Criticism: To Listen or Not to Listen

As a writer, at some point in time, you are going to come across criticism.  You will have those who mean well and will give an honest opinion, and then you will have those people who are just plain idiots, who are angry at the time, or who seriously enjoy the instant gratification and anonymity of slinging shit at the walls to see what sticks.  You actually will get some good advice, some of which you may or may not want to take.  The question you have to ask yourself is if the advice given will make any difference, if it applies to your particular writing, and if you really give a damn enough to take the advice.

A personal pet peeve of mine is for someone to tell me how to write my own ideas.  But guess what?  Sometimes they are right.  So how do you know if their advice is for you?  Try taking their advice and rewrite the suggested areas.  Is it any better to YOU?  If not, then toss it.  Nobody said you had to take their advice.  If you specialize in a specific genre or idea and feel that the advice really doesn’t apply, then don’t fret about it.  I have had a lot of “advice” from people who try to impose their own thoughts and opinions on what should and should not go on in my little world of the vampire.  What they fail to comprehend is that I spent YEARS creating the world that my latest novel takes place in.  I wrote down all the rules and regulations that governed what my different types of characters could and could not do long before I created a single character to live in that world.  I may not be an expert on the vampire, but I certainly could argue the point that I am an expert when it comes to my own storyline and the world in which that storyline lives.  But I try not to just toss aside a suggestion.  Any suggestion that I can actually use at a later date is always a good thing.   Most of the time, however, the suggestions given to me really do not apply to my particular genres.  When that happens, I simply ignore it.

Sometimes I get suggestions that fall under the whole, “I don’t really give a crap” category.  But what if the criticism is so vocal, or shared by so many people, that they might be on to something?  If I know in advance what others will think when they read my work, then I can incorporate that into my storyline.  For example, I had several people make remarks about how absolutely absurd the names of my characters were in The Red Fang.  I did not just haphazardly pick names at random when I named the majority of my characters.  There actually was a whole vampire culture aspect as to how my vampires came by their names.  This idea was hinted at, but never talked about in detail, and I did not even intend to have any hint of the ideas behind their names come into the storyline until the second novel.  But since I now knew that people thought their names were so stupid and that they didn’t understand the great cultural background of how my vampires got their names, I had to decide if including this information would benefit the storyline enough to warrant including it, or if I just wanted to let people think whatever they wanted.  In the end, I included an entire chapter that involved the three main characters sitting around poking fun at the ridiculous vampire names along with the cultural history regarding those names.  In the end, when people who read the story think that the names are incredibly moronic, when they come to the chapter that explains the cultural significance of their names, the readers are the ones who end up with egg on their face rather than me.

In my particular writing style, I have a tendency to write like I am giving a verbal recount of a story.  I use incomplete sentences, run on sentences, have dangling participles and modifiers all over the place.  It is very laid back and low key.  My writing style does not resemble a polished, professionally edited book at ALL.  And that ‘s the way I want it.  I have had hundreds of readers tell me they enjoyed my writing style and that it really made them feel like they were in the story.  Bottom line, it works for me.  I don’t sound like all the cookie cutter books out there and I don’t want it to.  So when I get comments bashing my writing style as being ‘unprofessional’ or that point out all the English rules that I am breaking, I file those suggestions under the “I don’t really give a damn” category. 

The worst thing a writer can do is try to embrace a writing style that is not naturally their own.  If all writers sounded the same, how very boring the books would be to read.  I know that I am breaking English rules.  I did it on purpose.  The real question is, does pointing this out actually help me?  If the grammatical errors hinders the storyline and takes away from the action, then yes, it helps.  But if the story reads, sounds, and feels just the way I want it, then no, pointing out that I have disposable adverbs and unnecessary modifiers does not help me.  One has to keep in mind that not everyone will “get” what you are trying to say, will understand your point of view, or will even be smart enough to follow along with your storyline. 

If all else fails and the criticism/suggestions is really bothering you, then take a step back.  Count to ten.  Reread your work.  If there is something that YOU genuinely think needs to be changed or addressed, then by all means, change it.  But if you feel that your work is just fine the way it is, then take all those “suggestions” with a grain of salt.  After all, you can’t please all the people all the time.


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