For me, there is a little known third category of criticism that exists somewhere between constructive criticism and deconstructive criticism.
I have already said that constructive criticism is basically designed as an honest opinion to help the writer clear up things that the reader did not understand or thought would make the story better in their eyes. Deconstructive criticism, on the other hand, is designed to make the writer feel bad about their ability to write, to openly bash a piece of work, and seldom has any value or bearing on what the story is actually about. I consider people who give negative feedback based solely on their dislike of the theme to be giving deconstructive criticism because it does not help the author in any way. Not everyone is going to like a particular theme or storyline, so feedback based solely on such opinions is useless.
The third type of criticism is criticism at first glance. It can be constructive criticism that, at first glance, sounds like deconstructive criticism. It can even be criticism that you are not sure if it was meant to be helpful or if it is a sarcastic comment that is meant to make the author look like a fool for not getting facts straight. It is often the result of a reader not really reading the story, not paying close attention to what is being written, or not fully understanding what is going on in the story. I had this happen to me recently with the latest published installment of The Red Fang.
Here is the excerpt in question:
…..” It is common vampiric knowledge that a human who ingests enough human blood over a long enough period would eventually die. There is a legend among our kind. A vampire named Tao came across a young girl named Addalynne. When he found her, she was mortally wounded. The legend has changed as time has changed. She was attacked; she was raped and left for dead; she was discovered in a car wreck on the side of the road. But the names have remained unchanged over the centuries.”…..Copyright 2010 Nicola Matthews. All Rights Reserved.
I received this comment regarding this portion of the story:
“You are writing about an old legend where some girl is found raped in a CAR WRECK. Cars (that you can get into) were first made in the late 19th century. Kind of a short time for a tale to turn into a legend… Unless your world is set like 8 centuries in the future. I would really leave out the car wreck part or change it a bit.”
At first glance, you may not know if this is meant to be constructive criticism or a sarcastic comment meant to make me look like a fool. In one aspect, it IS trying to be helpful by letting me know that having a ‘legend’ that has a girl found in a car wreck is a bit far-fetched and tends to make me look foolish. On the other hand, the first lines of the comment almost sound sarcastic and could be interpreted as a stab at making me look foolish for not having facts straight as opposed to trying to keep me from looking foolish by pointing out an discrepancy. Either way, it doesn’t matter because it is the READER who is in the wrong. The person making this comment misunderstood what the story actually said. That passage does not state that the girl of legend was found raped in a car wreck. What it DOES state is that the legend has changed over the years. Her being found on the side of the road is one version of the legend, her being found attacked was another version, her being found raped and left for dead a third version, and her being found on the side of the road yet another version.
At first glance I was not really sure what the reader was talking about, if they were sincere or trying to be sarcastic, and or if the comment had any bearing on the storyline at all. I kept running the story over and over in my mind, wondering if I had really made such a blaring oversight in my story. Had I made the legend specifically stating that she was found in a car wreck, and this legend had been passed down for centuries, then there would have definitely been egg on my face. I had to go back and read the excerpt in question to fully understand what the reader was talking about and realized that, thankfully, it was the reader who had misunderstood what I had written.
It is up to the author to try to decipher if the criticism is worth investing any time in. Is it helpful to the storyline? Would taking the advice change the storyline to the point that you feel it would not work? Do you just like the way you wrote the story regardless of what others think? In the end, it is left up to the author and the individual story in question to determine whether or not to listen to the criticism at hand.