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Who am I talking about?

Anyone who creates. Fiction writers, fine artists (painters), cartoonists, musicians, poets, photographers. Anyone. They are all artists who dream of a better state and future for mankind. Without the dreamers/artists, our civilization and mankind are doomed to extinction. We have this small chance over the eons of time to create a civilization without war where a person can live free of criminals.

Definitions

(onelookdictionary.com)

Criticism:

  • noun: a serious examination and judgment of something ("Constructive criticism is always appreciated")
  • noun: a written evaluation of a work of literature
  • noun: disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings ("The senator received severe criticism from his opponent")

Critic:

  • noun: someone who frequently finds fault or makes harsh and unfair judgments
  • noun: anyone who expresses a reasoned judgment of something
  • noun: a person who is professionally engaged in the analysis and interpretation of works of art

Feedback:

  • noun: response to an inquiry or experiment
  • noun: the process in which part of the output of a system is returned to its input in order to regulate its further output

Notice the criticism/critic definitions are internally contradictory – reason and illogic. We need to be aware which definition to use. We should be looking for feedback of some sort; otherwise how would we know our work is communicating to our readers? A sales volume of 300 the first hour published would be feedback.

“Constructive” criticism

Much criticism is delivered as “for your own good.” The problem immediately appearing is: who decides your good, you or someone else? Ever hear of, “We’re from the government. We’re here to help.”

You and your work can be constructively-criticized to death. If you accepted and changed to whatever criticism appeared in front of you, you would end up with an empty desk. You wouldn’t even have a title (“What kind of title is Angels and Demons? That’s sacrilegious.”).

Sometimes, it is personal

We’re often told to shrug off attacks as “it’s not personal.” However, it very well can be very personal.

There are people who are deathly afraid of artists and other people/organizations/ideas who are trying to make people better, improve societies or raise our level of awareness. They believe (unknowingly) that if anyone became more able or stronger, that person would immediately kill them.

So, as soon as they spot someone becoming better or who is already strong or trying to make others more able, they will immediately attack in an attempt to keep them down or destroy them. They make usually-violent ad hominem attacks (not necessarily physical) so they can disperse attention from themselves to another who had the audacity to appear better, smarter, or more able. If one bothered, a deep investigation of them would find they were accusing the target of exactly the same crimes they’ve committed themselves.

Artists are an obvious target. They are usually in the public eye and frequently have well-publicized lives. Here you get the stalkers and scandal magazines.

If you as a fiction writer put forward an idea or plot which these people feel is a threat, you’ll immediately get a ton of hate mail. How many writers have gotten death threats?

They’ll attempt to tear you down and destroy you. “Jane Smith is a convicted child rapist on the California sex offenders list.” Truth doesn’t matter to them. You’d probably find they are child rapists – if you could identify them.

Feedback

Since fiction is storytelling with the intention of delivering powerful emotional experiences, we are interested if it affected readers that way. Fan mail is good; at the minimum you can categorize it as good or bad results.

On the other hand, some of this feedback and criticism isn't worth a lot. “I didn’t like it” as the sole comment doesn’t tell you a thing. Even the “I liked it” doesn’t tell you much, either.

Generalities in feedback and analytical criticism are worthless. Even to consider some feedback as worth looking at, it’s got to be specific. “The middle sagged a lot and I found myself slogging through it,” while negative, is specific and might well be worth considering.

“The plot points came exactly on time and the twists just kept me intrigued” is positive and specific.

How to disagree: http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html

Consider the source

Over 50 years ago, my brother and I had a saying about others’ put-downs, “Consider the intelligence of the source.” While this worked back then, now we’re more likely to say, “How reliable is the source?”

Especially with generalities, consider the source. Joe Average Reader probably won’t have a clue about the Craft or what Art is when he says, “That sucks. There’s no murders.” And you had written a Romance genre novel.

If Jason Scott Card dropped you an email which says, “Interesting. You might look at the middle, there. It seems to sag a bit,” what do you think you would do?

Books, writing courses, peer groups and workshops

These are fine; in fact they are pretty much the only way for you to learn efficiently. Note the word is “efficient”, not “effective.” You could learn effectively by 20 years of writing, rejection, re-write and the lot. Efficient means you study the Craft before and during your actual writing. You then at least have some sort of stable basis on which to work.

When you look for peer review groups, writing courses, workshops and the like, look for people who are working the same way you wish to do. If you think Larry Brooks’ work fits you best, look for his books, courses and workshops. For a peer-review or writing group, your best bet is others who are using the same work. Otherwise, pretty much everyone is going to have a different viewpoint of the Craft and you’ll all spend a lot of time sorting it out.

Beware of the blind leading the blind. If you get into a group of beginners, you will all spend a lot of work on frivolous things comparing work against undefined standards. If that’s the only type available, one of the first things you’ve got to do is define the standards against which the work will be compared, be it Brooks, Ingermanson, Bell, King (not recommended for newbies) or Sokoloff. You’ve got to have at least some standard or you’ll be groping around in the dark.

On what do you accept feedback or criticism?

Review the post on Craft vs. Art. Craft is what you do. Art is how you do it.

Craft is technique, checklists, ensuring you have the 3-Act/4-Part structure in place, that each scene you design has a known mission to fulfill, your characters have a hierarchy of dimension and all the rest of the Six Core Competencies. Craft is repetition to predictable results; it can be drilled or checklisted.

Art and creativity are not predictable. That’s exactly how it should be, otherwise your novels wouldn’t inspire anyone and you’d deliver no Powerful Emotional Experiences.

Guidelines to accepting feedback or criticism

Craft – Acknowledge and inspect viable feedback/criticism on your Craft. “Where’s the first plot point?” is valid. “That character’s grammar is lousy” might not be if the character’s particular dialog is meant to be very relaxed, casual or a reflection of his education. That particular development is a reflection of your art.

Art – Use a lot of salt. “The concept appears weak” could well be true since part of the Craft is to have as high (most imaginative) a concept as possible. “The whole story idea is against God’s will” or “I didn’t like it” or “You’ve got to be a pervert (traitor, gay or whatever)” should be summarily rejected. You do not limit your artistic creativity based on someone else’s lack of ability or previous crimes.

You consider specific feedback on the Craft and don’t even look at negative criticism on your creativity. It’s that simple.

"It is the will of God that we must have critics,
and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists,
and we must bear the burden." Mark Twain's Autobiography

Practice

We have at least 3 responses to criticism or feedback:

  • Mark up a general Plus or Minus -- “That was really good!” or “Sorry, not up to your usual” or a metric of increasing sales.
  • Utterly dismiss personal attacks and criticism of your Art.
  • Consider (not necessarily use) viable feedback/criticism of your Craft.

What would you do with these:

  • “Cardboard characters"
  • “Thin plot”
  • "Cookie-cutter characters"
  • “The book falls apart at the end.”
  • “I just didn't care about the characters.”
  • “This book is a perfect example of why I don’t like (insert genre, media, subject
    matter.)”
  • “Obviously a Nazi (dog rapist, traitor to your country, etc.)”
  • “Had a lot of trouble following who was talking. Took several lines to figure it out.”
  • “Typical first-time novel problems (without stating what they are).”
  • “Overall, very good. A bit too much description of how wonderful the zongo ray was, especially since it played very little part in the story itself.”
  • “Couldn’t get into it. I waded through the first two chapters hoping some reason would appear for Jimmy to be doing all that.”
  • "Females having the vote? Ridiculous!"
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