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Tip Thursday: Constructive Criticism



We love getting News blog articles and tips from members - and CassieQ has been a wonderful contributor. Here she writes her thoughts on Constructive Criticism - a very detailed article that shows a lot of thought. I hope you enjoy and let us know your thoughts as well! Also, if YOU have an article you think would be great for this blog, let Renee Stevens, Andy021278 or myself know. Thanks!




Constructive Criticism




I'll try to make this as painless as possible. It's a tough thing for many writers to have someone criticize their work. But any writer that is going to be worth reading is going to encounter criticism eventually and how they take it can make the difference between improving your craft or giving up.


In my mind, there are four types of feedback. Here are some examples of each type.


Non-Constructive praise: This is so awesome! I just love it! It's such a great story!


It's nice and not many writers mind seeing it, but it's not really helpful.


Non-Constructive criticism: This is awful and I hate it! You should never write another word you talentless hack!


This will do you no good at all. Throw it away. Both of these give you feedback, but it is not specific enough to apply to your writing.


Constructive praise: I like this story. I like Caleb and I told you that Noah is a bit boring to me as a character (as a bf I would take him and lock him in and never let him go biggrin.png) but he fits the story very well. I like the ending though it is dark and even with the intention you had, it makes the story very round and interesting with a BANG of a final! Great!


This is good, because it points out the things that the reader likes about the story. In this review (a real one, given to me by my beta), I learned that he likes my characters, even though one is boring and that the ending was well done, which is something he knows I struggle with sometimes.


Constructive criticism:


Also from a real review from a rough draft for the legends anthology: Legends, myth and fairy tales rarely portray complex characters, backgrounds and sometimes even treat logic like it is something that happens to other. But they all contain a motivation for the doings of the protagonists and some kind of purpose or moral to the story. You, aside from a wonderful setting and beautiful language, have no complex characters (which is totally fine), no background, a medium lack in logic and no real motivation and purpose.


What I think weighs heavier is the overall lack of motivation. It all seems so… random. After I finished the last chapter, it left me like “Um… That’s it? *figuratively turns the sheet to look for a lost chapter* Really? Wow. Okay.” It misses the wow-effect. If I had read that as the first story from you, I would think “Good style, nice language, lacks a certain feeling and profoundness.” I don’t intend to sound harsh, but I don’t know if ItD would make me look for more of you. And I know you have very good, very deep stories, wonderful characters, well-thought plots, self-made worlds and realities that are profound and fantastic.


That is only a small snippet. My beta actually wrote a full page of comments, ripping on everything from my characters, to my plot and everything in between.


This is the most valuable type of criticism that a writer can get. It is one thing to show what your strong points are, in constructive praise, so you can identify your strengths and develop them to make them even stronger. But the weak points of your writing are the ones that you need to develop. Readers will notice these, even if they don't comment on them. And you will never develop yourself as a writer if you don't take these weak points into consideration and work on developing them.


Constructive criticism can be hard to take, especially from a friend or someone you are close to, so finding someone that is not familiar to you to look over your work is best. Of course, that has its own set of issues, because you need someone you can work well with. That is why having a good beta reader or editor is important. GA is great with the Writing Support in the Editor's corner. Make sure if you utilize this resource to mention what kind of feedback you want, and if you don't think you can take up front, blunt criticism, ask for someone who is gentle and tactful (but still honest) with their feedback.


Don't get discouraged by negative feedback either. No one is perfect and especially in the beginning, mistakes run rampant. A good beta/editor will guide you through these early hurdles and the more mistakes they help you see and recognize, the easier it will be to avoid them in the future.


And don't ever think that constructive criticism is a bad thing. It isn't. It doesn't mean you have a bad story, on the contrary, it actually means the opposite. It means that there is something awesome about it and that the person leaving the criticism wants to see more of that awesome. When I read a story and think it is no good, then I won't say a word. I won't review; I just leave it and go read something else. If it has potential, if it has something that is awesome about it, then I would want to point out what is good about it and what needs improvement. But only if the writer is ready to hear it.


So you've got your constructive criticism. Now what? Well, when I would get rough criticism, I would need some space. I wouldn't talk to my beta until I had some time to think about it and contemplate it. A person's first reaction is to defend their work, or justify why they did such and such. That is not going to help you. Take some time, walk the dog, go for a swim, meditate, whatever. Do something to clear your mind and then come back. Try to be objective and listen to what the person is telling you. If necessary, try to contact the person and ask for examples or specifics if you still don't see the problem. If your feelings get hurt, cry or punch a pillow or do what you need to do let them out, but don't let them get in the way. If you really do still have doubts, run it through a second person. Again, find someone who can be objective. If they point out the same issues, then you need to address them.


But do remember, you are the writer and it is your call. But if you receive constructive criticism and learn to use it to your advantage, you will be doing yourself, your writing and your readers a great service and eventually, you might even learn to like criticism!

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There is such a thing as destructive criticism.


Your writing is horrible and your mother should be ashamed of you. The drugs and violence in this story are deplorable!


Ummm... the story was about an addict living in a violent world. I don't do care-bears.


Blow it off. Don't listen to it. Not all stories are for everybody.


This kind of criticism is generated by pushing someones buttons- in this case drugs and violence set off the critic.


Are drugs and violence any less socially relevant because the critic doesn't like it?


Might it be useful to get some insight into how an addict might get entangled in drugs?


Many readers get hung up. You hit their hot button and they get confused between a plot element and the writer's endorsement.


Of course this is ridiculous but it has happened to me. I have never heard of someone writing a murder mystery accused of endorsing murder.

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'Your writing is horrible' is not necessarily destructive, but it's not much help to anybody.


'Your mother should be ahamed of you' - total opinion, fair enough, useful to know as a market comment, but utterly useless as constructive criticism.


'The drugs an violence in this story are deplorable', is actually fair comment in itself. But as JS points out, in the context it doesn't really help much.


'I have never heard of somebody writing a murder mystery being accused of endorsing murder.' Actually this is not true as a generality. There is a massive social debate over the effects of creative output on the world. There is considerable opinion that the high sex and violence content of much media contributes to a more violent society. In which case, this reaction to the comment that the writer is endorsing it has some limited validity. Blowing it off would not be wise. Considering it, then dismissing it would be fine. Asking for examples would be good. But if a blank criticism came along such as this, it would be wise for the writer to take a bit of notice and see if they have done something inadvertently. At the very least it indicates that the writer may have failed in any attempt to deplore the murder or murderer. Of course, it could just mean that the reader is an insensitive muppet, and has failed to pick up on properly deployed subtleties, but it needs investigation.


JS' point about the difference between plot element and endorsement is well made, though. Reader's do have to be self critical before criticising. But inadvertent endorsement is quite easy to do. If a bad guy gets killed in the process of being run to ground, by being shot accidentally, it is a murder, technically. If there is some element of lack of concern by the pursuers, then the technical murder becomes something closer to homicide by negligence. If the reader is somehow 'invited' to accede to the notion that the world is a better place without the dead guy in it, one has to wonder where that leaves the writer. It's quite easy to get that wrong.


But the critic should always explain why they think it is an endorsement.

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I have experienced all different types of feedback. Just in the last few days, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing with a well-established author, his constructive criticism of one of my stories. It can be crushing to your ego if you let it, but if it is given in the way that it is meant to help the writer better their skills and not to just tear the person down, it can be a very helpful tool, but it can be a painful lesson to learn how to hold your head up high while accepting critical review of your work.


I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m a strong believer of ‘praise in public, criticize in private’. That is how I was taught. Not everyone will accept criticism in the same manner and I would never want to embarrass someone in public. I have had it done to me and it's not fun! I feel that it is wrong. I have sent authors private messages with more critical reviews of their work. It is to help them, and I feel that it doesn’t need to be done in a public forum for everyone to see if my intent is to help an individual.


I have also seen reviewers who hide behind the pretense of constructive criticism as a vehicle to deliberately and publicly tear someone down. It is sad how people get bolder while hiding in the safe shadows of a computer screen to anonymously shred a new writer.

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I agree with KC. i will leave a review that points out strengths. Cassie stated some of those reviews were from her beta. In private I have no problem taking any form of criticism, however I will lose respect when it is viscous and not backed up. If the character didn't ring true give me an example. I have a degree and can understand a problem in my writing. Just don't try to impress me with your book learning and try to talk down to me. (Trust me it has happened.)

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Just remember criticisms are just opinions. It's your call to use them or ignore. I know it's hard to ignore pig-headed comments, or those people who think they are writing gods, or the plain bigots out there, but you have to grow a thick skin and learn to ignore. Better yet, you have to learn to sift through garbage for the gold.

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