I post my writing on a critiquing website, which had provided me with a lot of feedback which was both helpful and useless. On one hand, I have met some great people who have helped me to nurture my skills, fully explore actions, expand my descriptions, avoid head hopping and truly get into my character’s heads.
But I remember one of my early critiques on a piece I thought was great at the time, the comments I received weren’t very good. One said that I had too many unanswered questions and it wasn’t clear who people were.
I’d think Parker kissing Cleo, and their affectionate behavior would say – they are dating. Unless I literally need to spell it out for the reader, which I don’t want to do. This not only irritated me, but upset me because I questioned my skills and was it worth pursuing? I am glad I didn’t let one bad criticism get me down.
Recently, I received a critique from Tid Greenman, and I want to share his wise words with people who might have received negative feedback and get disheartened.
No matter who is doing the critique, always see the feedback in its positive general side and study the picture in its big attractive frame.
“You use too many participle phrases-” that’s a good piece of writing advice. Cause I did.
“I think you should say ‘polished copper’ instead of copper,” is worthless.
“I don’t feel connected to this character-” awesome, I can work with that!
“I think he should have blue eyes, I like blue eyes-” no, no, NO!
My point is, while being critiqued is a valuable tool for improving your writing, you shouldn’t – and can’t – listen to every piece of advice. I have had three critiques in which each reviewer made a different suggestion for the same sentence. You have to find the point at which you stop listening, because eventually you will lose your unique voice. You will start writing like someone else wants you to write. Sometimes you must stick to your guns and say “no, I’m going to write in passive voice here because that’s the way I want to write it!!!”
Here are my guidelines: I only listen to reviewers when they make a valuable comment on the following:
- The emotional strength of my characters
- Tension and interest in the plot
- Accuracy of certain facts (street names, fashion of a particular historical period, for example)
- Overuse of certain words; styles; poor word choice; or bad grammar.
Everything else is preference and opinion, and I am determined to preserve my creative license. And you should, too.
It all boils down to one basic fact. We all have opinions, and more than anything, what makes a good story is subjective. I can’t understand David Foster Wallace, and would rather use his novels as kindling for a crackling winter hearth fire, but someone loves him. Similarly, an avid reader of horror novels isn’t going to like a Nicholas Sparks book.
Disliking a story, and by extension giving a story a negative critique, doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sometimes it just means the story wasn’t the reader’s cup of tea.
Following that, I will now mention some suggestions critiquers have posted that I have chosen to ignore.
In one chapter from Bruised, I described Hunter’s morning regime where he is shaving. One person (somebody I deeply admire) said it was too much detail, but nobody else said this. I kept the detail because it tells us about how Astor thinks his facial ‘tickles’ if he doesn’t shave (I don’t need to explain any further on this really.)
In ‘In Between Dreams’, Cleo’s mother died during child birth and she calls her father ‘Daddy’ even though she’s 24. Some people said to use Dad, but Cleo’s character has a close bond with her father and WOULD call him Daddy. I chose to keep it.
In the same novel, I had some child dialogue where the child said, “You always said lying was bad. Why did you make me lie?” and someone suggested I take out the first line. But a child would speak like this.
In ‘Bruised’, Hunter calls Evelyn ‘bud’. Yes, I know it’s a nickname for boys, but this guy has no clue how to handle children and especially little girls. I refuse to change this because that’s something thats clearly part of his character.
The point of this post is to remind writers that when receiving critiques that you cannot take every piece of advice. At some point it stops becoming your writing and becomes how somebody wants you to write.
If you have receive any criticisms that you didn’t agree with, I’d love to hear that and why you didn’t take their advice. Let’s not forget that writing is all subjective.