I’ve been quiet lately. There’s a million things I could talk about, but none of them have really been solidifying lately, and those that do don’t strike me as very interesting. I blame the new day job. I haven't quite adjusted yet.
Today, though, something's been on my mind. Something about critique. Specifically the critique of an author’s character choice.
I don’t agree with the people who say you shouldn’t criticize the author’s character choices in a book review. Book reviews are opinions, nothing more, so if a character grates on your nerves for whatever reason, I figure you should be free to point it out. If your argument is stupid, it’s stupid. If it’s sound, it may save people who share your dislike a lot of wasted time and frustration.
But when giving critique, it’s a different story.
See, the purpose of critique is primarily one of assistance. You’re trying to help your fellow writer create the story that they want to create.
Once upon a time, I was in an English class with this girl whose main character was the bitchiest, whiniest, most entitled woman-child I’ve ever read. I hated reading about her. I hated being in her spoiled, movies-and-shopping obsessed head. I hated hearing her whine about her stupid man obsession and how much she wanted another pair of Gucci shoes.
BUT. It was a chick lit story. And as far as chick lit goes, it worked. The character was an extreme form of the standard chick lit heroine and she was, at times, genuinely witty. So I kept my mouth shut about that and focused on the story’s real weakness, which was a lack of conflict. And, as it turns out, that’s exactly what the writer needed to pull her piece together.
See, how I felt about the character didn’t matter, because I wasn’t being asked to indulge in this story for my own enjoyment. That’s generally my rule for critiquing. I may not care for chick lit, paranormal romance, or epic fantasy; but if that’s what my group members are working on, I figure it’s my responsibility to put my personal likes and dislikes aside to help them out.
So it bugs me when, in online critique groups, I see people getting criticized just because their story contains an element that the critiquer doesn’t like. They say “It’s too depressing, you should make it happier!” or “Happy endings are so cliché, you should make it dark!” and it’s not helpful, because that’s not the story the writer is trying to tell.
And besides, I’ve read some really good WIPs, stuff that I wouldn’t give a second look if I was expected to pay for it. I think it’s helped me grow as a writer as well.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, if you’re going to open yourself to giving critique, you should also open yourself to stories you wouldn’t read otherwise and adjust your expectations accordingly. Try to understand what the writer is going for instead of whining about what they’re not. Otherwise it just isn’t helpful - for them or you.