Last time I talked about what to do when faced with meanie heads online. But why are they so mean? Interestingly, if you ask them, most people don't think they're being mean at all. "I'm just expressing my opinion," they might say. Some even believe they're helping.
Sometimes, I'm one of those people. If you read all the comments and blog posts under my name, you might find some mean, arrogant stuff - probably more than I'm aware of. I'm just trying to help people, but I come off sounding like a jerk. What am I doing wrong? How do I express my opinion without being a meanie head?
The problem, I think, is that we don't separate what we're saying from how we say it. We think "This story sucks," and so we say exactly that. Maybe we're even specific, "Your protagonist is stupid. Everything you wrote is cliche."
What if the story's not any good? Shouldn't I tell them what I think? Absolutely. If a story sucks, or a query is confusing, or someone's political beliefs drive you nuts, we're free to say so. BUT if we want people to actually listen to what we're saying, then we need to be more careful. The following are things I'm learning myself, as I try to do this very thing:
TIP #1: Assume the person you're talking to is as intelligent as you are. This is really hard, but it's fundamental. If you can't do this, see Rule #3 from last time.
TIP #2: Emphasize that it's your opinion. No matter how convinced you are that you're right, your thoughts on writing, politics, religion, agent behavior, etc. are in the end only your opinion.
TIP #3: Never say "never" (or always, or must, or you have to). There are times when these imperatives are necessary (e.g. never send Nathan a query with a rhetorical question), but for the most part they should be avoided unless you, personally, make the rules.
TIP #4: Don't be sarcastic. Sarcasm is mean and hurtful by nature. It's fine with friends, where everyone knows that everyone is joking, but not on touchy subjects. If you want people to listen, just don't do it.
Note that none of this changes what you're saying, only how you say it. So what about you guys? Any tips on how to say harsh things while still respecting the person you're talking to?