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How to handle harsh criticism?

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by Dormant, Aug 17, 2013.

  1. Dormant

    Dormant I'M A TREE RAWR

    Hello, Dormant here. Well, how do I say this...

    I once had an idea. It began yesterday, I made a fanfiction about What-ifs, Random Short Stories that I thought about when I was thinking for ideas. You know, those kinds of stuff. I started off with a story about with Gary Oak who woke up one morning and suddenly heard a voice that belongs to the Narrator of the fic. It's starts out with him, having Thorin Oakenshield as his brother, Gary complaining to the Narrator that he's not describing things, A funny parody of Pokemon Revolution(The fanfiction made by EonMasterOne) and ends with Gary saving the world from Unicron of all things. I was satisfied with the first short story, then a review happened.

    The review really sunk my ship. The reviewer said my fic is just a mediocre imitation of Adventure of Adventureness, and basically said that my idea of a fic is as impressive as a kid learning how to spell. When I first read the review, I felt like Zoidberg saying 'Your fic is bad, and you should feel bad'. Except the review sounded more colder, harsh and a stab in the heart. Heck, I was quite depressed enough to even delete the said fic with only having 15 views! Now I feel bad about doing it... But don't get me wrong, it's not a bad review. It's my first time having a harsh review on one of my fic.

    So, I have a question. How do I handle harsh criticism? That's all I ask...
  2. Avenger Angel

    Avenger Angel Warrior of Heaven

    First and foremost, understand that not everyone is going to love your story. And you can't really expect people to. You may think that what you have is great, but from the perspective of another person, what you have might not be their thing and/or there may be real mistakes with it that really should be corrected.

    When it comes to harsh criticism, you've got to weed out the meaningless, degrading, and unhelpful insults/bashing from the stuff that points out visible and truthful flaws that you overlooked when you wrote your story. But also, don't lose your cool when reading a nasty review and succumb to the urge of lashing back at them. Reviewers that drop unhelpful, bad reviews may be trolls just itching for a flamewar. But, they could also be seasoned and experienced reviewers that just don't have much in the ways of empathy or sociability. Instead, just pick at the review for anything that might be the truth and ignore the stuff that attacks you on a personal level. If they say the story is bad without mentioning what exactly they disliked about it, ignore it, since dwelling on it isn't going to get you anywhere. If they mentioned particular character traits that doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the story, or point out that one particular plot mechanism seemed cliche, stop for a moment to evaluate it again and ask yourself if there is an alternative that could possibly be better.

    In terms of your parody story, understanding that very often, an author may think their stuff is laugh out loud material when really, to other people, it may seem a little lame (not necessarily saying this is the case here, I haven't even taken a glance at your story). An inexperienced author may think slapping together a lot of incoherent randomness is the way to humor when really humor is more of a strategic game of unpredictability, satire, timing, and experience knowledge that the audience can relate to. It's not as easy as one might think to make a story that's genuinely funny for many. Also, some people's tastes and preferences for comedy are different from other peoples'.

    Also, don't delete stories just after one bad review. In fact, don't delete them, period, even if you get dozens of not so hot reviews. Remember, the purpose of posting your stories here is so that one, people can enjoy them and two, you get feedback from them so that you can get insight on what the readers liked or didn't like, see what you did right and wrong, and use that learning experience in the future so you can write better stories.

    Good luck!
  3. Dormant

    Dormant I'M A TREE RAWR

    Thank you. Yeah, I felt kinda bad about deleting the story. But that's okay, you've got a point! Some people like random comedy, others like other types! Thanks Avenger Angel for the advise!
  4. bobandbill

    bobandbill Winning Smile Staff Member Super Mod

    I for one can see deleted threads and hence reviews. ~

    So if you're referring to the one you got here I don't think it was overly harsh or anything. Negative and pointing out flaws? Certainly, but I don't think it was too bad (especially considered to some made in the past by old members, oi). Although comparisons to other fics are maybe a less solid point of it, given whether a fic is good is also a matter of opinion and no fic is without its flaws in execution. I also can't say I like the assumption that 'you made a ___ fic you must have read ____ for inspiration' then, but besides that nothing too much to complain about. But at least you recognise that.

    But it's nothing to delete a thread about. One shouldn't be too embarrassed by negative crit, and everyone has to improve during writing. Heck, I would have loved a bit of crit I got with my main fic to have come earlier because I was using punctuation wrongly for a good while until it was pointed out. (Of course I was happy I got it at all - far more useful than some reviews that were just oneliners and didn't offer much of anything.)

    I will also agree with the points made in the review about writing humour (as well as what was said above), especially of the random or silly kind. It's not an easy thing to do - in fact, I'd argue it's one of the harder styles of comedy fic to do. It's easy enough to have random stuff happen such as a person shouting cheese or a tonne weight landing on a person out of nowhere, but quite often it's only effective if there's some reason for it to happen. For instance, with the latter it'd work better if it's set up (e.g. 'A man was walking down the street, and then he got squashed by a falling washing machine' won't be so effective if the build up is substantially longer, lulling the reader into thinking all is fine and then hitting him with the large home appliance.). Timing is also huge - sometimes a moment later will make the world of difference for a joke.

    And then there is the point that it's not everyone's favourite genre. But then you can't please everyone, right?

    And now I can't stop thinking about a random-ish fic idea of mine that's been bugging me the last few months, hnng
  5. Dormant

    Dormant I'M A TREE RAWR

    The all seeing moderator sees all... even the ones that are deleted O_O

    But in all seriousness, when I read the review I wasn't thinking straight when I read it, so I may have exaggerated a bit(Or a lot). But yeah after yesterday, I realized that I wasn't taking criticism that well so I decided to post the thread for future references(And also because I couldn't find a thread like this one :p).

    But yeah, It's hard to please everyone. The truth is, I felt like a noob when I wrote the fic and I sort of overreacted... :D;

    So thanks guys. Thank you for helping me with my question!
  6. Shymain

    Shymain Shaymin Lover

    Yeah, so sorry that the review seemed harsh, I really didn't mean it to seem that way. In hindsight, I agree that I shouldn't have put in the comparison with the AoA, and I'm sorry for that. Can you tell me what, exactly, seemed overly harsh to you? Because I have posted much harsher reviews and people have taken it positively, i.e. the first review I gave mew 2000 on 'My Pokèmon Adventure'.
  7. Dormant

    Dormant I'M A TREE RAWR

    Well, I am still a newbie when posting a fanfiction. In hindsight, the review not that harsh. In fact thanks to you, I might handle reviews more better. So I should be thanking you.
  8. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    I believe you've had a discussion with some members here (myself being one of them) about using random humor in a fic before. As bobandbill said, not everyone can appreciate random humor in fanfiction. He sugarcoated it a little more than I would have, because my personal opinion is that random humor isn't really all that funny to anyone but the writer and maybe one or two people in on the joke. From the description you gave, this whole idea seems pretty "random", and that's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. While I haven't personally read AoA, I know that Missingno. Master has handled his random humor in that fic well, and it's gained quite a following. Naturally, that will lead to people comparing random fics to it, especially ones where the third person narrator is an actual character in the story.

    But on to the actual meat of this: dealing with harsh criticism. What I have always done was put the review aside for a few days, much like I do before I go back and edit a new chapter on a story. Our natural inclination is to discount harsh criticism because, obviously, our work is great. But after the initial outrage or shock wears off, go back and look at the piece that's been critiqued and look at the review side-by-side with it. Are some of those points valid? Probably, yes. Will some be harsher than they have to be? Yeah, I'll bet they are.

    Back when I had the time to review stories (on Fictionpress, mostly) I was a pretty tough reviewer. I got a lot of defensive reactions. But I always felt that harsh and very critical reviews were infinitely more valuable than ones that simply said "OMG great story update soon, R&R back?" Anyone can write a fluffy review, but to have an in-depth critique of your work shows that someone took the time to really read your stuff and give it a thorough analysis. So in the future, pay attention to those harsh reviews. They'll be the ones that help you the most.

    And yes, there will be reviews and critiques that are needlessly cruel or simply mean-spirited. Some people just like to troll, and others get off on leaving mean remarks on peoples' stories. Those are pretty easy to pick out, they're just basically the opposite end of the spectrum of the fluffy overly congratulatory reviews. But harsh criticism on a lengthy and thorough review that addresses specific points in your writing that need improvement? Oh man, Christmas just came early. I wish I got more of those reviews. Yeah, they're hard to deal with at first, but develop a thicker skin, realize your writing really isn't all that (and this goes for all novice writers, not just you, Dormant), and come up with a good way of dealing with and accepting well-thought out critiques.

    As an anecdote: For those of you who haven't gotten there yet, most college-level writing courses, the class is structured as a workshop. Everyone will read your story or passage and then give you feedback on it. The way I've seen it done is you get about five to ten minutes of positive feedback, what you've done right. Then, for the next fifty minutes or more, people pick apart your story point by point, literally laying it bare and eviscerating it before you. And you can't say anything. Even if they're completely missing the point, you can't speak up and correct them. I have seen people completely overwhelmed in these workshops because they aren't equipped to handle the nearly ceaseless harsh criticism. If you want to pursue writing on a collegiate level, that's basically what it'll be like. Best you get yourself ready for it now, on the relatively consequence-free frontier of the Internet.
    Skiyomi likes this.
  9. SBaby

    SBaby Dungeon Master

    Well, I never really had that kind of experience in the few years I was at college. Plus, I seriously doubt that most of them are like that, as you claim. If they spent 50+ minutes tearing apart one writing piece like that in a class that is likely 2 hours at most and has at least 20 students, the class would never get through its curriculum in time.

    As for harsh criticism, I'll say this. As a personal preference, it's fine as long as there is substance in what the critic is saying. If they're just there to bash me or my Fic and provide no real constructive advice (as I've seen in the past), then it becomes useless to me, and essentially a waste of my time. So for harsh criticism (or any type of criticism for that matter) where I'm concerned, I'd say it depends.

    But honestly, I do have a question when it comes to harsh critics. And I don't mean the occasional banter ones. I mean the overly harsh critics. What do you really have to gain from being nasty when you criticize someone else's work? It really doesn't seem like it should be that difficult to be courteous when giving criticism. In all honesty, it looks more professional to me when critics are courteous with their advice.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2013
  10. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    I will say that what Firebrand is describing actually happens, although how much time you're allotted depends on the workshop. See, there's a couple of things you'll want to know about creative writing courses. First, not all of them have more than twelve students. Second, there are workshops that have only one to three students present material a session. If Firebrand's classes are structured the way the workshops at my college were, then you might have two hours and forty-five minutes once or twice a week (at night, mind you) with a maximum of three students a session. That's typically enough time to say everything you need to say about a single piece, and fifty minutes sounds like an upper limit. (That's what I mean by "it depends on the workshop." The workshops at my college split the time pretty evenly between three students, so it wasn't fifty minutes exactly.) The other students would present at other sessions, and you might only need to do a handful of manuscripts a semester. Also keep in mind that not much would happen outside of manuscript discussion because it'd be a workshop, so the learning you'd get would involve reading the required material on your own time and listening carefully to the criticism other people would receive.

    But that's off-topic.

    Honestly, this. I don't know what review Shymain left, so I'm going to speak on general terms (and literally not about that review). But the more inflammatory you get in your reviews (as in, if you're overly snarky, if you actually tell the author that their fic is a pile of crap, if you insult a writer's intelligence, and so forth), the harder it is on everyone. From the perspective of a reviewer, if an author gets defensive about their work because you were inflammatory towards them, they'll be less likely to pay attention to any concrit they get, even if it's worded politely. If they're not so much defensive as they are highly discouraged, then they'll be more likely to delete their story—or worse get their friends to white-knight for them. And then you end up with dramatic parties all around, and the end result is a massive headache. From the perspective of a writer, it's just plain tiring to get involved in a flamewar because someone decided to be an *******, so just don't be that guy, folks.

    Point is, the key is to review someone the way you want to be reviewed. If you don't want to be talked down to by someone else, don't talk down to writers. Don't even jokingly talk down to them via snark. It's not cool.

    Otherwise, I agree with Avenger Angel about weeding out the harsh (or in some cases, the stupidly harsh) wording to get to the meat of the review. Keep in mind that a good review (even if it's harsh) is designed to locate the rough edges of your work from the perspective of an objective reader. Also, don't forget that you don't have to respond to a review immediately. If you need to take time to think about it, feel free, but I wouldn't recommend reacting based on first instinct either way. I say this because reacting on first instinct means you're more likely to react emotionally, which could potentially escalate the situation, depending on what emotionally means for you. (As in, if you're the kind of person who gets defensive and argumentative, you could trigger a flame war. Of course, getting discouraged and deleting your story would be considered an emotional knee-jerk reaction too, and that's never a good thing.) Give the review another read-through after about a day in order to view it when your head is a bit cooler. Compose your response in a word processing document so you can delete the inflammatory, snarky bits or group like comments together and respond to them all at once. Sometimes, even doing something as simple as organizing the review into manageable chunks will help soften the blow and see what that reviewer is trying to say a little more clearly.

    Above all, don't get discouraged when you get a bad review. As the others have said, not everyone's going to like what you have to put up. It happens. Just keep working and taking into consideration the advice you get now and then, and you'll eventually hammer out something that people will want to read, either because it hits the right buttons for them or despite the fact that it doesn't. But giving up means you won't get to that point.
    Psychic likes this.
  11. jireh the provider

    jireh the provider Video Game Designer

    Truly agree with you. It is more about finding a flaw that actually benefits in a way. It may be hard at first for some writers, but never impossible.

    Not all of us are the kindest and correct reviewers nor the most objective and douchebag kind of reviewers. There are times that when you review someone's work and point out the flaws of your writing, you just might get an outburst of harsh emotion from the writer whether with good intentions or not. I had a couple harsh reviews too that made me delete about half of the titles I did years ago. I'm sure that any of us did a review that actually pissed the writer off. I'm no different you know, I had a fair share of mistakes (as for JX and Firebrand if you are reading this, no need to post my fault just for the sake of reminding. please understand...). But for me, that is the intricacy of harsh reviews. There will always be douchebag reviewers anywhere for sure. We can't get rid of them. It's like fans of any brand. You can't please every fan.

    But there are times that reviewers can get a bit too comparative in a way (one of my own flaws in reviewing another fanfic) that goes either way. A respectable opinion, or a harsh insult. So, as a reviewer, we have to learn to restrain the urge of comparing things as much as we could (not always easy) whenever possible. So, I guess this is one of the challenges as a reviewer.
  12. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    Um, please keep in mind that objective and harsh doesn't always mean douchebag. (Objective most certainly doesn't mean douchebag because if you were objective, you wouldn't be letting your emotions get in the way of your reviewing style. Emotions would include the ones that make you a jerk.) I was talking about actually degrading reviewers, the kinds of people who outright insult an author. Occasionally, they have nuggets of wisdom that you can glean.

    But really, the same thing goes for authors who aren't douchebags but are just honest and thorough. You'll want to take some time before looking over a review that's like that because at first glance, you'll be more likely to think they're jerks and react accordingly, rather than see them as people who are genuinely trying to help you without making fun of you.

    Please keep in mind that there is a difference between an objective reviewer and a jerk. It's just as bad to be a writer and assume that harsh reviewers are most likely being jerks as it is to be one of those actual jerk reviewers.

    This message brought to you by "I really don't know how I should take the fact that you namedropped me in a paragraph where you said douchebag reviewers exist." (Besides, why on Earth would I think your stories are relevant to this discussion?)
  13. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    @ Jax: I think meant (or at least I chose to interpret it) that we were his first real experience with harsh criticism and that made Jireh really reevaluate his writing. I think. I've gotta admit, Jireh, sometimes your syntax is a little hard to understand, even in just a general post.

    Anyway, I know I'm a harsh critic when I decide to actually review something. Like Jax was saying, and as I mentioned in my earlier post, oftentimes harsh criticism is the most honest kind of review one can get. Instead of simply boosting your ego and allowing you to make the same mistakes over and over, a single harsh review can shake up what you think you know about writing and really force you to improve. Odds are, if a person goes into your fic and nitpicks all the little things about it that could be improved and leaves a lengthy and honest review, they aren't being a jerk, far from it. They're doing it because they can see the potential in your story and with just a little polish and tough love, they're willing to bet that it can become something to really be proud of. Writing thorough reviews is hard work, as anyone who writes thorough reviews can attest. If someone wanted to be a jerk and rip your work to shreds, there are far easier ways to do it than drafting a lengthy wall of text and close reading a passage.

    The worst thing to do with harsh criticism is to ignore it. Most writing communities (and this one is no exception) are cooperative. The members are looking out for one another, and oftentimes the members with more experience will leave a review that seems scathingly harsh to a novice. But they aren't flaming. On top of being a way to seriously address the flaws in one's writing, a harsh critique also serves to show the community just how much a writer cares about their current project. If they're determined to see it through to the end, they won't throw their hands up in defeat or abandon the story. They'll take the criticism to heart and learn from it, and continue to work on their story and make it as good as possible.

    On the tangential subject of college writing classes: at my school at least, and at the schools of two of my friends who I've talked about this with, any writing class above the introduction level is at least two hours long and the class size is very small. And as Jax said, most of them meet at night so that they can run over if they need to. The one I was in last semester had fourteen students, met once a week for three hours at a stretch, and we would work on two pieces a night. That is, I think, how most of the upper level classes for creative writing work, no matter where you go.
  14. If they bring up good points, I would listen to them anyway. I mean, reviewing someone's story and saying things like "this is horrible, don't ever write again" is not the way to go, however sometimes I believe that most people are writing reviews like that because if they were nicer they feel as if the writer will not listen to them.
    JX Valentine and Skiyomi like this.
  15. SBaby

    SBaby Dungeon Master

    I agree with you about the good points thing. Personally, I don't mind either way when it comes to my own FanFics. Alas, I am but one person.

    Here's the thing. The mindset of many writers is actually quite the opposite when it comes to criticism. If people writing reviews are more tactful, the writers are more likely to listen than if the person is nasty about it. This is an unfortunate reality that I've come to realize over the years, but it's proving to be more and more true as time goes on.

    A good number of people have this mindset: If they're tactful, it means they are acting professional. If they are nasty, they are acting unprofessional. Why should I listen to someone who is unprofessional over someone who is professional? How do I know their advice is even accurate if they act like that? They could just be doing it to troll.

    This may seem far-fetched (not the Pokémon), but this mindset has become increasingly common among writers on and off the Internet. This is why I say if in doubt, be tactful.
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2013
  16. Psychic

    Psychic Really and truly

    The thing with fan fiction, or anything you create, is that it's kind of your baby. A lot of people can be very protective and defensive of their babies. Some people interpret a criticism of their baby as a criticism of them, like a personal insult. It becomes a slap in the face, even though it really isn't meant to be.

    The solution is to not be overly attached to our babies. "Kill your babies" (also known as "kill your darlings") was a common expression in one of my creative writing classes. Being so attached to a part of your work that you can't accept criticism or be willing to make changes can only be a detriment, and it gets in the way.

    So if you're the type who struggles to handle criticism, detach yourself. This could mean taking a step back from your work to reexamine it and your feelings about it, or taking a few days to process what the review said. Take specific comments, go through your fic and see if you can understand where the reviewer was coming from and why they made that comment. You don't have to agree with every bit of criticism, but use the opportunity to examine your fic from a different point of view, using fresh eyes. Other people often notice things we don't, and there can be a lot of value from an outside, unbiased perspective. Much as it hurts, sometimes if someone says to kill your baby, they're saying it for a reason.

    This absolutely makes sense. Receiving negative criticism, especially if you're new to it, can be intimidating on its own. If the person is rude on top of it, it becomes that much worse, and it can be a really crappy experience. That's why we were sure to let reviewers know they have to respect writers in the Fan Fiction Rules. It legitimately is unprofessional to be a jerk, especially if your intention is to help someone. It's counter-intuitive.

    I definitely went through something of a reviewing mean streak about five or so years ago. but I soon learned that being a jerk didn't actually add anything to my reviews, and that being objective and encouraging did far more good.

    That said, even to this day I have left perfectly polite reviews that people have not taken well. In fact, just this week a member thought that my criticism was equivalent to trolling. Fortunately, they have since taken their words back and apologized, realizing they had misinterpreted me and reacted the wrong way. Not everyone who shares their work publicly expects negative criticism, and it can certainly be a shock to the system. Learning to accept criticism is a big but vital step to self-improvement, and the sooner you can get over that hump, the better.

    Last edited: Sep 13, 2013
    Skiyomi likes this.
  17. Well, you should try to make a distinction between bashing and constructive criticism. The line can sometimes be thin, some people say harsh things while intending to be helpful. And besides, some people see a perfectly normal and polite review as bashing, because they see their fics as their babies, like Psychic said here before.

    When I just started writing in 2009, the first reply I got was a bashing, insulting and degrading review in which the reviewer was personally insulting me and saying some truly mean things. That kind of thing is unlikely to ever make you improve, it can only be discouraging. After that post, I quit writing for some years, because I was afraid to get bashed again. But in 2012, I started writing again, I simply wanted to write and thought "oh well, getting bashed is part of being on a public forum". That fic once got a pretty harsh review with a few blunt remarks, but the reviewer didn't attack me as a person, and didn't bash. That's constructive criticism, and I had no trouble with it, simply because the reviewer didn't act like a b*tch, it was obvious she just wanted to help me to improve. After that review, my chapters improved significantly, that review was exactly what I needed to improve. I really, really, really feel a lot of gratitude towards Skiyomi, I really improved a lot thanks to her. Now, my fic still is far from perfect, but the dialogue and content is much better then it was before, and dialogues are even my strongest point in fanfiction writing now.

    I strongly prefer critical reviews with helping intentions over compliments with little content.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2013
  18. jireh the provider

    jireh the provider Video Game Designer

    I think yours is a better way to say that criticism is not always pleasant whether it is meant for good intentions or not.

    Looking back at what my professor in Customer Service taught me, for most customers, no one wants to be criticized harshly. Which is why if you are serving a customer, you should be sensitive to their needs and wants. Because if you hurt the customer's feeling, you lose their trust.

    Even for some of the most restrained people, they could lose themselves to the pain of being criticized. I'm sure any of us had a harsh critical review of our work on one time. Usually, on the early stages, one could end up scratching back the critical reviewer for saying that their work is not good (even with detailed reasons that could really help on the reviewer's side). And so what happens is that they usually give up on their work (or if it was too much for the writer to bear the pain, they could be aggressive on the reviewer that reviewed their work harshly [which is worse]). I'm usually open for tips that could improve upon. But I'm just like everyone else. I do not like someone who does not review my works gently so many times. It just so happens that I got reviewed harshly too many times that I just ended up quitting for real, at first, before going back on track as to what those useful criticisms really benefit me. Even if I tried replying back to my harsh reviewer at times (not the trolling one. But the helping one), I still have this feeling of pain, hatred, and jealousy to that reviewer who reviewed my work harshly. Thus, some of my early replies back to my critical reviewers were deep respect with a mix of envy, impulsiveness to hurtfulness, and bitterness with small literal insults (I'm speaking from experience)

    This why, learning from my early mistakes, I should not be impulsively replying back to my harsh critical reviewer while I still have those painful feelings within me. Give yourself time to digest as to what those harsh critical reviews really meant. Are those meant to insult your work? Or there to help you get better?

    All in all, facing harsh critics are, for me, one of the most difficult to overcome.
  19. Well, what I wanted to say is that people should try to learn to see the difference between bashing and constructive criticism. If someone is making personal insults and isn't being helpful, and/or says the story is terrible/horrible (after all, when giving constructive criticism, the reviewer should state the criticism without saying that), something like that shouldn't be taken seriously. But when someone is trying to help and isn't making insults, people should think about what the reviewer is saying, and be very critical about their own story when doing that. If they see the reviewer is right about most or all things brought up, someone should try to improve on those points, that's the point of constructive criticism.

    The best way for people to learn to deal with criticism is probably just experience. It's not going to be easy to take criticism the first time, but by receiving criticism, noticing how most the points brought up by the reviewer are valid and improving on those, people should be able to learn to deal with criticism the right way. If I tell someone with no experience with criticism that criticism is the best way to improve, they might still not be able to take criticism, but if they notice how criticism can help them to significantly improve, they'll start appreciating it, because they'll experience how helpful it is.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2013
    JX Valentine likes this.

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