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Silk

Critique Tone & Delivery

7 posts in this topic

Recently we've had some discussions around the delivery of critiques. Please note that it is not appropriate to deliver a critique that is aggressive towards another writer on the forum, even if the content of that critique is delivered in good faith (which our current guidelines do NOT do a good job of acknowledging--more on that in a moment).

It is also worth keeping in mind that, due to the nature of the forum, we are constantly working with people we don't know very well, or at all, and newcomers to the group may have a great deal of experience writing and critiquing (or being critiqued) or none at all. A critique that I give to someone in this group is going to look very different than a critique that I deliver to someone that I know very well, and/or whom I've worked extensively with as a writer.

Obviously, honesty is crucial to effective critique, and there is nothing even necessarily wrong with being blunt. That said, even a negative critique shouldn't be mocking or aggressively phrased, no matter how strongly the critiquer feels about whatever it is that they're critiquing. You can express concern, distaste, disagreement, or dislike without being rude to the person on the other end. We're all writers here; we're all up to the task.

As I mentioned above, our current guidelines in the "Welcome to RE" thread really do not do an adequate job of outlining how we as forum members should give and receive critiques. They have been overdue for a revamp for quite some time. That being said, this seems like a good time to open the floor to a discussion of what people would like to see addressed in a new set of guidelines.

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My school teaches students the Seven Habits of Effective Leaders.

Practicing Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood could be useful for giving and taking critiques. The habit itself is not wholly geared to writing, but to interpersonal communication. How we talk to others about their experiences and learn to hear what others are saying without using our own experiences and biases to immediately color or drown out what the other person wants to communicate. And no, what we say is not always what we're trying to communicate.

Writing is a very personal craft, and when we share out for critique, we're inviting others to join us in something very sensitive. There's an immediate amount of trust being given the moment that send to all button is pressed. Nobody submits to the group thinking they're sharing crap or wanting to offend someone else's sensibilities. We're all here to learn and to get better, and we all hope what we've written gives some measure of pleasure to those we've shared it with and that we're learn something from them in return to improve what we've already done.Remembering that will go a long way toward "Seeking First to Understand" when composing critiques.

Here's a link to a longer description of Habit 5:

https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits-habit5.php

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There are quite a few really good Writing Excuses podcasts on this. I particularly like the one on critique groups. 

Uh, yeah. I'll just say that honesty is an ingredient to a good critique but it needs to be put in a way that someone is ready to hear. Sometimes a person (PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HERE) needs to be told something nicely and clearly by more than one person before it really sinks in. 

Also, when receiving a critique - it's important to remember that the reader's experience of the story is always valid, so explaining why the reader is wrong is completely useless. Especially if the reader is bored or has been lost by the narrative - which let's be honest is the main problem with most early drafts - it's really important for the writer to try to understand where they're succeeding and where they're just self-indulging so that they can cut the latter and develop the former. Getting that big picture is the really hard work that creates great novels, and it can only happen with beta readers being forthright but also recognizing a story's strengths.

Edited by spieles
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I have a lot of thoughts about this, but am traveling and not in a good place to put my thoughts together coherently. Posting now to remind myself to do more later. 

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My three personal tenets:

1. As a writer, you have a creator's vision in your mind that you're trying to convey through text.

2. As a reader, you experience a beholder's vision based on what you're understanding.

3. The bridge to bring the two visions closer is an honest and comprehensible recital, where the reader describes their beholder's vision to the writer, so that it may be compared with the creator's vision.

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Ideally, to best fulfill the above tenets, the reader should have little to no idea what the creator's vision is. The text alone should convey the vision as close to the source as possible, because that's all that most people will have if the story fell in their hands. The author will not be there to defend or explain their work.

The honest and comprehensible recital is the most valuable resource produced from this relationship. It allows the writer to see their impact, and allows readers to influence a narrative so that it becomes more enjoyable for them to experience. Both sides also tend to learn something from the interaction.

A distinction to be made here is the divide between readers and editors. The logical job of the editor will require all sorts of suggestions for corrections and improvements, so it's more about polishing the tale. Readers have a more empathic route, where they need to guess the tale's shape through the impression it leaves on them. These two roles will often blend into one another, but they'll face the story with different intentions.

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Honesty and comprehensibility are the two factors I find most important, due to my personal tenets.

From a rather emotionless standpoint, my ideal analysis will be a reader's stream of consciousness (maximum honesty) that is structured and formatted well (maximum comprehensibility).

We're all different people, and so we'll have different definitions in our head for how a decent person should act. I know there are a lot of statements that change between neutral and offensive based on the person reading it. Intentionally hurtful people, such as trolls, can usually be spotted based on how little actual critique they're delivering.

However, a reader's stream of consciousness can be aggressive or otherwise disheartening, based on their personality and experience from the story. How the writer reacts to that analysis will then depend on their own personality. When there isn't enough tact, this combination might result in trauma. A good argument can be made for how this lowers or destroys comprehensibility.

To prevent this, I'd understand if general rules to encourage tact were applied, but I wouldn't recommend that.

Introducing rules on tact means adding to the workload of the reader, since they'll have to be more careful about what they're saying. In many cases, I'd guess that honesty will be hindered when people change their analysis so it'll be more tactful. Sometimes there will be parts of a story a reader might honestly despise, or have other strong feelings about, and not saying so means taking steps away from the true beholder's vision. It always takes more effort and attention to speak a certain way than to speak your own way.

My suggestion is to have review tags for when people want a certain level of consideration from the readers. Just like how there are currently content tags to warn people of content they might not want to read, review tags can be used so that people know what words and tones the writer does not want to receive. After readers finish the story, the writer becomes the new audience, so it makes sense to give them some optional content protections of their own.

The responsibility could be passed onto readers, to have them preface their analyses with a rating, but I'd advise against that. It can result in readers wasting time writing reviews that writers will skip because of its rating.

If I had to argue against the idea, it'd be that it depends too much on the writer's understanding of self. They might overshoot or lowball their guess at how much they can handle. A writer might do a few unrated submissions and be perfectly fine, but then one intense review might eventually spring out and hurt them more than they can deal with or ignore. On the other end, a writer could ask for too much consideration. They might be capable of withstanding lots of unrelenting critique that would've greatly improved their writing if seen.

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I have to say I think this is in danger of becoming over-complicated. I can only think of one other occasion in the 3 years I've been here where a critique was a bit close to the bone, and even then, while harsh, it remained relevant to the piece and was not personal. It certainly did not incur Mod intervention.

I think 'we' handled this in the correct way, discussing it openly and having a grown-up exchange with the Mods in an open-minded way, and that is to the credit of everyone involved or contributing.

I think the last thing we need is more regulation (No, I am not a republican).

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