10 Ways to Tell a Critic Doesn't Get It

On Monday, I said your critics are usually right. But there are times when you get someone who just doesn't get it. How can you tell the difference? Here are some guidelines.

  1. They get your characters' names wrong. Repeatedly.
  2. They hate your favorite part. Not some clever bit of dialog, but the part where the whole story's about an ex-smuggler who works for an assassin and hopes to find his daughter before his boss does. THAT part.
  3. You write a story where evil isn't all black and white, with good guys and villains who are varying shades of gray, and they say, "Your characters seemed to have both good and bad qualities, so that I couldn't identify with any of them."*
  4. They suggest you change the vampires because "vampires that drink blood are cliche."
  5. The best thing they have to say for your story is, "It didn't make me throw up."
  6. They think your epic fantasy is "too unrealistic. Who really believes in dragons anyway?"
  7. Their favorite part is the maid with no name and one line of dialog--the one you deleted in the revisions you did while waiting for this critique.
  8. Their idea to improve your zombie story is to get rid of the zombies.
  9. They end their critique by saying, "I suspect that no matter what I say, you're going to continue trying to write."
  10. They send you a link to their self-published novel as "an example of how to do it right."
* Actual quote.

Got anymore?


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Corollary to 3. You write a story where the bad guy is a heinous system of injustice that your MC is trying to change, and they say, "There's no bad guy in your story."

11. They give very helpful advice like, "You need to learn how to write."

Matthew MacNish said...

My god. That's a real quote? And that person considered themselves a writer? Strange.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

p.s. I agree with Matt. Isn't there some kind of quote out there about "If there's anything I can say that will dissuade you from writing, you're not cut out for this"? Seems like that critiquer is inadvertently saying you have what it takes. :)

vic caswell said...

i know that i had to quit critting a story once because i couldn't get behind a message the story was sending (that physical abuse is sexy and it's ok for men to hurt women). so, i had to tell the author that that aspect of the story was blinding me to the rest of it. sometimes as the critter you have to understand that not every story will appeal to you, and you need to politely pull yourself away from their project.

and as a writer you have to understand that your story won't appeal to everyone. like my husband- he hates YA. so when i was having him crit my story, it was really hard for him- he just couldn't get behind it. but the YA aspiring writers who have critted for me liked it. not every critter will fit your audience. and that doesn't necessarily mean they are a bad critter- just that the two of you aren't a fit.

Michael LaRocca said...

What if my goal as an author is to make readers throw up? Then #5 becomes an insult.

Hey, it's either be smarmy or get indignant about someone saying #3. That sounds like something my ex-wife would say.

Alternately, I could try to count how many times I've been told #9. I might, seriously, run out of fingers.

Davide Mana said...

I got a 5-7-9 a few times.

My last short story was described by a friend as "twenty pages of info-dump ending on a cliffhanger".
And yes, the bit he liked best was the one that got edited-out in the final revision.

Claudie A. said...

I have a friend who suffered from #9. Only... it was their creative teacher saying it. Nice going, teacher.

Anyway, I can't believe #3 is a real quote. Someone needs to wake up.

Oh, and in the line of very "helpful" advice:

#12: It's good... (with nothing else. Thanks, my mom could've said more)

Charmaine Clancy said...

#9 is a bit nasty! Oh wait, that's something my mum would probably say to me. Sigh.

Adam Heine said...

@Susan: Nice ones. Or, "Clearly English is your first language."

@Matthew: Actual quote. Not everyone at critters.org is a skilled critiquer, but fortunately you get 8-10 good critiques for every one like this.

@aspiring: Totally true. There's nothing wrong with someone not getting the work. We just have to learn to roll with it.

Adam Heine said...

@Michael: HA! That made me laugh out loud. Sorry you've heard #9 so many times, but like Susan said, if you're still writing then it's an inadvertent complement :-)

@Davide: Ouch. I hope he wasn't your only critiquer and/or you got something useful out of it. Those are hard to take.

Adam Heine said...

@Claudie: Yuck. I hate the stories of writing or art teachers who discourage people from trying harder. And you're right, "It's good" is not the most helpful of critiques ;-)

@Charmaine: #9 is a paraphrase of an actual quote. See the footnote on this post.

Elena Solodow said...

That last one made me shudder.

Adam Heine said...

Fortunately, Elena, that one was not based on a true story. Though I'm sure it could be.

Myrna Foster said...

Ouch. Has anyone ever pulled a #10 on you?

#They send your work back without a critique, note, or any explanation whatsoever.

#They tell you that you have no business writing for children because you use words they wouldn't understand.

Myrna Foster said...

Oh, you answered my question already. I'm so glad that wasn't one of the real examples.

Adam Heine said...

@Myrna: Ha! I like that last one. So many people underestimate what kids can handle.

Myrna Foster said...

That actually happened (and the poem in question sold to Highlights).