Thursday, January 17, 2008

Critiques-Not always your Friend, Not always an Enemy

Art is subjective. Always remember that. No matter what form your art takes there is always a critic out there waiting to voice an opinion. The scary part is, not all critics should be critiquing.
I once sat in a group and where no one could get past one writer's use of the word "fuck". I sat there thinking the problem wasn't with the writer, but since I was new I kept my mouth shut. However, my mind was churning. I kept thinking, "These people are too closed minded to critique anything not written on two (or was it three?) stone tablets and brought down from a mountain. Who can discuss "fuck" for an hour?" Eventually, my thoughts turned to, "Here's an hour of my life I'll never get back. " and I couldn't wait to leave. I never went back to that group, but often thought of the woman who dared to let her character use that awful word. If she stayed in that group was she ultimately beaten down? I guess I worry about her from time to time and feel guilty I didn't speak up. I'm sure she could have used just one positive word among the anti-fuck peeps.
I think writing is one of those strange art forms where we seek out the critics. Hold our art up to the masses and say; RIP ME APART! (Painter's don't ask our opinion-they are simply expressing themselves.) But no, we writers just bare our souls and beg to be torn asunder.
RIP ME APART we say.
I think that's what we should be saying...but only to the right people. Critique groups should be tried on like new shoes. Maybe walk a while in them, see how they stretch out and then either keep them under your pillow or toss them out.
A good critique group will give you the good with the bad. Lift you up, sing your strengths while advising you about the weaknesses in your work.
A critique is only an opinion. Take it in, consider it for a bit, maybe try it on to see how it fits and then make up your own mind. (an open mind)
A wise woman once told me; Put your ego in the backseat.
I think this is especially good advice for a writer. No matter what the fuck they say.


Erica Orloff said...

Oh, Aimless . . . so true.

There is art to editing and art to critiquing. I think of it like, if you suddenly got a job writing movie reviews or art reviews . . . it would take you a bit to find your footing, to understand the art and nuance of what you are critiquing and HOW you are critiquing. It's a process to learn, and critique group members must look inward--and be motivated to do so--not just rip someone outward. My question for a group with the whole "fuck" question is WHY? Are you telling me because the way I have drawn the character it seems out of character? (A VALID critique) Or . . . are you uncomfortable because of your own upbringing and morality? (invalid, in my opinion).

I think a good critique group really focuses on character NOT on author, if that makes sense. My characters all curse. They all do questionable things . . . they live, sometimes, in morally bankrupt situations. I write from that place. But I don't live in that place in real life.

Zoe Winters said...

Great post Aimless! I live in the kind of town where there would be an hour long discussion on "fuck" too. All I can say is I feel sorry for any grown adult that freaks out over a word. I don't personally understand the almost superstitious word phobia that seems to have gripped a lot of people. Words are words. In and of themselves they are powerless. "Fuck" isn't harmful until someone says "fuck you." But then it's no different than saying "you're stupid" and no one freaks out and rants about the word "stupid."

Sometimes I really really have a hard time understanding this mentality. With any critique, consider the source. The hard part is that a writer not only has to be able to accept critique, but has to be able to know when to disregard a critique. Some writers want to disregard all crits they don't like whether they are valid or not. I think maybe before going in a writer needs a sort of system to know what kind of things are just invalid crits period.

When it comes to "fuck" character has a bit of a potty mouth, and I think it is a valid critique to say a character uses a curse word too frequently. Too frequent and it can be distracting and can alienate an audience that wouldn't have minded it a few times but by the twentieth, fling your book across the room.

spyscribbler said...

What Erica said, LOL. :-)

Julie Weathers said...

I do critiques at two writer's forums. I always try to point out the things that do work as well as the things that need attention. If someone writes a brilliant description let them know.

In those forums we are pretty frank about things because we're all adults and serious about writing. My work has been sliced and diced to the bone, but they were always valid comments.

I'm not really offering much on the pitch critiques because I think a few people have been offended. If they were on the other forums, I would do a line-by-line critique.

Regarding the f-bomb. I hate it. I think it has become such common language that no one thinks a thing of a four-year-old spouting it or listening to "music" that seems to be in a contest to see how vulgar it can be.

Having said that, if it is in character for a person to say it, then use it. If you are using it for shock value, I don't want to read it anyway. The first time I picked up a Diana Gabaldon book every page I turned to had a mention of a cock on it. I didn't read one of her books for a long time. Now, she is one of my favorite authors and a friend. In the Outlander books it just seems natural. It isn't a contrived use.

For myself, even though I have done some very erotic scenes, I skirt a lot of graphic description. I don't use an abundance of profanity because I want to maintain a certain personal standard. My boys all were raised to not curse in front of a lady and to treat all women as ladies until they gave them a reason to think otherwise. I think it would be hypocritical for me to insist on those standards and write something I would be ashamed for them to read.

Each person has their own vision for the characters and they must remain true to them.

Julie Weathers said...

You once said to be careful of the critiques.

I've felt for a long time fresh eyes are good to get ideas. Now, I am beginning to think a person really should find a trusted group of writers and stay with them. The problem I am finding is advice that is exactly opposing.

Aimless Writer said...

I think you have to choose the critique group as you'd choose a best friend. Are the encouraging yet open minded enough to let you spread your wings? Or do they impose their own ideas and values on your writing? Do they harp on stupid stuff? Or are they able to sperate their personal opinion of life from their evaluation of your work. I think sometimes its a fine line.

Julie Weathers said...

I agree, Aimless.

Fortunately, I belong to Section Sixx, which is a small writer's group with some very talented people. They don't pull any punches, but they aren't vindictive either. The suggestions are honest and encouraging.

I also belong the the Books and Writers' forum where Diana Gabaldon hangs out. They have a novels workshop, which used to be very good. It's a little slow now, but things pick up when people use them.

I think I'm going to stick to those two places. I trust the people there and they are professional.

Well, I will be joining Barbara Rogan's workshop in May also. If Paladin isn't licked into shape by then it never will be.