The art of writing concrit

9/29/2005 5:05:17 PM
In our previous discussion, commenter Kim brought up the point about writing criticism via email. She mentions that she’s not a very confident person, and would rather address issues in private than in a public review.
I myself have found it easier sometimes to deal with an author in private instead of publicly. I feel I have more time to write a compelling argument that is not going to sound like flaming if I take the time to write an email. And there’s also the embarassment factor; we don’t want to really embarrass the author by pointing out their flaws in public. After all, we’ve been there. We’ve gotten the flames and the negative concrit and know how much it can hurt. So we don’t want to put anyone else through what we’ve been through.
This is fine. It’s perfectly legitimate to write an author and tell them privately what you think is wrong about their story. And all concrit, whether private or public, should include something positive as well as negative, even if it’s your favorite line in the chapter, or a turn of phrase that struck you as particularly poignant or pertinent.
But, there are times when a public review is going to be of more help, not only to the author, but to others who are reading the fiction. The case we’ve been discussing is one of those; a case where the public review has the potential to reach more than one audience. It can reach not only the writer herself, and those who are wondering if the fic is worth the read, but others who have the same problems can hopefully read the reviews and take some of the general truths to heart. It’s always good for those who see the errors to know that they’re not alone in calling the author on them, and for those who see nothing but the errors to realize that there is something good to be found within the story.
It takes courage to write a thoughtful piece of concrit and post it for everyone to see. There are a lot of people who have written thoughtful reviews, both public and private, then been burned by the author with vitriolic emails or nasty "reviews" left on their own fictions. I had one such experience just recently. There are those writers who will respond to you very politely via email and say, "I’m sorry you didn’t like this or that, but the story is written and I’m not going to change it." They make you wish you had just skipped over their story and used your time for better things. But every so often you get a writer who writes back and says, "Thank you so much for pointing that out. I really appreciate your effort on my behalf." That is the hallmark of a true practitioner of our craft; someone who can take the concrit with a humble attitude. Whether or not they follow your advice, they at least understand that you are trying to help them.
Some advice on writing concrit:
Never write it when you’re angry. This is where an email is definitely a better route to go. Writing when you’re angry can make it sound like you’re flaming, even when that’s not your intention.
Make sure you read the chapter/fiction carefully. Make notes if you want to get specific. I’ve written several pieces of concrit, by email and in public, where I didn’t get my facts quite right. It was very embarrassing to have my errors pointed out to me later!
Always have something positive to say.
Be brave enough to sign it. One of my shortest pieces of concrit (if it could be called that) was on one of my original works. It was three words: "Stilted and predictable". Unfortunately for me (though they probably thought they were being smart) the critic didn’t leave their email address so I could ask them how it was stilted and why was it predictable, both things I’d like to know. Yes, you’re opening yourself up to some nasty email, and not only from the author but also sometimes from the author’s friends and admirers. Still, there is the chance that you may be able to open up a dialogue that can help the writer.
Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong, and apologize… and do it the same way you reviewed.
Another thing that Kim brought up was that there were so many people egging on these authors, telling them how wonderful their work was and how they wanted an update ASAP! She wondered if the reviewers were being sarcastic.
Well, not usually. For those reviews, I say: consider the source. If you went to each and every one of those critics’ lists of fictions, you’d probably find them as error-ridden as the story they’re reviewing. It’s like calling to like, bad writers justifying their own problems by boosting up someone who is as poor a writer as they are. The good authors, the ones who write the thoughtful, well-rounded critiques, the ones who know what they’re doing, are noticably absent from the list of reviewers.
Truthfully, I’d rather have a polite, well-thought out bit of negative concrit that I can learn from than a dozen that say, "Great chappy, update soon!"

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