A bit more about workshops and critiqueing here.
There is a lot of talk about reviewers, and what an ideal review should be like. Some people say ‘don’t say anything if you can’t say anything nice’, some people advocate the ‘sandwich method’, in which you put a ‘negative’ comment between two positives.
Personally, I think that is all very well for people who just start out on the crit group circuit, writers who are still feeling their way ahead, who want to be encouraged as much as critted.
There comes a time, though, that the more serious writer will feel like saying ‘just give it to me straight and cut the waffle’.
Ultimately, I think the most damaging critique you can receive in a crit group is one which says the submission is wonderful.
It lulls the writer into a false bubble of comfort, that the story is perfect, that you could never improve it, that every reader is going to like it.
Well, that only sets you up for disappointment.
A thorough crit from a very critical reviewer gives you a valuable window into how another reader experiences the story. The reviewer may something you don’t agree with, but how did the reviewer come to that conclusion? Is the basis for the reviewer’s reaction some point in your story where you neglected to mention something, or did mention something to give the reviewer this idea?
I’ll use a couple of the less-illustrious comments I’ve received as examples. More about them below:
A reviewer said: These are not sentences. This is a problem throughout the submission.
My first reaction: what an idiot. Has he never heard of sentence fragments as stylistic feature in action scenes?
My reaction later: Maybe I’ve used too many fragments.
A reviewer said (free interpretation): the setup in this story suggests that these people were direct descendants of Adam and Eve, but that doesn’t make sense in relation of what happens in this story
My first reaction: [insert on cue swear words]. What sort of cloud is this person living on? I’m an atheist, and there are no religious references in this story. This person is crazy.
Reaction much later, after much mulling: OK, I think I assumed too much of my own mindset, and I need to add some detail to steer readers towards my vision of this world. If the reviewer thought all this, I’ve obviously failed to communicate some worldbuilding.
The point is that no matter how crazy you think a comment is, it’s always made in reaction to something you’ve written, and if a reviewer gives a crazy interpretation, you’ve failed somewhere in your writing, at least for that person. You might also look through your other reviewers’ reports and find the same comment hidden between the lines.
When someone makes a comment on your writing, there are some points to consider:
1. Do you think they have a point? Don’t let anger cloud the response to your reply here.
2. If you think they have a point, does it matter?
3. Do you think you should/can do something about it?
Now you have read all the reviews and you’re considering all the comments, but you still haven’t changed a thing in your story. Here are some more points:
1. Never change anything on the say-so of one reviewer unless it’s a typo or he/she holds a paycheque.
2. A reviewer’s comment is a reaction, a suggestion, but never an order.
3. A reviewer’s comment should make you think (the best ones make you think for days).
4. Nothing is ever set in concrete.
5. If your chosen approach doesn’t work, why not try one of the more outlandish reviewers’ suggestions?
6. Ultimately, a story is yours, and anything you change should be your work.
7. Any stubbornness is your, too.