Callie Hunter

Writing Critiques: When Do You Stop Listening?

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.

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This entry was published on June 29, 2013 at 8:49 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Writing Critiques: When Do You Stop Listening?

  1. This is my first post. Like you I am a writer and about to launch my first book end of summer. When I had my compreshensive edit done, my editor ripped my first draft to shreds. Cut the first 13 chapters she said. My heart sank to the floor. But she was right. I hated having to kill my darlings and limit my sub plots but one thing I will not compromise on and that is the voice of my characters because that is the strength and likability of each of your characters. How a reader imagines the story even if they see it differently is fine, because every reader is going to see and feel something entirely different. Never rewrite the voice of your character. You can rewrite the plot or sub plots. You can even rewrite their locations. But if the character you create is the one you see inside of your head-that’s the character. Period.

    Best of Luck!:)

  2. You’re absolutely right – character voices and your individual writing voice are some of the things that shouldn’t change unless the majority of the readers say the character lack depth.

    Good luck with your first book! What’s it called and what is it about?

  3. Pingback: San Andreas | Writing = Passion

  4. Great advice. As readers we each have our own personal tastes when it comes to genre and writing styles. It is our personal opinion. But as readers we give our reviews as part of a potential market audience. Keep in mind that most readers won’t write reviews, they read – that’s it. So what does this mean for authors?
    Authors – write what you love, what you enjoy writing. If you edit and revise, cut and recreate to appeal to every reader you will never get your story finished. And when you do it will be something that isn’t even close to the story that started in your head. As an author I take all the feedback I can get. But as a loyal reader of a few genres, I know that my opinion is just that – an opinion. My personal taste. I would love it if every author wrote stories to please little ol’ me every single time. But then, how boring would that set of books be?
    Callie’s got some good advice and provides some real insight. Take reviews for what they are. Good Bad or Ugly.
    You’ll have fans that think you’re great – all the time. And we all should know by now that readers are a fickle bunch. Even the same reader won’t like the same story from one moment to the next.
    Think about it.
    What were you reading years ago? Do you still like all of them now?
    My humble advice: what what you love. Worst case, you’ll enjoy the process and find readers who like your honest work.

  5. Pingback: How to Critique (Part 2 of 2) | Moscow Freelancer

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