Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Write Club -- Worthless Opinions

Hey y'all.  So that title up there sounds kind of harsh, doesn't it?  Well, basically, it's something all writers have to understand, generally more by experience than by being told: there are some people whose opinions are not really worth considering or considering deeply when it comes to your writing.

You, as a reader of other people's work on the internet, are likely to be frequently annoyed when a writer gets antsy or defensive at the slightest criticism.  You've seen some people freak out because someone pointed out legitimate errors in their work.  You don't want to be like them; you want to be understanding, willing to listen, and willing to learn from your mistakes.

The problem with that is, not everybody's a real teacher.

People of every personality, ethnicity, and every single division you can think of absolutely LOVE saying their own opinions.  It doesn't matter who they are.  They have something to say and they want to say it.  The trouble with this is, about 70% these people are ill-informed or completely unaware of the specifics that make their opinion less credible.  Take politics for example.  Everybody wants to talk about it, but the general public knows just about nothing about how foreign policy works or what makes the economy function right.

The same is true of writing, though there are other reasons why a critique isn't worth too much concern.  Let's go over some, shall we?

1. You're presenting your work to the wrong target market.

"Target Market" as a term may annoy you, but all it really means is the people you are writing for.  Your audience.  Now, if you're a manly man who wants to write about survivalism, why would you present your story to a bunch of feminists?  Or if you're writing fanfiction for, say, Starcraft, why would you post it on an internet forum for manga fans?

So you make the mistake.  The incorrect audience might have some useful things to say, but at the end of the day if the work isn't meant for them, there's no reason to hold their opinions like it's gospel.  Listen to what they say about grammar and spelling, but realize there isn't much a feminist can tell you about gutting a rabbit, or an otaku can tell you about the origins of the Protoss.

2. Your audience isn't critical.

Imagine if you sent a query letter and the publisher sent you a replay saying that you're a star.  Imagine also that you posted a piece of the work on the internet and someone online said the exact same thing.  Now, whose opinion is more important?  It's pretty obvious the publisher is, as it's in his best interest to only allow the best writers available to be published.  The person on the internet?  Some dude.

On, it's really common for meh writers to get such wonderful comments like "wow, I can't wait to read the next chapter!" or "This is so good!".  It's extremely easy to get an enlarged ego you don't deserve at a place like that.  It's a nice way to keep motivated to write, but at the end of the day, you don't really know you stink unless one of those reviewers with actual taste floats your way and punches your ego in the gut.

3. The person doesn't like you.

Warning: do not use this as an excuse to just write off a criticism entirely.  On rare occasions, it should be entirely dismissed, but most of the time people who don't like you will take an actual flaw and inflate it to make it look a lot more serious than it is.  Just because they inflate it doesn't mean it's not a flaw.  Also, people have to tolerate you enough to actually read your work to have anything relevant to say.  The people who hate you most won't read it, unless you're a beginner and they know they can mock you with it.

So yeah, it does happen at times that people who dislike you want to legitimize their dislike by saying you stink at something.  Or, perhaps, their subconscious wants to "show you that you're not perfect" or punish you for not being acceptable to them.  Or maybe you were mean to them.

Sometimes they don't "dislike" you, it just comes across that way because you have different opinions from them, and they don't like your opinions. Perhaps your story involves, for example, a gun-toting good guy, and a gun control person sees it.  They can't criticize you for opinion, because that's just opinion and not really a sign if you're a good writer or not.  Thus they seek to find some way to be negative about your story, only on something legitimate.

How can you tell a person is critiquing you because they don't like you?  Well, look for a few signs.  They aren't going to say anything nice about your story, for one.  Another reason way could be if their comment is nothing like the other comments you've received, and other people haven't criticized you for the same perceived flaw.  A person once criticized a story of mine and said "NO ONE" would like the way I wrote it, even though I'd already received positive comments elsewhere about how much they liked it.

4. The person doesn't like the direction you're going.

This happens a lot, particularly with published writers.  Actually, you should be very careful to judge whether or not a person commenting on your plot direction is correct.  Sometimes they are.   You might have forgotten to portray a character correctly, gotten lazy, or used weak reasoning for the next plot point to happen.  Perhaps you even had correct reasoning, but you didn't present it properly.

However, sometimes they're wrong.  I'm not sure how often this happens, but never make assumptions, particularly if you're a beginner.  In any case, you know your characters better than the readers (or you should, anyway) and thus you're the one who decides what happens to them.

Actually, I have a fanfiction story that clarifies this pretty well.  During one of my Mega Man fanfics, I had the character Alia find out that Zero had the Maverick virus.  I made her react very strongly and negatively about how dangerous it was to have Zero around.  Now, because I'm writing and using other people's characters, other people have an even greater right to criticize.  However, when one girl disagreed with my choice, I knew right away that perhaps she wasn't the best person to call me out.  I mentioned to her privately that Alia witnessing Gate turning evil in the Mega Man X games made her more fearful of friends going bad, but then the girl goes on to say that Alia and Gate were actually dating before Gate turned evil.

That's one of the reasons why I can't stand the Mega Man fanfiction section.  They like to pair off everybody with everybody regardless of personality differences and compatibility issues.  In any case, Alia and Gate never dated in the game, and thus I'm not required to acknowledge it -- the fans came up with it, not the game designers.  This "fan canon" the girl believed in was only proof that she felt I should stick to fan assumptions about each character and not by what I actually gleaned from the plot of the games.  Thus, her opinion was not entirely justified.

It was nice talking to her, though.  By having the discussion about Alia, I was inspired to write more about her and better.  Thus, even if a person is incorrect, be nice to them, especially in regard to plot direction.  When people have problems with where your plot is going, it means they care about the characters you wrote.  It's sort of a compliment, so try and take it in the best attitude possible.

4. The reviewer is an author.

Yep.  Nobody is a harsher critic than an actual writer.  Now sure, there are plenty of things you can learn about writing from others, and you should when you get a chance.  However, writers are nitpicky.  They have already trained themselves to look for errors when commenting on their own work, so they're automatically on guard for errors in basically everything they read or watch.  The worst part is, they're right a lot of the time.  You can't argue with them because they know what they're talking about.  However, just because they have a correct or sensible opinion doesn't mean that opinion matters.

For example, I think the TV show Firefly is poorly written, depressing, and it's pretty clear that the writers of the show only cared about four of their main characters.  I can't help comparing Captain Reynolds to Captains Kirk and Picard, who are not only tougher than Reynolds, but more interesting.  And if this show is supposed to have Asian themes, where the crap are all the Asian people?  Seriously, there's like three Asian people in the entire franchise, and they had bit parts in the Firefly movie.  Did the reavers get them or something?  Crap, I could rant all day about it.

However, this opinion doesn't particularly matter.  Why?  Because a lot of people like Firefly, for some reason.  Writing books is a market, and the real judge of your success is less how well you write and more how well your audience thinks you write.  Same with TV shows.  Firefly has fans, and though it was thankfully cancelled, many people are sad about this and would be plenty happy if it showed up again.  Any mention of a Firefly something in the future would have an immediate audience and a reasonable chance of success.

I'm just happy the ending of the movie pretty much killed any possibility of a sequel.  Haha!  I get the last laugh!  Oh pssht, stop looking at me like that.

5. The commenter doesn't understand writing.

It happens from time to time.  Pretty annoying, but there's no reason to overreact to it.  It's a person who doesn't really know writing much trying to correct you.  It's hard to take them seriously, but usually they don't mean any harm, and bashing them generally just makes you look like a jerk.

One guy who commented on a Starcraft fanfiction of mine said I needed to expand on it.  He said I needed to include opinions of some of the Protoss characters or perhaps even the Zerg.  The trouble with this suggestion is that my story was a one-shot about a girl who suddenly appears in the Starcraft universe.  It wasn't meant to have a broad scope.  It's written in first person, and thus I can't really include anything that the girl doesn't perceive with her own senses.

Note here that his suggestion was fine.  Nothing particularly wrong with it at all.  Maybe I could have worked out the story and made it more expanded, if I was inspired in that direction.  The point remains, however, that it was a simple one-shot, and you can't judge a one-shot by novel standards.

Okay, so there's the opinions of some people that you need to take with a grain of salt.  Note, however, that you should always think first and try to determine if they are correct or not.  Don't make assumptions either way, and make sure you read their criticism more than once before replying so that you don't misunderstand them.  Maybe you don't need to reply at all.  Don't freak out about negative reviews, but take it like a man and do your best either to correct your work or disregard excess negativity.

No comments:

Post a Comment