Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Everyone's a Critic

Maven Darcy BurkeSo, I actually used to be a movie critic. For a small, local newspaper. I did it for about a year for a coworker who founded the paper with her husband. No paycheck, but it was hella fun. My favorite column was about female action heroes entitled, "Dye Hard." We (I wrote several columns with my best friend) wrote that just after "The Long Kiss Goodnight" came out. (Coincidentally, that movie inspired a book I started writing and plan to go back to some time.) We loooooved that movie. Was it a cinematic wonder? A critically acclaimed masterpiece? Um, no, but Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson kicked major ass. My friend and I began giving movies a PEV, Pure Entertainment Value, rating. Because sometimes a movie is just a movie, you know?

As you can see, everyone can be a critic. I did not attend "movie critic school" to write my column, nor did I subscribe to anything that might guide me in my criticism. I merely saw movies I wanted to see and shared my opinion. And there is the operative word in critique, opinion. A critique will always be someone's opinion. Never more, never less. Are some people's opinions more important than others? Sure, but only you can decide whose opinions are most important to YOU.

Opinions vary and come from very different places. Some people opine because they're expected to (see professional critics and critique partners) and others do it because they think that's what you want. Beta reader/family member/coworker/Joe Schmo reads your ms and tells you exactly what they think, down to the selection of your character's names and all you wanted was an overall thumbs up or thumbs down. Maybe you asked for that and maybe you didn't. When we begin sharing our work...everyone's a critic.

As writers, it's important to take each critique for what it is, who it came from, and most importantly, what we want it to be. Erica so aptly said in her post that these are OUR stories and it's up to us to decide how much (or how little) we take of people's input. I get feedback from lots of places: my CPs, contests, virgin readers, and occasionally my husband. Do I take Mr. Burke's feedback at the same level I take my CPs? No, but that's not to say his feedback isn't important. It's just different. He's going to be reading from that PEV perspective while my CPs are reading much deeper.

I think it's important to realize what stage you're in with your ms, because that will drive the kind of critique you're looking for. First draft, revision, polish, done. All of those require a different type of critique and even then you can crit a "done" ms six ways from Sunday. And you're going to get crits (from whatever source) that you simply don't agree with. That's okay. Repeat it with me, that's okay. I think sometimes people put themselves into the role of critic (even going so far as to make a mountain out of a molehill or, gasp, out of nothing at all) because they think you want something. So, take everything you get with a grain of salt and learn to be your own best critic.

How do you organize the crits you get? Do you communicate what you're looking for? What type of critic/critique do you prefer at each stage? What kind of critic are you?


ERiCA said...

My friend and I began giving movies a PEV, Pure Entertainment Value, rating. Because sometimes a movie is just a movie, you know?

I love this idea! Sometimes I see a movie or read a book that I would've nitcritted to death had I been the writer's CP, but ended up being wholly entertaining despite its faults. There's definitely something to be said for PEV! =)

Bill Clark said...

learn to be your own best critic


B.E. Sanderson said...

Right now I'm collecting crits for my third book. (I say collecting because I won't start editing until all the crits are in.) I organize the crits by how much I value each person's opinion, and how knowledgeable they are. I take all the crits and as I'm going through page-by-page, I look through the crits to see if anyone has any comments, then I add or remove as needed. (Always based on whether I agree with the suggestion.)

I don't send anything out for crit or even beta until I think it's the best work it can be. When I reach that point, I have to send it out because I can no longer be objective about the work.

As a critter, I try to keep a sense of the person's style in mind, and then I watch for clarity, composition, and technical mistakes. That's pretty much how I like my critters to work, too. If you're not aware of the person's style, you can nitcrit their work to death over style issues. (Been there done that - both as a critter and a crittee.)

Excellent post once again, Darcy. You Mavens are awesome.

lacey kaye said...

B.E, I admire your ability to not tinker until all the crits are in! I tend to want to fix it right away. Which makes me feel silly when the next person comes in and says Oh, I love this sentence! and I want to put it back in. Because, you know, I loved it, too ;-)

Jacqueline Barbour said...

Like Lacey, I have a hard time not making changes right after I receive a critique. But I also agree that can be dangerous, as you can take something out of your story based on one person's feedback that someone else really likes. And since you can't please everyone all the time (darn it!)...

I do have to say that my favorite tool for handling crits is Word's merge and compare feature. When I was doing the final revisions of CEA before submitting it, I had four CP's comments/line edits to work with. Merging those all into one file made it immeasurably easier to deal with everyone's feedback at one time.

Darcy Burke said...

Thanks, Bill! Sounds like you have a very organized process, B.E. Good for you! I love the merge tool too, Jacq. Using it right now, in fact...

Isabel said...

Well said, Darcy. :)

And like you and Erica, I use PEV ratings too.

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