I critique like that because that's what I want though. I want to know where facts within the story don't match, I want to know if some information seems like just too much, I want to know when a character shouldn't exist... I don't care if the reader doesn't like the story overall. I don't care if the reader doesn't like a character. I don't care about the reader at all... The story is all that matters, and finding possible errors or ways to improve it are al I want.
    If you say you don't like it, then tell me why.
     
  17. Bond

    Bond Registered User

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    One of the more interesting small dilemmas faced by a writer I'd imagine. But I'm not a writer so I can only imagine.

    As a non-writer posting on the sffworld forums for a while but hardly ever in the writer's section, I will offer the observation that I find a lot of the opinions expressed on what constitutes good writing surprisingly homogeneous. A lot of the attitudes I feel come off as a result of groupthink. So I don't know, what are you expecting to get from these writing critique people? If it's just grammar corrections, plausibility issues, or lucidity concerns, it's fine I guess. I do wonder if there is any value, however, if you are just going to submit it to another struggling author who has been inundated with the same dogma of what constitutes good characterization or good style and are looking for their opinion on how to improve your characters or the overall tone and feel of your writing. I hope you will also have reliable and competent outsiders' perspectives to keep you all grounded.
     
  18. juzzza

    juzzza Loveable Rogue

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    This is a really good point.

    As long as you find the right group and are 'in it' for the right reasons, they should add value but you must get other opinions from those who are not in 'crit' mode. Some people simply love to crit and give their opinion on how a tale would 'work' better for them. It is only their opinion of course. It is more important to identify where your work doesn't flow, is too busy, is an info dump, does not suspend disbelief... But then you can find these problems in a lot of published, revered work.

    I would hate to think of writers who do not move on from the 'crit' playground to the submission playground, trapped in a process of trying to please a particularly hard bunch of seasoned critters. Of course (I know Sheep, I know) you have to make the work as good as it can be before sending it off, but when is the cut off? Bond makes a HIGHLY valuable point... If these people know so much, how come they aren't too busy writing books to join a crit group (or spend time at a forum dedicated to SFF & Fantasy for that matter)!?!

    I'll tell you why, because they are human and need to interact with like-minded peers... Fine, but it isn't the be all and end all. Get some opinions from people who simply love stories, who love to read and who can give you a different angle on what is good or bad about your story and/or characters. The best advice I got from somebody was a mate, who loves Fantasy, he doesn't write it, has no idea what good grammar is, doesn't care for politics particularly... He simply told me that he felt, that I felt, as a reader, that he was stupid... Which clearly is not the case. That told me, and changed my whole approach to writing from telling to showing.

    So, as a hard to please individual... Come on Bond, give up your email address so we can all bombard you with tales to critique. :D You asked for it and you clearly need something to take your mind off... Well, existing time-eating endeavours here at SFFWORLD.
     
  19. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    Juzzza; In my experience some folks never leave the crit groups. They just keep going over the same old same old, working the chapter/novel/short story to death.

    There has to come a point when you say enough! Here goes! I have found when I have received a pile of rejections,I re think, fiddle some more and again plunge into submissions.... only way to go..... In the end you have to go with your gut!
     
  20. juzzza

    juzzza Loveable Rogue

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    Yea, exactly my point. They must add value, but you gotta take the plunge at some point.

    I guess if a few people point out structure, grammar, tense, POV, problems, you have to listen but what makes a story good for some and bad for others is all subjective.

    DON'T GET STUCK IN THE CRIT HOLE!!!