Thursday, 27 December 2012

Critical Impact or the Impact of Criticism Pt.1



Hello all, I hope everyone is recovering from far too much food and presents, or whatever it is that you choose to partake in this time of the year.

One thing that most of you will have undoubtedly encountered this holiday season is family. A lot of the time you will have gone a good while without seeing most of them, especially if you live more than a couple hours away. This is all well and good, and it’s great to see people you haven’t seen for a long time, but they will be interested in what you’ve been up to. And it has been, in my experience, a topic of great interest if you bring up the fact that you’ve been writing. People are always interested in “the guy (or girl) that’s writing the book,” which is great. It’s awesome to have people interested in what you’re doing; they’ll want to hear about your process, and your plot, and your characters, and you’ll tell them all about it; this is one of the perks about being a writer—people think you’re cool.

Inevitably, though, this will come to the point where someone will ask to see what you’ve been working on. If it’s finished, a work in progress, or anywhere in between, people will want to see it. Now, if you’re the secretive type who likes to keep your work to yourself, all the more power to you. Plenty of people are this way, they don’t want the outside influences. Others, myself included, are more than happy to throw around a first draft of the first few chapters. I generally wait until I’m about a quarter of the way through the book before I start to show it to people—gives ‘em something to sink their teeth into. Even then, I ask them to hold criticisms (aha! we’ve finally arrived at the title point!) until I’ve finished the book. I’m sure other writers love to have feedback on the most basic parts of their work—everyone is different, and everyone likes to hold off until they feel most comfortable letting others see what they’ve been working on.

Now we’re going to get into the meat of the post—the part which includes examples of a few different types of criticisms, about how to respond to criticism, and the people you should be sending your work to for a serious response. If this post runs long, and it seems like it might, you’ll be getting the second part come next Monday. I know it seems like a long time to wait, but it’s for your own good. If I let myself type as much as I’d like about every single post, you’d never get out of your chairs or beds or whatever it is you read my postings from.

Different types of criticisms and what they mean to you (would have made a fine alternate title to this post). You can often split the criticism you receive into a few separate categories, often overlapping. They can be negative, positive, useful, or not useful. There are also the odd, “I don’t know what this means but you might be a crazy person so I’m going to ignore you,” criticisms; but that may be more of an issue of whom you’ve sent the book to, which we’ll be getting to later.

Now, negative criticisms are just what they sound like, they’re pointing out flaws in your work that you need to fix. But they fall into two distinct categories, which are those that are useful and constructive and those that are useless and entirely pointless. The useful negative will point out weak points, plot or character flaws, confusing wording—they will give you examples and pin point spots where things need to be fixed. This is one of the most harsh, yet entirely necessary forms of constructive criticism. It will force you, as a writer, to come to terms with where you are weak and how you need to remedy it. On the flipside, you can be given a response where the person just says “I hated this part,” “This is stupid,” “I didn’t like it.” They’ll give you no rhyme or reason as to why, just that they thought it was terrible. This is useless and frankly just downright mean. Hopefully you won’t encounter this type of response all that often, but be warned, it probably will happen at least once—even if the person doesn’t really mean anything by it. Ask for a bit of a clarification, and if they can’t give you anything more, well, they don’t need to see anything else you’ve been working on. These people won’t be helpful in the long run, so ignore them until you’ve got a product that doesn’t need their input (a finished/ published book).

Positive criticisms can work in very much the same way. You can be told that someone loves a part because of x or y, or that this one thing you did is amazing because of that other thing. While it doesn’t point out your flaws, it does point out your strengths, which is just as important. It’s good to know what you’re doing right, and how it can be applied to other (possibly negatively criticized) aspects of your work. On the other hand, you can be given a bunch of fluffy “It was nice and good and happy!” responses, without much substance. These will make you feel good, and are great when you’ve finished the book or you’re reading it on a book review site, but it won’t lend much to the writing process. It gives you nothing to work on, because it’s so vague.

Just for the folks reading this that did read my book before it was finalized (and even some of you who did afterwards), you all did an amazing job. You were all chosen well (something I’ll get to in the next post) and you gave me some very useful criticisms.

Anywho, the rest of the post will be going up next Monday as this was getting a bit long. The next one might be long too, but I’ll get it up in one piece regardless.

-Trevor

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