Amber Michelle (myaru) wrote,
Amber Michelle

The Elements of Critique, 3/4: Unsolicited Commentary

Take a look at the opening explanation if you haven't already. What I define as critique/concrit might not be what you expect if you've been pointed here from a fandom source.


The message here is, essentially: consider why an author has decided to show their work to you before you comment.

Imagine you have just finished a story or article you’re proud of. You take it to your nearest friend or reader, ask them to have a look at it. What do you think? you may ask. You might be interested in their initial thoughts, or maybe you just want someone to see what you created. That’s okay, by the way.

Instead of delivering a few comments, your reader launches into a full-on critique of the work, complete with discussions on how it can be improved. That’s awesome, because we want our criticism to be delivered with ideas on how we can address the problems being outlined, right? Right.

However… maybe you weren’t ready for that level of commitment. There is a difference between asking for someone’s opinion and asking for a critique.

Critique has a time and place

In an ideal world, an author won’t ask for a critique until they’ve done everything they can with the story on their own. Remember that we’re defining a “critique” as a thorough, organized, probably long-form analysis of the story, potentially followed by more discussion with the author. Making a few comments about what you just read isn’t a critique, so much as… well, commentary. I’m drawing a line between these two things because one of them isn’t necessarily concerned with the author, and definitely isn’t thorough or well-considered.

So - when we ask for a critique, in theory we have already iterated on the story as much as we possibly can. If we turn this in to someone now, and get a critique back tomorrow that outlines some problems, none of those problems will inspire us to say, “oh yeah, I knew about that one,” because we’ve already taken care of every problem we could find on our own. I never turn a first draft in for critique because I can look at it myself and see a ton of stuff that needs to be addressed. Asking a reader to comb through the story and find the same things is wasting their time. Problems I didn’t spot in my first run will probably still be there later, so maybe it’d be helpful to take care of the ones I can see first.

If I hand a fresh story to you, though, and say, “I just finished this. What do you think?” I’m not asking for a critique. I’m asking for your opinion. Those are similar, but not the same thing. The resulting conversation might launch into a craft discussion or something, but contextually speaking, my question - what do you think? - wasn’t necessarily an invitation to start digging in, yanking out the story’s innards, and demanding that I contemplate how to fix everything right that second.

Offer your opinion, and then volunteer further commentary if the author wants it. See what they say. If they’re not interested, and you deliver that commentary anyway? Well, you got your say in, but the effort will be wasted if the author tosses it in the trash because it’s irrelevant right now.

Also worth noting: demanding to have your say is definitely about you, not the author or their potential for improvement.

Reviews are't the same as critiques.

On that note, in the fan circles I was familiar with in my time, there was an attitude that the act of leaving a review and, if you so desired, stuffing it with what you considered concrit, was a right. Authors who stated in their notes that they did not want concrit were roundly criticized for not wanting to learn more about their craft.

Concrit, or “constructive criticism” can be equated with a critique, but I categorize it under commentary because the series of steps I’ve identified as a critique aren’t always followed. Those steps are:

  1. Accepting a request to review the author’s work.

  2. Reading the work and taking notes.

  3. Taking the time to organize those notes and your own commentary so they make sense to the author.

  4. Asking what the author wants for the story.

  5. Refining the critique based on that answer, and then turning it in.

  6. Repeat the process if everybody is still having fun.

If you leave reviews with concrit that you compose after following all of these steps… I take my hat off to you, and actually, I would love to have your comment or review. Please understand that what I’m about to say isn’t a rejection of all constructive criticism or comments, nor is it a rejection of reviews or well-meaning feedback. It isn’t even a rejection of your opinion.

What I want to say, and what a lot of fan authors find hard to accept, is this: I don’t think you should critique someone’s story unless they ask for it, especially if your concrit is “just my opinion” and “take it with a grain of salt,” and then you leave. As you may have guessed by now, I think there’s more to a critique than just dropping a wall of text in a comment and taking off. If you aren’t interested in committing to a genuine conversation, I’m not sure why an author should be interested in listening.

If you are interested in committing to that, this isn’t directed at you.

Sometimes story archives make conversations difficult. is horrible for that. But in that setting, especially if the medium encourages one-way comments, the best way to offer a critique is to do just that: offer. What if you drop a bunch of feedback in your comment and the author can’t get back to you to ask for clarification? That waters down the usefulness of your commentary and also kind of sucks.

Also - as mentioned in earlier posts - what the author wants for the story may be different than what you want, and it’s their story. If they didn’t succeed at what they were going for, that’s a good place to start with your critique, but in order to take that into account, you have to open a dialogue anyway. Why not start with “Hey, I’ve got some comments on the story if you’re interested. Here’s my email,” instead of “Here are all of my criticisms, and you better thank me for them.” You’re more likely to make a positive difference with a courteous approach.

If they don’t want to hear it… drop it and move on. There are millions of stories on the internet that you haven’t read yet.

I feel strongly about this because motivations for posting fan fiction especially vary a lot, and often fall into the category of “fun stuff for my friends,” in which case the author may not care if the story can be improved. And that’s okay. If you really want to see people improve, direct your energy toward the ones that want the same things you do. I think the results will be better and there’ll be a lot less frustration involved for all parties.

This entry was originally posted at Discuss here or there as you prefer.

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Tags: public: critique_series, public: writing

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