Monday, April 9, 2012

Critic vs Writer - An Attempt Towards Reconciliation

{Originally posted on DeviantArt}

I am a book blogger.

Since not everyone is familiar with the term, I'll go ahead and lay it out for you. I read, analyze, and write about books. I give my opinion on characters, setting, genre, style, and sometimes even covers. I say what works, what doesn't, and what I'd like to see.

In short, I criticize.

Back - back foul demon! Burn the witch! Don't come anywhere near me!

Yeah, I know you're all thinking it. What gives me the right to rifle through someone's hard work and put its flaws on display? Who do I think I am, slandering authors with false interpretations and quotes made out of context?

I'm a writer.

Yeah, of nothing but muck and lies.

No, no, I mean I write my own fiction. Or at least I did.

What, couldn't take some of your own medicine?

Yes and no.

Huh?

Like most writers, I crave exposure. I want my work out there, read by the masses and enjoyed. DeviantArt, my blog, they're both small outlets where my writing can be seen.

But, as most writers have discovered, exposure can be a double-edged sword. With the good results (loved it! you're great!) come the bad (wow, this is horrible! use spell check next time!). These one sentence wonders are usually good for a 2-minute burst of joy/anguish, then are forgotten.

Moving past these frivolous 'reviews', we move into the longer, more thought-out comments that every writer craves. Unfortunately, you can still get long, eloquent descriptions of how you stink. Case in point, here's a comment on one of my pieces I'd written for class, revised for a challenge, and posted on DA:



Ouch.

Out of all of the critiques I received on that piece (10 plus replies), his by far hit me the hardest. It was actually hard enough that I wrote a scathing reply about how nothing said was constructive and he stunk as a reviewer. Not quite in that language, but that was the gist. I was hurt and I didn't care who knew.

That's right, I've been there.

So why the hell would you do that to us/other writers?

I'm not finished.

There are also critiques that are actually helpful, more along the lines of, "I liked this, but I didn't understand that," or, "I think you need to work on your dialog tags - it feels choppy when you use he said she said over and over again," or, "I wish there was a bit more buildup to the kiss - I didn't feel it was believable quite yet." These offer that blessed balance of good and bad that gives the writer encouragement, while still pointing out their weak spots.

This is the kind of critique I try to give every time I write. "I really liked ___, it made this a joy to read. Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling ____ which was kinda distracting. But on the whole, I think you have a great plot/character/style and I hope to see more from you in the future."

Well, that's not so bad...

Right?

But what about stuff that's already finished and published? They can't go back and fix what you catch! You're attacking defenseless authors & books at that point.

Firstly, I'm flattered that you think best-selling authors are reading or feeling the backlash of my reviews. And even those independent authors are tougher than you think.

Secondly, I treat my reviews just like I do my critiques. I try my hardest to present the good with the bad. And if that fails, I emphasize emphatically that I'm stating an opinion which is solely my own and may in all likeliness differ for other people.

Yeah right.

Okay, here's an example I handled just recently. Over the course of two days I read Crushed by K.C. Blake, an independently published book that she sent me for review. I didn't like it.

I never connected with the main characters, I noticed a couple continuity errors, and I thought there needed to be a lot more polishing overall. I also had a personal issue with the way the main character handled one situation. And I wrote as much in my review.

At the end of my reviews, I always have an Overall & Recommendation section in which I summarize my feelings and generalize who I think would enjoy that book. Here was my final summary for Crushed:



I posted the full review here, GoodReads, and DA, plus the final paragraph alone on Smashwords (where she'd originally uploaded it). My GoodReads and Smashwords reviews also received 2-star ratings.

Ouch.

Yeah, I know.

I don't know what made me dislike Crushed so much, but I did. Maybe it was having just read an amazing professionally-published book just before it. Maybe I wanted to read the next book on my list too much. Maybe it was never connecting with the main character. Or maybe I was just in a pissy mood.

To make me feel even worse, it seemed like absolutely everyone else who'd read it (and reviewed) rated it at 4 or 5 stars. What was my problem?

What was your problem?

I don't know. But I wasn't going to lie about it. I wasn't going to suddenly say, "Wait guys, just kidding, I loved it!" Cause I really didn't. But I felt like I needed to fix my review...so I did:



So you see, I do try to promote the book I read, even if I wasn't too thrilled myself.

But why do it in the first place? What makes you so great?

Honestly? Nothing. I just enjoy reading and writing about what I read.

And why I do it? Well, in theory, I'd love my reviews to spark conversations. I kinda miss the book-fueled conversations we'd have in school, even if they were assigned reads. And even outside of school, I met some great friends while bonding over Harry Potter. By sharing what I read, I'd love if my work somehow facilitated a bond like what I have with my friends.

I'd also love if my reviews prompted someone to read and enjoy a book they'd otherwise not have read. When I was in school, we were forced to read so many depressing books. One year we even had the theme "Man's Inhumanity Towards Man", for which we read A Farewell to Arms, Of Mice and Men, Night, and The Crucible one right after the other. I remember thinking to myself, "No wonder some people hate reading! If this is all they're ever made to read, I'd hate reading, too."

So I'd like to think I'm doing my small part in promoting good literature. I may not reach thousands, or even hundreds of people, but I'm doing what I love.

And if, in the process, I step on some toes or ruffle some feathers, I'm sorry. I always try to be as polite and tactful as I can be, but in the end I'm not going to stifle my opinion. If someone has a problem with what or how I write, please critique me!

And that's why I critique and review. So...we good?

Please do let me know what you think.
Love, hate, agree, disagree - I want to know!