Life as a would-be writer: How to deal with critiques Part Two

One issue that comes up a lot in critique are the various biases and personal tastes or pet peeves people bring to critiquing. It’s hard to help; we all have our ideas about what makes writing good or bad and while some aspects are objective – proper spelling and grammar for example – others vary from person to person.

This is something to pay close attention to for both the person whose work is being critiqued, and the one doing the critiquing.

For those who have gotten some feedback on their work, it helps to familiarise  yourself with the people providing it. Take a look at what other works they’ve commented on. Do they point out the same problems in other people’s works as well? How knowledgeable are they – are they tailoring each comment to the work, or quoting the same line from whatever how to they last read? Do you think their comments on others’ works are valid and insightful or are you secretly hoping the author will ignore everything they say?

If you’re the one providing a critique for someone else, always try to view the work on its own merits and if there’s something you’re not familiar with, leave it for someone else to point out. For example, if you’re unfamiliar with the Fantasy genre and read mostly romance, be wary that there may be tropes or conventions you’re unfamiliar with. Pointing out repetition or confused sentences can still be useful, but posting ‘wtf is a travois?‘ much less so. For those seeking feedback, how familiar that person is with the genre you write in is another thing to consider.

Humour is particularly tricky area. Me, I like sharp wit and satire with the teeth of a shark. Others prefer slapstick or toilet humour. Just because something isn’t to your tastes doesn’t mean no one else will find it funny, or offensive, or just plain dumb. And some people are more tuned in to broader cultural norms than others. Some people get offended by nearly everything, others by nothing, while other people still have a fairly good idea where the boundaries are that most people would consider acceptable within a given context.

Another controversial area is style. So many people love to proffer advice about cutting out ‘useless’ words, especially adverbs and adjectives. However, it’s often those very same ‘useless’ words that wind up making us sound unique. Fiction isn’t essay writing, nor do all writers strive to be Hemingway. While it’s often good to avoid repetition, it can also be a strong literary technique. One Hemingway was fond of using, for that matter. Some people like stripped down to the bone prose, focusing primarily on what happens next, while others like a little purple and don’t mind stopping to admire a sunset even if it involves the dreaded rosy fingers. When someone nitpicks about their use, it is wise to ask yourself if this was an effect you were deliberately trying to achieve, or were you being unintentionally verbose?

If you do find yourself particularly confused about where you are with your writing, you’re best off finding someone who is a skilled writer who ‘gets’ your work. Not everyone will have equally useful or valid advice to offer, but the most helpful are those who know what you’re trying to achieve and can help you get there.

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