As authors who pour our hearts, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into our art form, we do not take well to criticism … of any type. After all, no one likes to hear that someone does not like something that they not only put so much time, energy, and effort into, but basically put a part of themselves into as well. And let’s face it, even constructive criticism is still negative no matter how nice you try to be about it. So with this thought as my basis I decided to expand on criticism of the written word.
First off, I would have to say that the single most important thing to remember as a critic, and as a reader of a story, is that your dislike of a story for any reason aside from grammatical and spelling issues is your fault, not the author’s. And even the grammatical and spelling issues cannot be laid fully at the feet of the author as authors are, after all, only human, as are their editors and proofreaders, and no amount of spell checks and all the editors in the world will ever catch 100% of grammatical and spelling errors. So, if you do not like a story, it is neither a reflection of the author’s ability to write nor their ability to be a good story teller. The dislike of the story rests solely on the reader. Unless you come across 300 pages of text-speak, a never-ending wall of text, or something that looks like it was typed by a five-year-old and no one even gave it so much as a courtesy proof-read, anything else (writing style, storyline, genre, etc) that you say about a story is your opinion and as such has absolutely no merit and should never be used as a basis for a critique.
With this thought in mind, allow me to expand. When it comes to critiques, do not second-guess an author or assume that you know where a story is going. You are not the author; you do not know what drives the characters, the storyline, or the author’s reasoning behind events. It is insulting and disrespectful to assume you know more about the storyline than the author. As I have said so many times before, do not assume that you know how to write another person’s storyline better than the originator of that storyline.
Do not question an author’s writing style. I have said this so many times on so many blogs and articles that it is getting redundant, yet I am still getting ‘critiques’ on my writing style. An author’s style is their trademark; it is what sets them apart from all the tens of thousands of other authors on this planet. If you are going to critique an author’s style, the heart of what makes an author unique, then stop. Don’t bother wasting your time because the last thing an author is going to do, is willing to do, or should ever be asked to do is change that part of them that makes them their own unique writer. If you don’t ‘get’ an author’s style or do not like it, then either deal with it or don’t read it, but don’t criticize it.
Also, do not assume that you have the right as a reader to demand changes to an author’s storyline or their style. You can make suggestions, but since it is the author’s creation and their copyrights that we are being given privy to, it is ultimately their choice as to the style and storyline of the work at hand. Again, just because you think it would have been better if the storyline had went in another direction does not give you the right to demand that an author change it, or even bring the suggestion up. Again, this goes back to assuming that you know what an author is thinking or where they intend to go with a storyline. For all you know, some insignificant character or point in a storyline could be picked up ten novels down the road. So stop assuming and just go with it, or don’t read it, but don’t bring it up.
And perhaps the most important rule in providing critiques is to always, always keep in mind that there is an actual person behind these stories and novels. The authors have created something special to them, put down a piece of themselves, and are allowing us the privilege to take part in something very close to their hearts. To criticize their work, even when you are trying to help them, is to criticize the person behind the work. Always think of how it would make you feel to hear your critique regarding something that you spent so much time on. Authors are not faceless entities or some pseudonym printed on the cover of a story; we are living, breathing human beings with real emotions. To trash an author’s work is to trash the author, and last time I checked, if this happened in the real world, chances are it would result in black eyes, broken noses, and a restraining order.