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Rejecting criticism or just sticking to your guns

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by matt0044, Dec 28, 2013.

  1. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    Suppose someone writes a story that attracts regular readers and it contains a certain element that he/she like in particular but most of everyone else doesn't like it. Both sides are very passionate in their arguments but when is the author rejecting criticism, blindly defending his/her "bad" decision, or just expressing his/her own opinions?

    This is something I've never been too clear about, especially in my earlier years as a fanfic writer. Even now, I worry about getting a review that chews me out for writing such tripe and me trying to stand my ground and explain myself only to get a response that puts me down some more.

    But enough about me. I'd like to hear from others on this matter.
  2. Poetry

    Poetry Dancing Mad

    I think in the situation you're describing, "sticking to your guns" is exactly what you should do. In the event that someone does comes along and and gives you a scathing review like you detailed above, the last thing you should have to do is defend yourself and the reasons why you wrote what you did, least of all to someone who obviously seems too ignorant to know that writers should at least have the freedom to write about whatever subject matter they want, and in any style. I don't necessarily think that berating something like the subject matter (unless it's inappropriate or offensive obviously, but even those are often justifiable if done right) counts much as valid criticism, since it seems to factor in largely the reader's own personal tastes. Writers should have the freedom to explore whatever they wish and I don't think they should ever feel that they have some sort of obligation to deliver what the reader wants to read from them. It's the question of why you are writing in the first place, and for who: yourself or your readers.

    I don't think I explained myself very well but that's just my take on it. I may have misunderstood your original question though; when you said a "certain element" of a story I assumed you meant something like a particular writing style or plot point and not something which writers actually should adhere to in general, like spelling, grammar, etc.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2013
  3. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    I think the title and the thread ask different questions. I'll start with the title's, since it leads into the thread's nicely.

    There are some points where it seems like common sense to accept criticism, such as on grammar. Most of the time, a 'caught' grammar error will indeed be wrong and fixing it will improve the quality of the story. What about the other ten percent? These 'errors' usually stem from literary techniques, with stream of consciousness narratives being by far the biggest offenders. In these cases having imperfect grammar is generally a net positive to the storytelling. However, if enough people find that the grammar detracts from their ability to understand or appreciate the story, it could be because the technique makes far less sense to readers. This could be fixed by modifying the technique, but in cases where this would be extremely difficult or undesirable a real dilemma presents itself. I believe this ties into the thread's question: What is to be done when the author's devices prove unpopular with readers? Let me introduce a new concept to help answer further.

    Writing is a means of communicating ideas through words.

    That's really all it is. Words made to move ideas from the author's head to the reader's. In fiction, these ideas can be plot, characters, or themes. If an element prevents readers from receiving the idea, there is no point to keeping it unless it is absolutely vital to the idea. If this is the case, it might be best to rework the strategy to presenting the idea so that it can be communicated. So far I have only discussed style, but this method also applies to plot points, characters, and other characteristics of a story. If a plot point is so illogical that a significant portion of readers are unable to receive the ideas it was meant to convey, it does not matter what the grand artistic vision was. The audience isn't getting it, so you're no better off than just keeping it in your head and never sharing it. Oddly enough, profanity also follows a similar trend. If it prevents or distracts readers from receiving the intended ideas, it might be better left out. If it helps to convey these ideas, it is a useful part of the narrative.

    Reviews, positive or negative, are useful because they help show whether a sample of readers are receiving the ideas you wish to convey. Criticism generally points out attributes that prevented that specific reader from understanding the message. When analyzing criticism, I generally consider whether or not the suggested changes would actually improve the communication of ideas. Note that this type of criticism, critique of communication, is different than critique of the message. This type of critique is mostly banned here, but appears in forms ranging from "lol u r noob ashxmisty only real ship" to serious and reasoned disagreement with a story's themes. In these cases, the readers will simply reject what you have to say. You could try making changes to accommodate, but keep in mind that doing so will fundamentally alter the nature of your story, often for the worse.


    If a suggested change would increase the reader's ability to receive your message, do it. If it would not or would alter the fundamental ideas of the story, don't.
  4. PhalanxSigil

    PhalanxSigil BONK!

    I get the feeling you're talking about something specific from a story you are currently writing. If that's the case, I think those that respond to this thread need to know what it is you're worried about changing.

    For instance, is the aspect of the story you're worried about a grammatical issue, or is it a plot device that is so integral to you're story that you're worried about the impact of changing it? From the information you've given us, I'm not sure we can help you.

    If, however, you meant this as a broad topic of discussion, disregard everything I just said.
  5. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    Yeah, you do that.
  6. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    Whoa, dude. You really don't have to be that blunt. Phalanx is addressing the possibility that you're talking about something specific, an option that you've opened up in your original post when you mentioned your own personal experiences.

    Pleasantries aside, allow me to throw in my two cents.

    Talking about the art of writing is all well and good, but it's useful to remember that sometimes it comes down to context as well. If you post your work on a journaling site or a site where criticism is not encouraged, then you most definitely have the right to tell someone off. However, if you post your work on a forum or another community for developing authors to post their work specifically to get crit ... then you sort of forfeit your right to say, "omg hdu criticize my work." See, the difference is all in implication. On a closed community that doesn't encourage crit, it's on the reviewer to tread lightly because it's implied that you're not necessarily accepting criticism. Conversely, on a community that encourages criticism or that outright says "post here to get your work criticized," it's on you, the author to understand that you're going to get crit because the actual act of posting there says, "Hi! I'm looking for crit!" So, yeah, of course you'd get crit in an open environment because that's just what the reviewers in those communities do.

    With that distinction out of the way, can you reject someone's criticism? That also depends on context. Are most other people pointing out that same issue? Then chances are, it's a basic issue that you probably should resolve. Are most other people pointing it out as something they like? Then chances are, you can get away with not changing it. (Note: If a reader doesn't point out a problem, that doesn't necessarily mean it's not a problem!)

    Moreover, what are the reasons why that reviewer is pointing out that issue? Are those arguments sound? Would making that change improve your story? Then chances are, yes, you'll want to make that change. Would making that change actually cause issues in your story? Then you're free to reject it, but do so politely.

    See, the reason why I emphasize all of these distinctions is because on places like Serebii, reviewers aren't just trying to shoot you down. They're also not trying to tread on your literary vision. What they're trying to do is help you resolve issues in your writing so that you can improve. By posting to crit-open communities such as this one, you admit that you're not the best writer; that's why you (implicitly) seek the advice of others. So by sticking to your guns—especially if you do so in a hostile manner that results in heated debates—you advertise yourself badly because the reviewers in communities such as this wouldn't be interested in handling a writer who is known to argue against negative reviews they might receive.

    However, that isn't to say that there are never situations in which sticking to your guns is a good idea. If you're on a crit-closed community (such as deviantART, AO3, Tumblr, LiveJournal, and possibly BMGf), the lean is more towards the author, and it's implied that the author isn't there to look for crit but is, rather, simply posting their work. At that point, yes, you are absolutely free to reject criticism to your heart's content. Likewise, there is such a thing as a piece of bad advice. There's not only the situation that Rediamond touched on (the difference between a stylistic preference and an actual error in grammar and syntax), but sometimes, you might have bad advice in avoiding Mary Sues, improving characterization, developing plot ... really, in short, it's the subjective parts of the story that could prompt someone to give you bad advice. In those cases, it's really up to your judgment because you know your story and what works for it the best, but like I said, you absolutely must respond to your reviewers as politely as you can. (Even just saying, "Thanks for the advice! I thought it over, but I think that if I did this, then this would happen. I'm not sure if that would work for my fic, but I appreciate your thoughts nonetheless.") That is how you avoid an argument with a reviewer. Yes, you should at least say "thank you; I'll think about it" to the inflammatory ones. It's just courtesy.

    In short, to start things off, it depends on context. In some cases, you'll really want to look hard at the review, think about what's being said, and decide from there what your course of action should be.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2013
  7. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie "It is my destiny."

    All right, let's see if I got this down. The wording's kinda odd, so I'm just replying to how I see it as well as gathering from what I've read in the previous posts. (Jax just ninja'd me, but I'll read that after this is posted so I don't sound like I'm parroting the almighty Jax.)

    Anyone can write a story about anything, but you have to realize that depending on the subject matter, you walk a fine line at times. Everyone's going to have their own opinions, and some of them are very extreme about something to the point they will fight for censorship on that sort of thing, or get it banned (though for whatever reason, it just depends, and some of those reasons are really stupid reasons and they somehow got their way). Poetry mentioned that there will be ignorant readers who don't understand that writers (and this also extends to artists) have the freedom to do what they want to make a statement. They're the ones who cry for censorship and attack the writer for daring to step out of the status quo. Personally, I can see where they come from, but I do believe that every human has the right to say what they want, and thus also present it the way they want. If I disagree with something or heaven forbid get offended by it, I can choose to ignore it, or give my thoughts. If I choose to give my thoughts, I'm not going to cry for censorship or grab my torch and pitchfork and instead judge it as how it's presented and try to keep my own bias out of it.

    Does the author have the right to stand for what they did? Yes. Do they have the right to reject criticism? Yes, but it doesn't mean they should if they have their head on their shoulders (though it does depend on how the criticism is being handled). If they're calm about it, they can reply back to those criticisms and give their reasons for why they wrote it and tell the person have a nice day. If they keep getting attacked by the people, they should be protected.

    Now, it does depends on how tasteful everything is being handled in that they are getting criticized for, especially if it's a very touchy subject. This reminded me of something I personally observed in a fan fic, and I can also go ahead and briefly mention a 2010 movie that got criticized.

    For the fan fic example, someone wrote a Land Before Time story. Okay, that's fine. But the Land Before Time story dealt with sending the dinosaurs millions of years into the future so they could witness the 9/11 attacks. The person's defense was he wanted to write a tribute to the victims and to remember that day. To be fair, his heart was in the right place, but the way it was executed was very tasteless and disrespectful, and it offended just about everybody who read the story, and he was forced to take it down. But apparently, he only listened to those who pointed out the plot-holes (such as how the dinosaurs got there in the first place and the really out-of-place romance that took place) and other things, so he fixed it and reposted it to the disbelief of the previous readers, and he was forced once again to take it down.

    Did he have the right to write a Land Before Time story? Yes. Did he have the right to write a fan fic dealing with the 9/11 attacks? I suppose he did, but he deserved every single criticism he got. (And even then, I don't believe there should be fan fics that deal with 9/11, but they exist and I can't do a thing about it. Doesn't mean I will write one, however, even if it was a well-written tribute that respected the memories and lives of the victims.)

    For the movie example despite not having seen it (outside of reviews and it still made me ill to my stomach) but I know about it, A Serbian Film got harshly criticized by everyone who watched it and it has been banned due to its disturbing explicit content and possibly how everything was executed (every country has their reasons for banning it, but a couple banned it for, in my opinion, dumb reasons such as "concern for causing controversy in [insert name of country that banned it here]"). The director did come forth to explain everything that happened and that it was an allegory of the Serbian government (and that because he knew he'd get censored by the government for being explicit about it, he had to hide it in an allegory). However, whether it's because hardly anyone understands what happens over in Serbia and thus didn't catch the allegory, or because it is indeed a truly horrendous film that was executed poorly, I think it really just depends on the eye of the beholder. Did the director have the right to film it? I believe he does, since he wanted to make a point. Does he deserve every criticism? Probably.

    So really, at the end of the day, I think it just depends on everyone's opinion and judgment on the matter. Rejecting criticism is something that someone really shouldn't do if they want to improve in that area, but if they don't want to listen to what someone's trying to tell them, they can do that, it's just going to show in their actions and future projects. And if that's the reputation they want, that's fine by me.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2013
  8. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    This thread doesn't have any examples of this kind of thing yet, so I'll put some up both so that if people need a point of reference later or to have an example to cycle back to.

    Now, Dark Pawn is a story I've posted on Fictionpress, and largely the reviews are to the effect of "OMG, great chapter, update soon". Disregarding the fact that I have a fairly concrete update schedule, well, whatever. The reviews I would call attention to are the ones that are more in-depth. In a case of rejecting criticism, and a time when it would be a valid response, see the following:

    There was a guy who reviewed roughly fifteen chapters of this story, and on each chapter gave an exhaustive run down of how he would have written the chapter in question. This was quite exhaustive, because he would have written with vastly different clauses than what I used, and his writing style was drastically different. He also criticized the fact that I started in media res just because his personal preference ran counter to it, and that I introduced things to the plot without completely explaining their significance and motives. I allowed this to go on for a while, and after a few days passed without another review coming into my inbox, I assumed he had run out of steam and then went to explain why I had done the things I had done, and explained that my writing style was obviously different than his and that I was keeping the audience in ignorance for a reason, and that things would be revealed when they were necessary to be revealed. He respectfully backed down and respected my creative choices, recognized that the story was written in such a way that it probably wasn't his cup of tea, and I haven't heard a peep from him since.

    A different reviewer brought up a certain part of the villain protagonist's development arc, in that there were stretches of time when she was a cold stoic capable of ordering her army with ruthless efficiency, and then there were other periods where she was quite empathetic and unwilling to cause undue harm. I explained to them that I was trying to show that the protagonist was putting on a mask in the more stoic instances, trying to assume the persona demanded of her by her duty. I pointed out a few instances where I had used certain titles instead of names or pronouns as descriptors to subtly indicate that the protagonist was not really the protagonist here, and that she was forcing herself to develop in a certain direction, much as she didn't want to. We talked about it back and forth for a little while, and eventually agreed the way I was doing it was the best possible way to convey it, but perhaps make it a little less subtle. Now that I'm doing rewrites, I'm taking this into account and making sure I do just that.

    I brought up this last example because should the critique be well-thought-out and well-intentioned, you should never completely reject it. Should the platform you're using allow users to contact each other (and most do), get in touch with the reviewer and ask them why they think what they do. Even if you ultimately decide not to use their critique, their thoughts on the matter can give you insight into your craft as a writer and help you understand why you're doing what you're doing.
  9. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    Sorry, if I sounded mean (I was trying to joke around). I have a horrid way with words.
  10. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    It's rejecting criticism if you just dismiss it because you prefer your way of doing it, without really considering their point, trying to see what they're getting at or making sure your reasons to keep it the way it it are better than their reasons to suggest you change it. Deciding not to implement a suggestion after genuinely giving it fair consideration is fine.

    That's, of course, assuming the criticism isn't some form of complaining that you're not writing the story that they wanted to read - you are under absolutely no obligation to consider implementing suggestions that involve simply changing the story to be about something entirely different or adding unnecessary elements that they just happen to like.
  11. jireh the provider

    jireh the provider Video Game Designer

    Now that I think about criticism, there will be times / circumstances that either:

    a. The reader misunderstood the message / moral / purpose
    b. The strength of the message isn't executed enough
    c. Judge your work improperly without proper reasoning (whether technical or personal)
    d. Aids the writer on the theme of your work (rarely happens. But at the right time, it does help reinforce one's work when applicable)

    Usually, as a writer myself as well, I learned from experiences that as you improve your writing, some of the tips and guides you could find won't always fix the complaints of certain readers.

    For instance, one could go all-out sophisticated on their work and message of their writing as a style. But some readers may not even catch the message when the written work has such a complicated plot and character personalities.

    Maybe there are times where we want to write a simple story with great character depth. But as we head further into our own writings, for some readers, our characters just couldn't change deeply in the end of the story we're making for them. Maybe it's deep enough for you. But not for other readers.

    So overall, you MUST know and understand the story and it's message by heart and mind. Which means, ones you get a criticism, not only will you have other people giving their own replies for you to see their nature and beliefs (their view of your message in their own words) about your work. But you could end up grasping what others say to you as well. Some of their advises may help in the technical aspect. Other may share their knowledge on how to express a certain scene that you wanna share. And plenty more tha I won't even bother saying as much as I would want to right now.

    But one should also understand how to gracefully "Agree to Disagree".

    Think of it in layman terms like saying "Thanks, but no thanks." when you are getting a christmas food present that you just couldn't stomach since the reasons may vary (as a little sample, maybe one brought prunes for christmas desert. But you're allergic to it)

    For me, when someone advises me an idea in my work, I would say it like this. "I would love to have/try that idea/suggestion of yours in my story. But it's not my cup of tea for my work's motif." So maintaining a gray scale of agreement is never easy to implement immediately. It takes experience. Especially in criticisms that could either help you work. Or just simply expressing one's opinions.

    It's simply finding the middle ground when to stick to your style of writing, and when to experiment and test a literary art style/suggestion you haven't used yet.

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