Now, we always give advice on how to crit, but, as we discussed earlier, perhaps it is more important to discuss how to receive crits. Personally, if one receives a crit that tells you, “Your basic idea is all wrong,” how should you take this?
1. Get some perspective. I look at something else that same person has critted. I read the piece and then the critter’s opinion. Often, I’ll find that I disagree just as much with that critter’s evaluation of the other person’s work as of my own. In that case, I dismiss the critter, because our tastes differ. On the other hand, if the critter has useful things to tell other people, I’ll take what she tells me more seriously.
2. Ask for specifics. I once received a crit telling me that my villains were cliche, and the ending ending to my book was obvious. This was not helpful to me. I emailed and asked *what* about the villain was cliche and what the reader thought the ending would be. The reader then told me it was because the villain wore black and some more specifics, and what they thought the “surprise” ending would be. This *was* helpful.
3. Remember your own point. In the above example the critter was completely wrong about who the villain was and the twist at the end. But the critter’s reaction told me that I had correctly set up reader expectations.
4. Keep in mind the rules of your genre. If a critter condemns your paranormal romance because he anticipates that it will end with the hero and heroine living happily ever after and that strikes him as sappy, boring and overdone, he doesn’t grasp the rules of the romance genre. Ignore him. Above all, do not give your romance an unhappy ending to please him.
5. Consider that the alternative to the “trite” may be equally trite. I have had people tell me that they are tired of High Fantasy in which the good guys prevail over the Forces of Darkness. They want to see the bad guys win “for once.” Guess what. That’s been done too. If you want to do it again, in your own story, go for it. I don’t.
6. Remember no story can be all things to all people. I like to observe the nasty things that people say about the writing of Stephen King, Nora Roberts and J.K. Rowling. It’s cliche, poorly written, has too many adverbs, is sentimental, is trashy, appeals to only to morons, etc. Maybe all true. But something worked.
7. What is the true core of your story? Perhaps you have inadvertently fleshed out your beloved story with readily available cliches. The important thing is not to lose that luminous inspiration that first moved you to write, even as you brush aside the cobwebs of trite ideas from it and polish it. Good critters may try to distinguish between the diamond and the tinsel, but ultimately, it’s up to you, the author.
Partly it depends on the piece. Partly it depends on how many people tell me the same thing. Partly it depends on the critter. Sometimes I put up an experimental chapter or story on the OWW, just to test the waters. I don’t have much invested in the piece. If I get a lot of negative crits I’ll shrug and pull it off and try something else later.
Suppose I put up a slight revision of a chapter of a book that is nearly complete and over 100,000 words, and that has previously earned a lot of enthusiasm and maybe an Editor’s Choice along the way. I say in the intro, “I just want a final polish for nits on this chapter.” Or, “I added a new scene into the middle of the chapter and want to know if it still flows ok.” Then some innocent newbie comes on and tells me that I shouldn’t start the book there, I should make the main character someone else, and they already know the ending of the book and it’s trite. Am I going to listen to a word that person says? No. Might the newbie be right? Sure. But at a certain point, a book or a short story is what it is.
Here’s a concrete example.
I once received a crit telling me that my villains were cliche, and the ending to my book was obvious. This was not helpful to me. I emailed and asked *what* about the villain was cliche and what the reader thought the ending would be. The reader then told me it was because the villain wore black and some more specifics, and what they thought the “surprise” ending would be. This *was* helpful.
They were also completely wrong, of course, about who the villain was and the twist at the end. But that told me that I had correctly set up reader expectations.
In one of the introductions to her books, Bujold also talks about the fact that many of its Beta readers told her to take out the first scene, where Miles visits his grandfather’s grave. This slows down the action of the book, they said. She kept it in, because she was not writing an action book, but a character book with a lot of action in it. She knew better than to sacrifice what was really the bedrock of the book, even though out of context of the whole series, those scenes might have seemed unnecessary. And indeed, I would say that it is her superb characterization that makes her books stand out.
Moral of the story: Making a general sweeping statement that the core idea of a story is trite is useless feedback. If you recognize cliches or you think you anticipate the twists or ending of a story, tell the author what you anticipate. BE SPECIFIC.
This gets back to the “reader reaction” kind of crit, which I find the most helpful to receive. “Tara, I knew this guy was bad news, because, just like every other High Fantasy villain he dressed in black and Reeked of Wrongness” rather than “Your villains are too cliche. Try something new.”
And if you’re the author and you receive a generalized negative or condescending review, ignore it unless the critter offers specific examples of what and why. A critter who can’t do that isn’t a very good writer him/herself and probably isn’t offering good feedback anyway.