myaru: (VP - Shiho)
Myaru ([personal profile] myaru) wrote2015-09-01 11:43 pm

(no subject)

Interestingly, in the revised edition of Le Guin's Steering the Craft, she describes my own workshop experiences - all at school - pretty accurately in her section on The Peer Group Workshop. (Capitalization mine-- sorry. :p) My instructors were strict about what should be said, how, when, and by whom, which may seem tyrannical until you imagine trying to control "free discussion" between thirty people. Try getting through three reasonably long stories while everyone is talking over each other, nitpicking punctuation, and talking more about their own work than the piece in question. It's fun, and by 'fun,' I mean 'makes you want to murder everyone in the room.'

But what she says here encapsulates everything I've been saying about critique/beta reading for years:

Criticism tends to focus on what’s wrong. To be useful, negative criticism should indicate the possibility of revision. Tell the writer where you were confused or surprised or annoyed or delighted, which parts you like best. It’s at least as useful to the author to hear what works, what’s right.

Le Guin, Ursula K. (2015-09-01). Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story (Kindle Locations 1689-1691).


Critique is not an excuse to be an asshole. If you're only telling an author what they've done wrong, you're only doing half your job, and therefore doing both the author and the reader a huge disservice.

You'd be surprised how often I still get this 50% job when people read for me. I'm sure they're not doing it on purpose, but they clearly have an erroneous idea of what makes commentary useful. Like, if they don't find at least fifteen things wrong by the time they're halfway through, the author will judge them, or something.

/soapbox

I should write a longer post about this, but I'd only be repeating myself, and... why ask people to take me seriously when they can get it from someone with credibility, instead?
queenlua: (Default)

[personal profile] queenlua 2015-09-02 08:32 am (UTC)(link)
I need to fish around for the guidelines for my own college's peer critique group. I remember thinking it had little explicit structure, but lots of implicit structure. At the beginning of a critique, we went in a circle and everyone had to say something they liked about the story in question, but after that it was slightly-structured open discussion—i.e., the instructor would say something general like, "any thoughts on the pacing of the story" or "anything that confused you," and everyone was free to chime in on that topic; he'd mildly push for a topic change or whatnot if the current topic was pretty much done, and it seemed to work well.

I think I had an unusually good instructor, though, and an unusually good group. No time wasted on punctuation nitpicks, no talking over each other. Sigh I miss them.

Since doing workshops with that group, I've kind of stopped thinking of critique in terms of "here are the good things and here are the bad things", since that kind of 50/50 criticism sandwich wasn't even really what I was writing up—instead it was mostly just a big ramble about where and what confused/delighted/annoyed/surprised me, because that was the actually useful stuff. A non-literary friend reading something I wrote and telling me that they didn't know why Character X didn't just do Thing Y tells me more than a dozen grammar fixes and "add a sentence about R here please" comments tend to do; if the reader didn't understand why Character X did Z instead of Y, then that tells me about a bigger characterization problem, and if I talk to three people who all seem to describe Character X in a slightly different way than what I imagine is correct, then hey, now I know exactly what wrong impression I'm giving.

The very best criticism also offers accurate advice on how to clarify/enhance/etc, which is why I guess writers run their work by other writers instead of random friends, but a lot of the time, just having a careful reader who's paying attention talk about their thoughts is more than enough.

/ramble
samuraiter: (Default)

[personal profile] samuraiter 2015-09-02 11:59 am (UTC)(link)
I wish I'd had critique of any kind back at university. Trying to submit to any of the campus anthologies just led to me being ignored, and claiming I was a writer when I was anything but an English major just got me weird looks. -_-
samuraiter: (Default)

[personal profile] samuraiter 2015-09-04 01:08 am (UTC)(link)
Well, to be fair, university ended for me (a restaurant server, more or less, heh!) twelve years ago, well before the rise of the e-book and the mentality of "50 Shades was a big hit, so anybody can make it in the business". That, and I suspect the place I went to school was a fair bit more stratified than I realized at the time.
samuraiter: (Default)

[personal profile] samuraiter 2015-09-04 01:15 am (UTC)(link)
A possibility. I live in a state where most people are barely literate, so ... it's a bit different.
sarajayechan: art by Moa (Yuuya)

[personal profile] sarajayechan 2015-09-02 08:32 pm (UTC)(link)
Well said. I've recently been stressed over the kind of crit I've been getting in my writer's circle, because at times it feels like the "this is what you did wrong" outnumbers the "this is what we liked, keep it up". I've also had that experience in the past, people who would "offer some con crit" would only focus on what they didn't like or any mistakes I made after one or two sentences about what I'm doing right.

It's important for a writer to know when their technique needs polishing or their style needs some tweaking, or where they've made a mistake. But they also need to know where their strengths are so they can keep honing those, too.
sarajayechan: we'll get to the bottom of this (Aluminum Siren)

[personal profile] sarajayechan 2015-09-04 01:14 am (UTC)(link)
It's true, yeah. :/ "Evaluation" is a softer-sounding word, doesn't make it feel like you and your work are about to be picked apart bit by bit, line by line.

What sucks is, if you comment on this, everyone just thinks you're being a defensive writer. All you want is praise! (Yeah, no.)

Ugh, I hate that. I know people equate asking for applause and praise with a little kid begging, but I hardly think a simple "so what do you like, what did I do well" is being like a little kid.

Yeah, my group has a lot of "well this is what I would do/this isn't what I would do". Which means I'll have to say "well this is the way I like it so if you have any advice on how to make it work...".

People just like to focus on the negative. It makes them feel smarter, I think.
hilow: (Default)

[personal profile] hilow 2015-09-09 10:40 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a pretty good post. I'm really critical and frankly kind of mean but I try to make sure my comments are worth something. If that makes sense. Like, just saying it's wrong or bad doesn't help them at all. Telling them why it doesn't work and how they can fix it is much kinder.

That said, my college writing classes have been wastes of my time, so /shrug. I've never gotten any decent critique from anyone in them. And by that I mean I received almost no critique at all. I think a physics major gave me the best advice for a story, and he was taking the class for fun. -_-

I don't hold back on positives either, but I also have an easy time spotting them. Compared to the negatives I can usually offer decent advice on making a negative into something to enhance the positive (instead of bringing it down/making it less good).

But anyway I haven't seen a lot of negative comments in fandom lately and I gave up writing original fiction for the most part, so if anyone was even just strictly mean in criticizing my writing, I'd probably take it happily; usually I just get comments like "i liked it" even if there are negative things to fix.