When They Really Didn’t Want My Critique


When They Really Didn’t Want My Critique

reflectionOkay, this is a rant.  But it’s been four hours, and I’m still upset.

And it left me to wondering what to do with people who ask for help…but really want validation of what they’d already decided to do.

Over on Scribophile, a writer opened a thread asking for help on dream sequences – how to maintain tension and have story consequence in a dream.

It seemed like an interesting topic.  Before I ever read the thread, three other writers had tried to help, offering up what I will call Nightmare on Elms Street examples.  But…the writer refused to accept the example because it wasn’t a normal dream.  Nor was he open to exploring why that was.  It simply was.  And the right way to do it was his way.

Why oh why did I even think I could help?  I wish I’d remember we cannot reason our way through an emotional problem any more than we can scream and cry our way through a logical problem.  I should have just walked away.  But I didn’t.  I genuinely wanted to help.  I didn’t knee jerk a reaction, instead spending about fifteen minutes constructing a scenario he might use…and yes it was not a normal dream.  In my scenario my dreamer did a deep dive into his memory through a dream, trying to recover a lost memory vital to the real world, and even put a timer on it.

What did the poster do?  When he finally got around to responding, he dissed my example because it wasn’t a normal dream sequence, and then went off on a rant about everyone changing definitions.

Well…I walked away.

Still, things sometimes happen for a reason.  Tomorrow, I’m getting feedback from beta readers on my WIP and two of the three readers hate my story.  I hope I have the good graces to listen instead of being defensive or explainy.  After all, I had 125,000 words to say what I had to say and now it’s time to listen…and be thankful they took the time to read my story and tell me what they thought.

5 thoughts on “When They Really Didn’t Want My Critique

  1. Silent, I saw your lament in my feed, and thought I’d offer some sympathy and advice…

    So here’s the sympathy: Awww. Never mind. You tried! It’s not your fault. Too many writers are precious, thin-skinned little Summer peaches, aren’t they?

    Now here’s the advice:

    Writing often goes through two broad phases of insight, Mocs: discovering the story, and discovering how best to tell it. When she’s discovering the story, a writer is writing for herself. When she’s discovering how best to tell it, she’s writing for a target reader, of course.

    In early draft, when a developing writer is writing a dream-sequence, she’s typically either sandpitting plot or exploring character interior or both. But both cases are examples of story-discovery. It’s an imaginative exercise advancing writerly insights and expressive passion: it won’t necessarily survive to final draft. But inexperienced writers can’t see the difference: they think an enjoyably-discovered story is a well-told story: when they love the discovery process, they love the manuscript it produces too, though there’s no relationship between the two.

    So when inexperienced writers are asking about dream-sequences or opening with weather or any of the other formal storytelling questions we often get, you might need to offer three pieces of advice, rather than one:

    1) Discover the story however you can, and don’t let anyone tell you what to write or not write at this stage;
    2) HOWEVER, once you’ve discovered the story, expect your target reader to change, and the narrative requirements to change too;
    3) And, once you’ve found the story you want to tell, it’s time to pick readers closer to the target than yourself, AND listen to them carefully because their reactions aren’t contaminated by subjective experience of the writing process. AND stop telling them they’re wrong. 🙂

    I hope this may be useful. 😀

    • I just wrote a big long reply and lost it. So that’s probably a good thing.

      I’m pretty sure I came off as offended that they couldn’t see how wonderful my advice was…and you just gently put me in my place…just like always.

      How we miss you on Scrib.

      I will try to be good now. 🙂

  2. Thanks for your kind words, SS. You weren’t being petulant! 🙂 Offering advice is an act of compassion and faith. if people ask questions from a place that renders the advice worthless before you give it, it’s an act of disrespect, however unintended.

    But sometimes the disrespect is born of ignorance, not indifference. All writers would love an ecstatic, immersive process to produce beautiful copy. It’s a natural, if naive conflation, and produces many of the formal storytelling problems we discuss so often in writing sites: pointless dreams, unintended head-hopping, opening with irrelevant weather, excessive focus on setting and backstory, pointless cup-of-tea dialogue… the stuff lit agents love blogging about, because ideally they shouldn’t see manuscript written for the author, but for a reader and writers should know the difference. 🙂

    Regardless, it’s a false dichotomy, and easily remedied: if the writer’s sunk in living the story, focus on the characters, setting, incidents, plot, arcs and imagery and let the writer know that this is only the start of a long, painful process; if the writer is trying to produce saleable manuscript, add attention to organisation, focus, balance, clarity, grammar and typographic polish.

    But the main thing is: we can’t trust inexperienced writers to know the difference. 😀

    I miss the Scriblings too, but I’ve been awfully productive writing music for written fiction — producing original sound-tracks for cooperative storytelling. Here’s a sample draft of some music written for a cyberpunk/vampire story on Storium: https://soundcloud.com/ruvdraba/runnin-dry-v01-unmixed/s-quWOC. I’m presently in the process of mixing it. 😀

    • You just know so much more about writing and where people are in their learning that I will never know. You are awesome.

      And the music is awesome too. And of course the girl is a blue eyed blonde who’s almost wearing something. Ha.

  3. The girl isn’t mine — except to the extent of my culpability in choosing her from a very limited range of Internet cyberpunk vampire pictures. 😀

    Dr Strauss, featured in the song, is an African American vamp from the 19th century. Formerly a jazz pianist, but now living in a cyberpunk ghetto, he’s a vamp leader gradually losing his power.

    The pic is titled ‘Dead Girls can Punch’, which I thought pretty funny. It’s a place-holder though, and won’t survive final draft. For all I know, Ms Deedee Platinum could be one of his former victims when he was having a Silicone Buffy phase. 😀

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