Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: criticism

Critique Is Not A Bad Word


Many people see the word “critique” and seem to secretly replace it in their mind with “criticism”.

When I look in my dictionary, I find this for “criticism”: “Disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings”.

And, I find this for “critique”: “A serious examination and judgment of something”.

When I look in my Etymology Dictionary (showing the root meanings of words), I find both words coming from the word “crisis” which also gets a bad rap in common usage. Crisis actually means “to separate, decide, judge”.

Oh, yeah, our attitudes regularly warp words’ meanings. Criticism and critique are both instances of dealing with a crisis. Kinda hard to shake the bad vibes off that word “crisis”, eh?

Authors regularly deal with crises, regularly face criticism, regularly seek critique

I found a post on The Stenhouse Blog featuring Kate Messner, a teacher and author who said, “…I find myself on all sides of the critique fence—giving critiques myself, teaching kids how to critique one another’s work, and receiving constructive critiques from my writing group members and my editors.”

She goes on to reveal a letter from her editor with annotations explaining how the act of separating, deciding, and judging helped her in writing The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

Whether your a teacher, writer, manager, parent, or social media participant, I feel you’ll get some wonderful perspectives on the critique process by reading the full post: How to critique writing.

Kate closes the delightfully warm analysis of her editor’s critique with this: “Remember, real revision takes time, and it can be messy, but the results are well worth the long trail of marked-up manuscripts and sticky notes they leave behind!”
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Another “Review” of The Alien’s Book


I’m sort of “cheating” with this one since I just rediscovered it on my thumb-drive and it’s sort of a review/critique. It was written months ago before I submitted the book to my editor

Since it’s “review-like” I thought it deserved its own post :-)

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Alexander:

I am engrossed in your fiction and would love to read more. Your world painting, character development, dialogue, and imagery are all top-notch. What stands to be improved is your story’s structure, which is a bit clunky. By using transitions between your chapter breaks (or even creating numbered sub-chapters, ala Stephen King), you can enhance understanding. You have a flashback that is a good scene, but this is not a movie. It needs to be transitioned to. Point of view is a bit confusing, but it is all just a flaw of structure and so close to being fixed. Only some simple tweaking, I believe, with the structure to find a suitable and understandable rhythm for the reader.

I LOVE your prologue. It is very cleverly done and grips me immediately. To imagine that your protagonist is actually your co-author is a stroke of genius and a nice gimmick. I also think the setting is very well developed and interesting. I like how the planets come close to each other in their orbits over many years, allowing for more direct interaction. I also like the idea of plasma as an emotional and mental conduit. All very, very good. The planets become a dichotomy of existence, a split of the “survivalist” vs. “spiritual,” “technological” vs. “communal,” and “rational” vs. “irrational.” This is all very symbolic and when put into a good action story becomes an effective backdrop that does not become too preachy.

I have some general ideas/questions. First, I am interested to know what these aliens look like, at least their major similarities and differences between humans, if any. As a modern sci-fi writer, I timagine you buy into the idea that life evolving on another planet would have to have some sort of different physiology shaped by its own unique environment. I think this could be explained quite easily when your “co-author” is explaining the other similarities and differences between her race and humans. I would add it there somewhere, just a paragraph. It helps me “see” these people.

There were a few instances where some editing of word choice and sentence structure could be improved, but I will leave that to your copy editor.

FAVORITE PASSAGES
“I am a woman from a star system about twelve light-years from Earth. If you choose to believe me, my story is a history lesson—how to achieve unity and peace—a lesson that Earth desperately needs. If you choose to not believe I’m real, my tale is a science fiction story about how to achieve unity and peace—a lesson that Earth desperately needs…
—–Very nice, ironic statement. Also very well-worded.

“My “voice” will return when the story arrives at my birth.”
—–Thank you for telling us this. Very effective, as we wait for her, and puts your story on a timeline for us.

“Sorry for this short scientific digression but, if you don’t have a basic understanding of plasma, you’ll miss much of the meaning of this story.”
—–Successful gimmick for the early info-dump! I am envious of this…

“This is how I found Alexander, the co-author of this book.”
—–see above for accolades

“A simplistic example would be to say that we share things like the idea of dog and cat but not the knowledge of beagles and tabbies. A more accurate example would be that we easily share an idea like four-footed, domesticated animal but not ideas like dog or cat or lizard. Those differences take much more conceptual exploration and sharing.”
—–Sounds liked you have studied Plato and his dialogue on “forms.” I like!

“You have a bad habit of repeating what you know I already know, Morna.”
“Sometimes I feel it necessary.”
“It’s going to take the whole voyage for me to figure you out.”
“I believe it will take longer than that.”
“Could be, but the leadership on Anla apparently hate the Nari.”
“Yes.”
“Asking for a man their enemies worship…”
—–I like this exchange, but I need just ONE attribution to keep me on track with who is speaking, maybe somewhere in the middle.

“unwillingness to adhere to norms”
—–maybe use the word “deviance” somewhere here. In sociology, social deviance is exactly that, “unwillingness to adhere to norms.” I think the word adds to your crredibility. It seems that your Corporate World has a huge division of sociology, since they are so big on social engineering. Using deviance as their jargon increases the strength of your work.

“People who didn’t become passive through fear—those who fought against the invasive alteration of their feelings—were kept apart from others till they killed themselves.”
—–ghastly, but good!

I look forward to reading more. Now, I have to ask if you might consider returning the favor. It seems difficult to find people here who are willing to read a lengthy chapter; they tend to stick to poetry. It becomes a volume business with reviewing, that is why I try to focus on short stories and chapters as often as I can. These are the works that need the most exposure and reading. If you can stomach epic fantasy, I would love a review of the first chapter of my work, The Betrayer of the Virtues. Chapter is called “Kabar’s Creek.” Take your time to fit me in. I understand the pressure of trying to read, write, and review.

Thanks for sharing your work with me!

Patrick

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I did return the favor for Patrick :-)

And, for anyone who’s read this far into this post, I have a little bonus:

I’ve just begun to checkout the list of 58 potential places to have my book reviewed. One on that list had an asterisk in front of it from way back when I compiled the list. I discovered a major resource about Book Reviews. Enjoy :-)

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Facing Negative Criticism ~ Is Thinking Like An Artist The Same As Thinking Like A Normal Human?


Our last post, about criticism and using the integrity of the book to defend against negativity, had me saying this:

“At each stage of this process [all the steps of getting feedback on my book] I was of two minds: the merely human writer seeking perspective and the Artist, bearing the Book and feeling its Life and Truth…”

A merely human writer is any writer when they consider things from a conscious, objective, society-oriented perspective.

The Artist is the same writer when they consider things from a deeper-than-conscious, subjective, not-necessarily-society-oriented perspective.

Language is slippery and seems to favor, in most instances, a conscious, objective approach that engages some aspect of developed social structure.

Just comparing my sentences up there about a merely human writer and an Artist, just looking at what I had to do to contrast the two frames of mind is one example of how Language can respond to simple comparisons.

I could have used a more metaphorical approach:

A merely human writer thinks like the Manager of a shop full of creative people.

An Artist is the same writer when they think like a shop full of creative people.

I could take this comparison further into the waters of metaphor:

The merely human writer: “I was riding the waves of criticism, responding with what I had in the boat–signalling flags and lights, carrier pigeons with responses secured to their ankles; and, finally, I had to abandon the boat, floating with the aid of a life-vest but without the aid of my compass and map, now sinking with the boat.”

The Artist: “The sea of criticism broke its waves against the shore of my understanding. I lashed myself to the rocks and bore it all for love of my Muse.”

Just a bit exaggerated, eh? Also, those examples are only me giving voice to my perception of the different ways I handle the thoughts of other people when they share their negative opinions of my writing…

How do you handle negative criticism, how do the merely human and Artist aspects of your nature think and communicate when the waves start to rise?
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How A Story’s Integrity Can Save It From Certain Criticisms


Haley Whitehall, in a twitter conversation, suggested the topic of this post :-)

Writers receive, if they let themselves, many kinds of criticism; during the writing, if they’re brave, and, almost always, during the final revision process.

Let me give you the etymologies of the two key words of this post:

criticism Look up criticism at Dictionary.com
c.1600, “action of criticizing,” from critic + -ism. Meaning “art of estimating literary worth” is from 1670s.
integrity Look up integrity at Dictionary.com
mid-15c., “wholeness, perfect condition,” from O.Fr. integrité, from L. integritatem (nom. integritas) “soundness, wholeness,” from integer “whole” (see integer). Sense of “uncorrupted virtue” is from 1540s.

So, I’m proposing that, somehow, the “wholeness” and “virtue” of a story can save it from certain negative “estimations” of its “literary worth”.

As always, I’m not writing this post as an “expert” on the topic. I’m a writer and a published author but I make no claim to being a literary expert.

What I can do, though, is to ask questions and share my own experience.

What is the “wholeness” of a story (insert the word “book” if it makes more sense for you…)?

What is its “virtue”?

Did you notice that the etymology of “criticism” said, “art of estimating literary worth”?

It appears that valid criticism involves artists evaluating other artists.

Any two artists will have two unique sets of values when they approach the art of criticizing another artist’s work.

Is the artistic critic evaluating the Whole of the work? Are they sensing the Virtue of the work?

My book was getting criticism well before I began writing it–its theme was shared with many people and their opinions were sought…

As I wrote it, I received feedback from authors and interested readers.

My editor went beyond mere technical appraisal and shared her artistic views of the book.

A special office of review gave me highly-qualified and specific advice.

At each stage of this process I was of two minds: the merely human writer seeking perspective and the Artist, bearing the Book and feeling its Life and Truth…

Sure there were dumb mistakes that the merely human side of me made and they were gratefully attended to.

But my Artist-Self was the Mother of the Book and She, thankfully, was strong enough and clear enough about what the Book needed and deserved.

Does your story or book Speak to you?

Can you hear its demands in spite of well-intentioned criticism from others?

Does your “human”-self interfere with your “artist”-self?
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What Kind of Feedback Do Writers Need? What Helps Them Most?


Our last post had me offering to put your name and Bio and web link in a Special Listing in my forthcoming book.

All it takes is getting the free copy of Notes from An Alien and giving some feedback.

I need to quote part of C. M. Marcum’s comment on that post:

“But we’re such good friends now. Why spoil it?

“No, seriously, I have run the gauntlet of writing sites and I have found the relationships to be dreadfully one-sided.”

I think part of that one-sidedness is folks not knowing what writers really need when it comes to feedback. Though, I think C. M. knows exactly what kind of feedback to give, even if it’s not appreciated :-)

People who give feedback on a WIP [work-in-progress] are sometimes called “beta readers”.

I’ve even known writers who only let beta readers have their WIP if they follow a prepared outline of what questions to answer about the piece.

Personally, the very worst form of feedback is, “Great job!”, and its many variants.

If they meant those words, fine, but what was “great” about it? And, if they didn’t mean it and were thinking they “protected” my feelings, the faux-comment is actually an attack against honesty and fairness. “This sucks!”, is much more welcome…

There’s an interesting discussion about what writers want and need in feedback at the Absolute Write Water Cooler.

One of the most interesting comments was: “Beta readers should be used to critique story effectiveness.”

Exactly! What effect does the writing have on you? What did it make you think? What did it make you feel? What was your response to various characters? Was the storyline understandable? Where did the piece disappoint you? Why did it disappoint you?

Another person in that forum thread said: “…’train’ your beta readers to read with a pencil in hand. Have them mark any section, phrase or word that pops them out of the story, even if they have no idea why it did. Sometimes that’s all you need to see a problem.”

Now that is some excellent advice :-)

I’ll end this post with some quotes about feedback and critiquing:

“A guest sees more in an hour than the host in a year.”
~ Polish proverb

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.”
~ Christopher Hampton

“Constant, indiscriminate approval devalues because it is so predictable.”
~ Kit Reed

“Don’t judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”
~ American Indian saying

“It is easy – terribly easy – to shake a man’s faith in himself. To take advantage of that, to break a man’s spirit is devil’s work.”
~ George Bernard Shaw

“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”
~ Abraham Lincoln

“When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.”
~ Oscar Wilde

“Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee; rebuke a wise man and he will love thee.”
~ The Bible

“To escape criticism – do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”
~ Elbert Hubbard

Please, leave your feedback and criticism in the comments :-)
[ The Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-]
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