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How to write good feedback—here's an example

Bondi Beach

We discuss feedback a lot around here and we discuss what goes into good feedback. Here's a note I received about Redemption. It's clear, to the point, specific, and civil. He (or she) didn't like the story.

Even when it's bad news, it's good.

From a Redemption reader:

"Story has potential. Short chapters make it very
choppy, and eventually not worth the read. Sorry
bout that."

bb

Replies:   docholladay  red61544
docholladay

@Bondi Beach

Story has potential. Short chapters make it very
choppy


I would also suggest that a writer should not become fixed on a certain length per chapter. A variation can be better at times. There are times a short chapter would be best and others when a multi-page chapter would be better. In the case of a short chapter, a writer might upload it along with the next chapter to appear at the same time.

Bondi Beach

@docholladay

I would also suggest that a writer should not become fixed on a certain length per chapter. A variation can be better at times. There are times a short chapter would be best and others when a multi-page chapter would be better. In the case of a short chapter, a writer might upload it along with the next chapter to appear at the same time.


Second all that (and did the multi-chapter thing as well). In this case, the chapters just came out the way they did, but the chapter breaks are where they should be.

I didn't really notice in the ebook presentation, small screen and all, but it's really noticeable in the postings on SOL.

My wife asked me this morning if I was going to "fix" the story. Unlikely. There are too many more stories in the Naked City to tell, and we all need to work together to tell them.

bb

red61544

@Bondi Beach

I have a very strong personal opinion about feedback. I never provide feedback unless I enjoyed the story. If I didn't enjoy it, I say nothing. I believe there is no such thing as constructive criticism - all criticism is destructive. Criticism is a way of saying "I'm better than you" or "I know more than you." Has anybody ever changed for the better because of criticism? I think criticism has caused more divorces than cheating and finances combined. I doubt it has caused improvement in anyone. When you're praised for something, you want to do even better. When criticized, you want to crawl into a hole and hide. It destroys the creative spirit.

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@red61544


I believe there is no such thing as constructive criticism - all criticism is destructive. Criticism is a way of saying "I'm better than you" or "I know more than you."


I'm not sure criticism caused the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, but I understand the choice of a reader who prefers to spend his or her energy praising rather than criticizing. And lord knows we've spent enough time in this forum debating to death what, if anything, a reader owes the writer. A reader who chooses to focus on positive alone fits right in, no problem.

That said, either my creative spirit is tougher than it appears (EDIT TO ADD: we're talking about the effect of criticism on adults, not on children. Different story for them, absolutely), or I'm pig-headed enough to think I know how and what I want to write, or---and here's the third possibility---hearing what people liked or didn't like about my story helps me take a second look at the story to see what merit the comment has.

In this case, the reader identified something I had already seen and he did it in a fashion that merited my attention, i.e., that it was enough for him to abandon the story, apparently. It's something for the writer to think about, that's all.

If it matters, the story is scoring more or less in the middle of my other stories, so while his opinion may be shared by others it apparently is offset by those who like it.

bb

Replies:   red61544
red61544

@Bondi Beach

I'm not sure criticism caused the decline and fall of the Roman Empire

Maybe criticism of Nero's fiddle playing caused him to set fire to the city in 69 A.D.. The criticism you received didn't cause you to change anything. Criticism seldom does. If it isn't constructive, why verbalize it? Maybe because it makes the critic feel better about himself. If I am standing in front of you and have an upset stomach, I feel a lot better if I throw up. You, however, are now covered in vomit and don't feel very good at all. That's about all that criticism accomplishes.

docholladay

@red61544

I believe there is no such thing as constructive criticism - all criticism is destructive. Criticism is a way of saying "I'm better than you" or "I know more than you."


Not always. I have found at times it can lead to a very interesting series of communications between me and a writer. It all depends on the attitudes of both sides. I always try and keep an open mind which might be why it gave so much more satisfaction. I didn't always win the discussions. But I always learned something and usually made a friend.

Bondi Beach

@red61544

Maybe criticism of Nero's fiddle playing caused him to set fire to the city in 69 A.D.. The criticism you received didn't cause you to change anything. Criticism seldom does. If it isn't constructive, why verbalize it? Maybe because it makes the critic feel better about himself. If I am standing in front of you and have an upset stomach, I feel a lot better if I throw up. You, however, are now covered in vomit and don't feel very good at all. That's about all that criticism accomplishes.


Hmm. Hadn't thought about Nero that way, but you could be right. Now, about the vomit ...

I'm not changing anything about the story because the reader's comments paralleled my own thoughts, and I'm (probably) not going to invest the time to flesh out what I'd already discarded. (The story comes in now at about 20K words. My first draft was somewhere around 35K, I think.) Believe me, the story would have longer chapters if I restored that stuff, yes, but it would not be improved at all. At all.

I understand the criticism, and it's fair criticism because (a) it's true factually, i.e., short chapters, and (b) because it was presented in a civil or polite fashion, even if I don't choose to act on it.

I don't know how the critic feels and I can't know his motive, but "I didn't like your story and here's why" can be useful to the author. "Can be," not "will be." It may be a question of taste, of not understanding. An online reviewer of Emily said something along the lines of, "sex with a girl in a wheelchair, it's disgusting." Quite clear, and also of little use to me since the reader apparently didn't get what was going on.

Right, about the vomit ... I think that's why they make outdoor showers. I understand they're required at writer's conferences.

bb

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Grant

@red61544

I believe there is no such thing as constructive criticism - all criticism is destructive.


critique

Noun
a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.

Verb
evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way.

criticism

noun
the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.

the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.

"It sucks dogs balls"
As criticism goes, it's not very help full and won't accomplish anything other than to piss the author off.

The response Bondi Beach received explained why that particular reader didn't like it. He can take that in to consideration for future stories. As he said, for this particular story he felt the way it came out worked best, but at least he is now aware that some people find that it detracts from the story so it's food for though for future stories.

Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

I would also suggest that a writer should not become fixed on a certain length per chapter. A variation can be better at times. There are times a short chapter would be best and others when a multi-page chapter would be better.

In my case, my shortest chapters tend to be the action scenes where a fight occurs and is over quickly but leaving a variety of questions. The reader doesn't object to those, because they get caught up in it. The next chapter will often be the post-fight discussion, where the characters try to piece together what happened (who attacked, why, what were they after, who else is left, what's the continuing threat).

My 'after the fact' chapters tend to be dense with suppositions, which the readers love as much of the in depth character development occurs during these chapters, and they're longer to counter the short action ones.

However, I've changed my writing style, writing much shorter chapters, so I'm not sure how my readers will respond. I typically post chapters based on how long it'll take until my next story is available, so I tend not to bunch chapters up, though that is the best compromise to short chapters. But mixing short and long together (subsequent postings) seems to work well.

Replies:   docholladay
Ernest Bywater

@red61544

If it isn't constructive, why verbalize it?


It's my experience that some people do that simply to feel good by bitching at the person for something they don't like. You should see some of the crap I get from people who don't like present tense stories. Especially after I explain it's a valid option, often used, and I like. Seems they want me stories in past tense and get upset I want rewrite the stories in past tense for them. Sheesh.

Ernest Bywater

@Bondi Beach

"I didn't like your story and here's why" can be useful to the author. "Can be," not "will be."


Very true, and then majority of ones I get are. I especially like where someone points out a section because they don't really understand it. This alerts me to a section to review and will often result in a mild rewrite to clarify what I want the reader to take from it.

Crumbly Writer

@red61544

I believe there is no such thing as constructive criticism - all criticism is destructive. Criticism is a way of saying "I'm better than you" or "I know more than you." Has anybody ever changed for the better because of criticism?

The key to criticism is, to put it into Julie Andrews terms, to flavor the sour taste of the criticism with a little honey.

Obviously you/they liked something, or you wouldn't feel so betrayed. Start out focusing on that. "I really loved how you ..." But then you switch to the author's weak points, because we all need to know what those closest to us won't admit.

Generally, I wouldn't overwhelm an author with bad news, and don't threaten to "never read his stories again". They get that is the implied threat, you don't need to get on your high horse about it. Detail why you were first attracted to the story, then specify what spoiled it for you, and phrase it as such. "I couldn't deal with when you turned Charlot into a pig, because it seemed inconsistent with the main character's personality." There, you're not only specifying what you didn't like, but why it irked you so much.

If you're objecting simply because of political or moral positions ("You're a disgusting piece of shit because you ..."), you'll never efface a change. People wont' change their entire personalities to suit your individual taste. Instead, suggest what they can do to make the story better. ("Leave the politics out of the story" is an empty suggestion, as they wouldn't write a story if they didn't have something they wanted to say. Instead, suggest ways they could have gotten a similar message across with insulting quite so many people (then again, many authors main objective is to tweak as many people as they can).

Lastly, don't issue ultimatums. If you don't like a story, then simply don't read any more. You don't go on a vendetta, threatening violence and death for their positions. That just labels you as being unhinged. Instead, if they suggest a compromise, consider whether it's for the better or only makes things worse. Again, you can't dictate the story, since you didn't write it. Instead, view it from the point of view as whether a change makes the story better, rather than if the author caters to your every single desire.

Some of my best feedback letters are the "I love your writing, but ..." variety, where they say how much they like your writing, but something struck them so harshly they couldn't continue. I'll often seek the writers of those letters out just to ask about the details. In almost every case, their real objection wasn't what they're arguing. Typically, it's something completely unrelated having to do with how the story was constructed. By getting them to discuss it, it's fairly easy to identify what the actual issue is, and that information is vital, as it tells you which areas of the story to work on.

I had several readers say they hated one character, so I drilled down and identified what they disliked (that it was a strong, opinionated woman, which certain people hated). By acknowledging that in the story, and delving into her personality to have her explain why she was that way made a world of difference, as it made an objectionable character relatable. They could understand why she was the way she was, so it was no longer an obnoxious personality coming into the story from left field.

"I loved the story" responses don't really do anything beside stroke your ego, but they aren't informative at all. Specifying why you loved them helps, but you're not actually adding to the author's well of skills. By specifying what they did wrong, and why it bothers you provides them with an additional quill in their quiver they can use in future stories.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
REP

@red61544

We writers make mistakes. If our readers don't point out our mistakes, how will we know what to do in order to improve.

The process of informing someone of a problem so they can improve is commonly referred to as constructive criticism. It is only destructive when the recipient is not willing to consider that they may have made a mistake, and become angry at truthful comments.

Destructive criticism on the other hand is offered to injure or harm and there is absolutely no intent of aiding the recipient. The remark made may be true or false, but the main thing is they are meant to hurt the recipient.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@REP

Destructive criticism on the other hand is offered to injure or harm and there is absolutely no intent of aiding the recipient. The remark made may be true or false, but the main thing is they are meant to hurt the recipient.

Thank you, DParsons. That summary defines the difference much better than my longer rambling discussion of specifics.

Replies:   REP
docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

Funny part is I believe the story itself sets the length of chapters to an extent. Then again I like the open forums because I learn so much from the debates. Of course like anyone else I at times have to have the attitude: "We have to agree to disagree".

Like all the emails I exchanged with cmsix among others. i always admitted that the stories being discussed were theirs not mine. Many storytellers gain ideas from other writers as well as other sources. I read one time.(can't remember where), an author said he kept a box/file just for all the ideas he gathered and used it as a reference.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
REP

@Crumbly Writer

Thanks CW. I keep forgetting to change my 'Post As' to my penname REP

Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

Funny part is I believe the story itself sets the length of chapters to an extent. Then again I like the open forums because I learn so much from the debates. Of course like anyone else I at times have to have the attitude: "We have to agree to disagree".

I wasn't suggesting you arbitrailarily adjust the chapter lengths. I was just observing how my stories tend to unfold, and how the chapter lengths tend to mesh well and allow for the story to better shine.

A fast chapter buys you the room to explore issues which broaden and deepen the story (if done right). I'd noted for years that action chapters got the best ratings, but when readers respond, the issues they admire about the story is often the results of the slower, more detailed chapters.

I'm thinking we should ask Lazeez for a new "Story Ideas 2" forum, where authors could discuss story ideas their considering, but which readers probably wouldn't want to read because of spoilers. Hell, discussing story ideas I've abandoned gave me insights to reconsider writing the stories, as the feedback helped detail better approaches to the stories.

Part of my shorter chapters is that I've stripped my stories down to the bone, casting aside the side plots and rich character developments. Those decisions affect the story, but it means the longer chapters don't fit the newer stories.

Replies:   docholladay
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

The key to criticism is


to make it relevant to the story being spoken about.

I believe each person has the right to their own opinion, even a reviewer. In a recent review of one of my stories the reviewer criticized the fact the average modern man is markedly taller than the average person of 40,000 years ago and I didn't mention the discrepancy. Mind you, they go wasn't transported back to Earth 40,000 years ago, but put on a planet created by aliens who have adjusted things to suit themselves, thus the minor historical fact of average height changes is totally irrelevant to the story. But, they have their opinion, and I let them have it.

docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

The point is you and Ernest among others don't get locked into a certain word count per chapter. Too many seem to have gotten locked into that trap. At least I think of it as a potential trap.

As for being bored by you discussing story ideas. NO Chance of that happening. Even if I am never went further than the 9th grade technically. (self taught in some things since then)

I love learning new things and thanks to you and others here its an ongoing process.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@docholladay

The point is you and Ernest among others don't get locked into a certain word count per chapter.


I see a chapter as being as long as needed to tell what is in it, even to the point of using sub-chapters to help break things up when I see the need. However, when I post the finished story at SoL I break the story up in a totally different way. yes, I still have the break at the end of a chapter or sub-chapter, but what I post is what i call a SoL Posting Part or SoL Posting Chapter and it often consists of more than one story chapter or sub-chapter, and i am for between 5,000 to 10,000 words in a SoL Posting Part, to give the readers a fair chunk to read. Thus the post is word count decided, but the story chapters aren't.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
red61544

If feedback is critical of an author's style or form (like BB's chapter length or Ernest's first person pov) that should be something hashed out between the author and his editors. If the author agrees with the critical feedback, he probably needs new editors because they missed a problem. The purpose of feedback should not be to re-edit the text but to encourage the author to continue writing. We have enough vanishing authors; we don't need to discourage more of them to the point where they stop writing.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

when I post the finished story at SoL I break the story up in a totally different way. yes, I still have the break at the end of a chapter or sub-chapter, but what I post is what i call a SoL Posting Part or SoL Posting Chapter and it often consists of more than one story chapter or sub-chapter, and i am for between 5,000 to 10,000 words in a SoL Posting Part, to give the readers a fair chunk to read. Thus the post is word count decided, but the story chapters aren't.

I started out writing to a mean chapter length. My aim was 6,000 words, though chapters would vary from 4,000 to 10,000. Since changing my style, my average is much less, but the chapters aren't stuffed with extra scenes which don't precisely fit the chapter. Instead, my chapters now focus on a specific event, rather than on a specific day or tossing in extra scenes to 'fill' the chapter to a certain preconceived amount.

@red61544

The purpose of feedback should not be to re-edit the text but to encourage the author to continue writing. We have enough vanishing authors; we don't need to discourage more of them to the point where they stop writing.

Encouraging authors is half the batter, the other is giving them the room to grow. The best way to do that is to simultaneously encourage them (tell them what they're doing well and what attracted you to the story) as well as suggesting how they can grow.

Often, an author won't agree with a specific criticism, which is fair. It's their story after all, and if a reader wants a different story they can write their own. But often, readers will pick up on issues that editors won't notice. That's not an editor's responsibility, we have beta readers for that, but often, beta-readers simply tell us what we want to hear, so we reply on harsh criticism to point out the subtle writing issues.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach

@Crumbly Writer

Encouraging authors is half the batter, the other is giving them the room to grow.


Now that you mention it, that's pretty much the way I cook pancakes.

bb

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@red61544


The purpose of feedback should not be to re-edit the text but to encourage the author to continue writing. We have enough vanishing authors; we don't need to discourage more of them to the point where they stop writing.


Thinking about it, I remember an author who apparently was driven out by criticism a few years ago, criticism from within the earlier incarnation of this group. The attacks were pretty bitter, if memory serves, but his weak rejoinders and his very iffy story themes (pedophilia) didn't help his case.

I also remember an author who solicited feedback, and got it from me and from others (mine given offline was gently critical but encouraging, I thought, don't know about the other feedback he got), but for whatever reason he gave up. Might have been a health issue. EDIT to add: He has a couple of files on ASSTR, but doesn't seem to have gone anywhere with the story, sadly.

The sad thing is that he had a good story---I mean, how can you lose with coming-of-age and incest?---but his writing needed a lot of work.

So I guess the conclusion is authors quit for many reasons, negative feedback or criticism being one of them.

bb

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Bondi Beach

I guess the conclusion is authors quit for many reasons, negative feedback or criticism being one of them.

The very nature of writing involves handling criticism, and always has. Most authors, who submit to the mainstream publishers, accumulate dozens (at least) of rejection notices. You either improve what you can, focusing on your strengths, or you simply won't survive.

That's part of my strategy. By emphasizing an author's strengths, you're telling them "These things work, keep it up", but adding "These are a few weaknesses, you might want to work on them." But, not everyone is equally comfortable with every technique. Some are suited for writing dialogue while others specialize in action stories. That doesn't necessarily limit their work. So if an author doesn't feel a suggestion/criticism matches his style or that he's capable of accomplishing what you suggest doesn't imply he can't improve other aspects of his story. That's why feedback should focus on the easiest things for an author to improve, rather than those things he's completely incapable of.

That's why "You Suck!" letters rarely succeed. Suggesting someone writing gay stories should "Never publish another gay story" won't win you any points, as that's YOUR issue, not his. Suggesting they try for less harsh female characters is something they can work on.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater  red61544
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

The very nature of writing involves handling criticism, and always has.


In the writing Guide I have at Lulu and their trading partners I speak about getting ready to write, not the actual writing, and one section starts with:

Whatever you choose to write you can be sure someone will abuse your work, and point out perceived, or actual, errors, while others will reject it because they do not want to read it or be involved with it. Make sure you are ready to handle and deal with this, or you will go crazy with anger and angst when it happens. This is part of being a writer; one must accept it happens, get over it, and get on with life.

It's something you have to know, acknowledge, and remember at all times.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Whatever you choose to write you can be sure someone will abuse your work, and point out perceived, or actual, errors, while others will reject it because they do not want to read it or be involved with it. Make sure you are ready to handle and deal with this, or you will go crazy with anger and angst when it happens. This is part of being a writer; one must accept it happens, get over it, and get on with life.

I've met so many people who've decided to write a book, go vanity press, pay for 200 books, get disillusioned and never write another word.

You're not actually a writer until you've learned to handle disappointment. Everyone wants to be rich and famous, but no one wants to deal with the issues.

red61544

@Crumbly Writer

The very nature of writing involves handling criticism, and always has.

That's right, Crumbly, but in the real world, ie. the world of books and publishers, the author never sees most of that crap. The only way to contact an established author is through his publisher. They screen the negative garbage, the hate mail, and the threats before they ever get to the author. The threats go directly to the police. On SOL, we can't do that. That's why it's even more important that our feedback be positive because we'll always have assholes who are critical of everyone but themselves. Some people believe that the only way to raise themselves up is to tear others down. Sadly, they'll always be with us; it's a part of the human condition.

Ernest Bywater

@red61544

but in the real world, ie. the world of books and publishers, the author never sees most of that crap.


In the real world the authors get the abuse and rejection crap from the agents and publishers until they get a book accepted, the it's just the publishers abusing them.

Crumbly Writer

@red61544

On SOL, we can't do that. That's why it's even more important that our feedback be positive because we'll always have assholes who are critical of everyone but themselves.

Despite a couple loyal readers with a political agenda, I've got wonderful luck with feedback from SOL readers. I can't always use their advice, but I acknowledge it, tell them when I apply it or explain why I couldn't. If they insist I write my story their way, I'll double down and make the situation even worse. Yet those same 1-voters continue reading my every story, so you know the 1-votes are hollow threats.

All you can do is ignore the Trolls and encourage the constructive feedback. Few try the punishment route, though many try threats (I'll never read another story again).

By the way, I just posted my first story that had every single rating covered from 1 to 10. I figure that's an accomplishment, though I'm not sure what it means.

G Younger

we'll always have assholes who are critical of everyone but themselves.


My favorite ones are when they begin with something like 'I know this is going to piss you off ...'

Then they write ten pages about why your story is terrible and it is obvious they haven't even read it.

Then the kicker 'Hope this was helpful. I love your work.'

Thank goodness there is a delete button.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach

@G Younger

Then they write ten pages about why your story is terrible and it is obvious they haven't even read it.


So, what's your conclusion here? No one writes ten pages about something he hasn't read. I'm guessing either you're saying he didn't understand the story, or he went off on a tangent about his own little pet peeve which had nothing to do with your story.

OTOH, ten pages? I mean, if I have a choice between inspiring ten pages of reaction or dead silence, I think I'll go with the former, even if it's really stupid. Maybe. Mostly the really critical stuff I've received, like a UK Amazon review, is less than a line, along the lines of "What a pile of #$%&."

bb

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Bondi Beach


No one writes ten pages about something he hasn't read.


BB,

I took GY's comment to mean they hadn't read the whole story. I've had an extremely lengthy email from a reader who went on, and on, and on about how you shouldn't write in present tense and how it ruined the story. The story concerned had only two of ten SoL posting chapters up at the time they sent me the email.

A lot would depend on how many aspects or items from the story they went on about, as that would tell you how much of it they read.

typo edit too = took

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


they hadn't read the whole story


Many of the posts above are from very experienced writers. As an inexperienced writer I would want to know why I lost a reader very early on.
If they wrote 10 pages listing specific objections to my grammar and writing style, I would check carefully to see if their complaints had any validity.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater  red61544
Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

As an inexperienced writer I would want to know why I lost a reader very early on.


True, if they're making valid comments on the grammar or spelling or plot development. However, the longest emails I've received with negative comments on a story have all been long rants against a particular part of my style and nothing to do with the actual grammar, spelling, or plot development. Huge emails ranting against the use of present tense as being the wrong way to write with claims it's invalid, similar with first person point of view, and the same sort of lengthy tirade against the use of vernacular English.

In my experience the emails about errors in plot, grammar, or spelling are usually short. Even the ones that cover a whole novel.

Regardless of what the email content is, I do read and consider every email I get, and I do respond to them - except if they're anonymous or come from an address that I had a recent bounce on as undeliverable due to a the 'Reply To' address being faulty.

red61544

@Ross at Play

Ross, as a new writer, how much negative feedback would it take to convince you to quit? A writer's ego is tied very closely to his work. If he didn't think that he had written something worthwhile, he would never post it. So it usually takes very little criticism to convince him to give up. That's why I say that there is no such thing as constructive criticism; it's all destructive! If we have a hundred or ten or even one author who has given up because of criticism, it's too many. We need more people who are willing to share their talent with the rest of us.

Replies:   Ross at Play  Grant
Ross at Play
Updated:

@red61544


how much negative feedback would it take to convince you to quit


Personally, I would not quit because of unsolicited feedback I received. As long as I could see I had the potential to write stories I was proud of, and I was enjoying the process, I would continue. I would base my assessment of potential only on the feedback of those I knew to be knowledgeable, AND my own assessment.

I know I have a very strong tendency to overlook the possibility (certainty?) that others may think differently to me.

Your comments have prompted me to reflect upon the FACT that many others will have very different ambitions and time available for their writing; as well as being nowhere near as thick skinned as I have become.

I can now see a strong case for paying more attention to kindness, and less attention to precision, in comments made to developing writers.


no such thing as constructive criticism


I cannot agree. I regard your comments as being "constructive criticism"

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

I too GY's comment to mean they hadn't read the whole story. I've had an extremely lengthy email from a reader who went on, and on, and on about how you shouldn't write in present tense and how it ruined the story. The story concerned had only two of ten SoL posting chapters up at the time they sent me the email.

I had an anonymous email (of course) complaining about my story postulating on the effects of a miniature block hole (that wasn't what the story was describing). If it was, I'd agree with his critique, but he was reading into the story his own pet peeves, rather than allowing the story to tell its own tale.

Grant

@red61544

If we have a hundred or ten or even one author who has given up because of criticism, it's too many.

Even if what they write is illegible, unfathomable or completely beyond comprehension?
If they choose not to improve, better they quit than keep producing rubbish. People may not agree with what an author writes, but at the very least it should be possible to read & understand it.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Grant

Even if what they write is illegible, unfathomable or completely beyond comprehension?
If they choose not to improve, better they quit than keep producing rubbish. People may not agree with what an author writes, but at the very least it should be possible to read & understand it.

I hate to say it, but I agree. Everyone wants to write, but most people just don't have the nerves or the drive for it. When there's a slight complication, they throw up their hands and walk away, while there are others who, despite never suspecting it, have stories inside them that just have to be told, and they'll tell those stories no matter the obstacles, even if no one wants to read them.

I know so many people who've written a single book. In most cases, they all paid big bucks because they couldn't be bothered to learn how to do it for free, and each feels the entire process was too cumbersome to bother with again. Those people are not writers, they're the people who think everyone should be fascinated in how wonderful they are. When your stories take over your soul and take over your actions, then you become an author!

If writing was easy, we'd never see another piece of decent fiction again. There are too many Trumps and Schwarzenegger's more than willing to pay ghostwriters to rant and rave over how wonderful they are without investing any effort.

Replies:   REP  Lugh  Bondi Beach
REP

@Crumbly Writer

I agree!

richardshagrin

Not all one book authors produce bad fiction. "Gone with the Wind" was a good book by as far as I can recall a one book author.

Lugh

@Crumbly Writer

Speaking only from my nonfiction hat, when I finished my first book, I was amazed. #2 established it was no fluke, enough that I changed publisher. #4 decidedly was my best, but sadly -- these were in network engineering -- it was at the time of the industry crash, and it sold poorly.

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Those people are not writers, they're the people who think everyone should be fascinated in how wonderful they are. When your stories take over your soul and take over your actions, then you become an author!


You know, I sure as hell have an opinion about everything I've read, no question, but suggesting that some people shouldn't be writing just grates on me. If the writing is crap, fine, say so. The truth is the truth---and, yes, there are kind ways to convey that and brutal ways.

That's a long long step away from saying "good riddance" to someone you think is a bad writer. I don't think that's a useful or productive stand to take. Plus, speaking for myself, I have enough to worry about my own writing.

I repeat: there's nothing wrong with having an opinion and if the writing is garbage it's garbage. But why waste time with saying if someone cannot write well he or she should give it up?

bb

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Bondi Beach

Sorry, Bondi, I wasn't saying that anyone in particular was a poor writer. What I was suggesting was that there's a natural weeding process for authors which removes those that must write, from those who simply can't be bothered. If a little criticism discourages a few, it merely shows they were never that serious about it to begin with.

Granted, that doesn't justify 1-bombs or personal attacks, but no author has ever existed with a thin skin (unlike certain political aspirants). Either you learn to ignore it, ignore feedback entirely, or move on.

In the old days you had to collect dozens to hundreds of rejection notices, how is getting a few critical email responses any worse than that?

What I'm saying is, there's a natural filtration process for writers. It may be cruel, but it's necessary for determining who'll stick it out and who'll quit as soon as something doesn't go their way.

If you write well, you'll get fewer harsh critique, but they'll never go away. It you write like crap, they may be all you get, but either way, they're a fact of life we all must deal with if we hope to continue.

@Richard Shagrin

Not all one book authors produce bad fiction. "Gone with the Wind" was a good book by as far as I can recall a one book author.

She may have only written one book, but she worked damn hard at that one book, and she had to sell it as hard as she could, and fight the editors who fought her over it. She was tenacious, and won, though she never managed to complete a second. She deserves that one bestseller, and the rest that followed.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

After the exchanges above, I have decided I will not send any more unsolicited negative comments to authors I know nothing about.
If I feel compelled to do anything I will begin by asking if they had their work reviewed by an editor before posting. If they did, I might feel inclined to send my unbridled criticisms to the editor instead.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

If I feel compelled to do anything I will begin by asking if they had their work reviewed by an editor before posting. If they did, I might feel inclined to send my unbridled criticisms to the editor instead.

Better yet, if they're obviously in need of an editor, we'd all do better offering to edit instead, or at least direct them to those better qualified to edit their works. Each editor brings their own skills to the job, but no one editor will catch every typo or style infraction. Even after I've had several run over the same text, readers continue to point out issues we've all missed. Editing is a never ending task, because there are always mistakes we've overlooked. The very nature of reading--speed reading being especially problematic--means we all read what we expect to see, rather than what's on the page itself. That makes editing difficult, and why even those of us with editors continue having errors in our texts.

We can all benefit from helpful advice, though we're not all receptive to it. But if you weren't interested in a story, you wouldn't be concerned with the errors, you'd just avoid the work. They key is to focus on what helps the story the most--suggesting style changes or attacking the author for using present vs. past tense. If everyone works to improve a given story--even in their feedback by encouraging an author's strengths--then everyone wins! But if an author is lacking in specific knowledge, they're better off knowing that so they can rectify it.

Replies:   Bondi Beach  Grant
Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


What I'm saying is, there's a natural filtration process for writers. It may be cruel, but it's necessary for determining who'll stick it out and who'll quit as soon as something doesn't go their way.


There's something wrong with this statement and I admit I can't quite figure it out. I guess it's the idea that a "natural filtration process ... [is] necessary for determining who'll stick it out..."

Why? Where's the natural law or other natural order of the universe that says such a process is necessary? Perhaps it's word choice that's bothering me. If you're saying, and I think you are, that some writers can take the criticism and some can't, I agree.

It's when we get to the implication that somehow it's *necessary* to weed authors out that I step off that particular bus. If it's necessary, why don't we hit authors of crap with a barrage to test their mettle and get them off the boat as fast as we can.

Yeah, mixed metaphor(s). So sue me.(!)

I didn't think you were directing your comments at any particular author; the discussion was about a class of authors.

bb

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Grant
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

The very nature of reading--speed reading being especially problematic--means we all read what we expect to see, rather than what's on the page itself.


I find the best way on forums such as this to find typos is to post the message. Doesn't matter how many times I've read it before posting, once it's posted all the errors jump right out at you the first time you read the posted message.

EDIT- maybe that's what's needed here, a pre-production/test site for authors to post their chapters/stories before they go on the main site. Or even just a local version on their system of the site to post to & check things out.

Replies:   Joe_Bondi_Beach
Joe_Bondi_Beach
Updated:

@Grant


EDIT- maybe that's what's needed here, a pre-production/test site for authors to post their chapters/stories before they go on the main site. Or even just a local version on their system of the site to post to & check things out.


I use the site's formatPreviewer for this. It's designed to test {tags} rather than HTML, but it might work for both. If yes, the result is a nice page pretty close to what it's going to look like when posted.

http://storiesonline.net/author/formatPreviewer.php

bb

EDIT TO ADD: As the page explains, it's in "Alpha" status. There are a few glitches, i.e., some things like em-dashes and curly quotes* reproduce correctly but will not do so when posted.

*Caveat: With added bandwidth, Lazeez is experimenting with allowing curly quotes, so who knows?

Crumbly Writer

@Bondi Beach

There's something wrong with this statement and I admit I can't quite figure it out. I guess it's the idea that a "natural filtration process ... [is] necessary for determining who'll stick it out..."

Why? Where's the natural law or other natural order of the universe that says such a process is necessary? Perhaps it's word choice that's bothering me. If you're saying, and I think you are, that some writers can take the criticism and some can't, I agree.

I was simply observing that writing, in general, involves a ton of rejection to varying degrees. Those who aren't driven to write, but simply think 'it'll be nice', turn tail and run as soon as things get a little tough. My reference to the "necessary process" is simply that it's unavoidable, rather than that it serves some grand purpose.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Those who aren't driven to write, but simply think 'it'll be nice', turn tail and run as soon as things get a little tough.


I think the point of this thread has been what can we do to help ensure the experience is nice for these kinds of writers.

It has helped me see that others will not have the time and energy needed to enhance the writing after completing a draft that tells their story ideas.

How many of us contributing on this forum first started to write as an attempted self-help tool for coping with depression, rebounding from traumas, etcetera?

Mental health professionals often encourage people to write about their problems for its cathartic effect. Writing often helps stop an endless cycle of thoughts going round and round in the head.

In the future, I intend to be cautious that this may be why the writer has written their work, and posting it may be an attempt to reach out to others with similar experiences.

With that in mind, I have concluded my first contact MUST be limited to:
Do you know help is available?
Do you want to make the (sometimes difficult) effort to improve your story?
And by the way, these are the good things I saw in your story.

Edited to add final point of highlighting positives to the musts lists after reading comment by CW below.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I think the point of this thread has been what can we do to help ensure the experience is nice for these kinds of writers.

That's a good point: there's really NO justification for being rude and harshly critical. Most of the one-time authors I've met over the years have little interest in writing a second story anyway. Once they have their say, they're generally done and really don't need to be traumatized to drop out of the field. I can't say all those books were gems, but I still prefer more choices, rather than less (which is what traditional publishing companies seem to be stressing).

My only argument in this whole discussion is "Don't be afraid to be honest" with authors, but you can also do that while being reasonable about it. Simply starting by reinforcing their strengths alleviates much of any subsequent critique, and if the criticism is positive (helping them through the morass, rather than dumping them in the mud), then it's easier to manage.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Simply starting by reinforcing their strengths

Yes! The first contact MUST attempt to highlight the positives you can see as well.
My experience with all types of "giving feedback" to others in life is it never hurts, and very often helps, to ASK FOR CONSENT first.
If someone knows you do not feel any need to make any criticism, you can then be honest without hurting their feelings. They know you are trying to be helpful

Bondi Beach

@Crumbly Writer

My reference to the "necessary process" is simply that it's unavoidable, rather than that it serves some grand purpose.


Agreed.
bb

io.thanateros
Updated:

@red61544


I have a very strong personal opinion about feedback. I never provide feedback unless I enjoyed the story. If I didn't enjoy it, I say nothing. ...


I don't send negative feedback either (though I send feedback often - 3-4 times a week).

As an experiment for the authors here - how would you react to the following if you received it (I actually typed this out before deciding not to send it):

"Excellent premise for a story. However I think you executed it poorly. There were several plot lines where the protagonists behaved or reacted in ways that I think were inconsistent with their characters e.g. (I cited several examples and why I thought that was the case0

Your dialog could use a little work as it feels a little wooden to me on occasion:

(I cited several examples)

>.

Many thanks io.thanateros

^^^^
Specific examples removed so that story/author not identifiable)

Story scored around 7.75 which is significantly higher than my cutoff threshold to investigate an unfamiliar author.

Lugh

@io.thanateros

Would you elaborate on your usage of "cutoff threshold"?

As I suppose do most authors, I worry over scores. Most of my stories are in the sixes, with some that I consider my best having low six scores. Several stories, with few voters, are in the 7 or 8 range. How would you assess this?

Replies:   io.thanateros
io.thanateros
Updated:

@Lugh

It's not a hard and fast rule but:

6.0ish if:

a) The story blurb or tags interest me or

b) a couple of good reviews (preferably by a reviewer I respect)

6.5ish if the story blurb is uninteresting or a single sentence and there are no reviews.

Once an author gets on my 'must read list' scores are irrelevant.

I base this on never having read a story in the 5s that I've really enjoyed and generally though not always there is a close correlation for me on score vs enjoyment reading.

Your most recent story 'Tomorrow is another day' is actually a good example as I've not come across any of your stories before.

The story is on the cusp:

- You have written an excellent 'blurb' (in particular it reads well and doesn't have any major grammatical red flags or typos).

- None of your stories have been reviewed.

- Given that it is a do-over (a very popular category) 6.15 is little lowish as even poor do overs generally score well.

However I am in the process of downloading it and will read it over the next couple of days.

When I'm finished I'll give you my honest feedback (privately) and with your permission will post it to this thread for my feedback to be critiqued :)

As a bonus if I enjoy the story I will write a review!

ETA:

- Number of votes is generally irrelevant when I consider scores.

- Even a good score is no guarantee that I'll read something. A good example was Argon - the scores were excellent and the blurbs were well written but the subject matter didn't initially appeal to me so he/she went unread for over a year. Of course once I download one to read I was hooked and my reading for the next month was sorted :)

ETA2:
If a story is less than 100 kb I never read.

Replies:   Lugh  Lugh
io.thanateros

@Ross at Play

I think this is spot on. My reluctance on posting 'negative' feedback is twofold:

1) Who am I to criticize someone else's writing - I'm just a reader. I like to think that I can write well myself but I've no illusions about being the next Hemmingway.

2) Getting the balance is difficult. Sometimes there's a lot wrong with a story and being encouraging whilst still pointing out problems can be tricky.

3) Sometimes I just don't like a story and I don't know why (maybe the voice used or style or quality of dialog). In these instances feedback is pointless I can't explain why I didn't like a story.

It's much easier to write good positive feedback than good/constructive negative feedback:

- You need to give examples preferably with examples on how to improve it. Then I worry if I'm being presumptuous with my suggestion.

Lugh

@io.thanateros

Interesting comments! Thank you.

Apropos of your size rule, I went back and looked at my stories. Five are > 100K and six under. The smallest, which was some humor that I needed to get out, is absolutely true, other than names being changed.

Writing the blurb is a real challenge. I haven't yet gotten a good sense of what works best for the readers. Perhaps I may throw out some for stories that I consider excellent but haven't attracted many readers.

Lugh

@io.thanateros

io.thanateros


Given my interests in your comments, I wanted to read your stories. I can't find you, however, under authors/i

Are you perhaps indexed under another name?

Crumbly Writer

@io.thanateros

As an experiment for the authors here - how would you react to the following if you received it (I actually typed this out before deciding not to send it):

"Excellent premise for a story. However I think you executed it poorly. There were several plot lines where the protagonists behaved or reacted in ways that I think were inconsistent with their characters e.g. (I cited several examples and why I thought that was the case0

Your dialog could use a little work as it feels a little wooden to me on occasion:

In my own case, I'd want to know this about my own work. I may not be able to address it, or correct it if it was a weakness of mind, but I'd prefer being notified if it was an issue in the story.

However, if someone knows they're weak in a particular area (say with me and 'telling rather than showing'), the author might already realize it's a weak point and might take the reminder of his weakness as an attack on his story telling abilities. In that case, while useful information, it might be overkill (if several others keep repeating the same accusations).

Thus it's not a 'one size fits all' situation. The information is useful the first couple times it's received, after that, it's more overkill than helpful.

Also, as Lugh suggests, scores don't always mean much, while authors might justify their literary weaknesses by pointing to downloads/scores and dedicated readers, which doesn't actually address the issue.

Joe_Bondi_Beach
Updated:

@io.thanateros


However I think you executed it poorly.


Feedback is most helpful when it comes with examples, which you include in your reply. That said, opening with "You did a crappy job"* would put me off, even when it's followed by "and here's why" [and examples].

*EDIT: I know you didn't use those words, but that's what it would sound like to me.

It would put me off even if it is a true statement. Opening with what you liked about the story is always a plus. Then something along the lines of, "I didn't understand why [X] happened," or "I don't see how you got from [A] to [B]" or "I didn't think [insert passage] was as [strong/effective] as other parts."

I don't think it's coddling the author to put it this way. It's presenting what you saw as a real problems (with examples, always) gives an opening to talk about ways to strengthen the story.

If the story is hopeless, and assuming it didn't have anything truly vile in it, I'd stick with something like "It didn't work for me." (Although why I would have read it in the first place I have no idea.)

Any author worth his salt (pen? laptop? paper? quill?) will be able to take criticism and will be able, one hopes, to distinguish between a self-satisfying rant and criticism that identifies what worked and what didn't. It's not a question of hurting the author's feelings.

bb

EDIT: Reading your post again, I see you did in fact open with a positive: "Excellent premise." So everything I said still applies, but perhaps not to your example.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Joe_Bondi_Beach

Feedback is most helpful when it comes with examples, which you include in your reply. That said, opening with "You did a crappy job"* would put me off, even when it's followed by "and here's why" [and examples].

Examples are essential. There's nothing worse, then getting a response to a story you wrote a couple years ago, that says something like "I didn't like character X". Why? What about the character didn't you like? Was it the character himself, or how he reacted to the other characters?

Vague feelings are not only impossible to quantify, but if you don't remember the story well, you'd have to review/revise the entire story, trying to guess what one person saw that they objected to--and then you still might miss it.

With examples taken from the text, the author can go directly to the original and take the complaint in context. That buys a lot of trust. If you start out recognizing the author's abilities (what they do well), and then list one or two issues, you can evaluate how valid the complaint is. If the complaint makes sense, then the critics opinion goes up in your mind, and you're subsequently more willing to listen if they bring up another point later on.

That's why it's best to give criticism in small doses. Not because the author is overly sensitive, but because until proven, he doesn't know whether your opinion can be trusted. If you suggest shifting punctuation around, and the advice is wrong, he'd make the story worse by listening. Again, trust between writer/editor/reviewer/reader are all based on trust.

You trust the writer to deliver a certain type of work and not just phone it in. You have to trust an editor to understand what they're suggesting, and you've got to trust that a reader understands what he's just read.

If you approach critiques in this manner, you'll generally produce easier to process recommendations.

Grant

@io.thanateros

As an experiment for the authors here - how would you react to the following if you received it (I actually typed this out before deciding not to send it):

"Excellent premise for a story. However I think you executed it poorly. There were several plot lines where the protagonists behaved or reacted in ways that I think were inconsistent with their characters e.g. (I cited several examples and why I thought that was the case0


The only part I can see causing issue is the "Excellent premise for a story. I think you executed it poorly" part.
That translates to "It was a great idea, but your story sucked".

Probably better expressed as "Excellent premise for a story and while I did enjoy it, unfortunately there were several things that made it much less enjoyable than it could have been" and then your points & examples of what you considered the issues to be.
IMHO.

REP

@io.thanateros

With the examples included, I think I would consider it to be positive criticism, and evaluate the negative sounding comments to determine how I can improve.

Without examples, or poor examples, I might consider it negative criticism. In that case, I would look to see if the reader intended it to be positive, but just worded it poorly. If he intended it to be a rant, I would not be happy.

Of course, the way others would take it would depend on their level of writing experience, self confidence, how they handle criticism, and other factors.

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