Thursday, 10 October 2013

When to Ignore a Critic: Part 2

Writing is subjective. There’s no way around that. Even if someone really loves your story, they may not agree with every decision you’ve made, and that can be frustrating.

Here’s a few more points to consider when deciding what to do when a critique ruffles your feathers:

Dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling you get when I tell you I don’t like your favourite line in your book. If you think you’re a grammar ninja, yet I pull out a list of mistakes as long as a rattlesnake, then you’ll feel dissonance.

It’s a psychological process that helps protect your self-esteem and gets in the way of being objective.

If you feel upset by someone’s comment, don’t make any decisions straight away. You’re likely to get defensive and will be unable to make changes that could possibly help you. Return to it once the dissonance has settled.

Some critics will bunch together. ‘I agree with bookrighter046 that Tom is a pointless character’. The fact that two of them have missed the subtleness of Tom doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a bad character, especially if others like him.

Conformity can sometimes be the issue. If a reader feels unsure of their opinions or reviewing skills, they may turn to others to help themselves out. It's nothing personal (being annoying isn’t personal).

But if the same criticism is repeated, then there's a good chance that your book isn't having the intended effect.

I personally tend not to read other comments until I’ve already written the review. You’ve already heard their opinion – why would you want to hear it twice? I also don't want the reader to feel ganged up on.

Just because someone has one terrible idea, this doesn’t invalidate their whole opinion. It’s natural for your trust to plummet after they’ve said something that’s a bit silly, but read each of their comments objectively.

Okay, so they don’t seem to understand that semicolons are different from commas, but that doesn’t mean their comment about the pace is wrong. Just because they didn't think your joke was funny doesn't mean that Tom (that guy I seem to be hating on) isn’t a dull character like they said.

It does mean you should be sceptical of any punctuation they tell you to add or take. But then, you already know that.

Have a peek at their writing. If they say your plot is too quick yet you find theirs dull, then maybe it’s a difference of preference. And if your novel is heavy sci-fi and all of theirs are soft romances, then maybe they’re not the best person to judge your novel.

On the other hand, if they're writing the same genre, and their writing is pretty darn good, then it's probably time to take a deep breath and listen.

If something feels off, look it up. I always warn readers not to follow me blindly, but I also hope they won’t ignore me blindly too. Anything that seems unusual should be looked into rather than ignored or accepted as gospel.

Be aware of preferences. There are many differences between British English and American English writing, from spelling to how punctuation should be used. The only way to learn these differences is to raise an eyebrow at a comment and do a little research.

What you learned at school isn't always right. Comma's mark clauses, so don't put them where you want to take a breath. Sometimes a comma before the last 'and' in a list is needed for the sentence to make sense, and you can start sentences with 'but'. If my old English teacher reads this, her head might pop!

So my When to Ignore a Critic post is as much about when to give them another chance as it is to ignore them. Even when you disagree, try to see their point of view. If you can work out why they’ve said something, maybe you can fix it without actually taking on their suggestion.

Here’s my question to you: What phrase do you wish critics would stop posting?