Are You a Critic, or Are You a Writer?

As usual, I have been having myself a good laugh at other’s expense over on the website that hosts a huge chunk of my works. I have been reading the very over-the-top argument and certified rant regarding a certain newly Hollywood popularized trilogy. To put it bluntly, aside from the writer of said rant going on about how badly written the books are, the originator of the post apparently also insists upon picking apart the entire symbolism of the storyline. This whole jaunt into critiques has me once again shaking my head and wanting to make a few points in regards to not only writers, but readers as well as critics who insist upon putting their two cents worth into the unraveling of a storyline.

First I would like to point out that the originator of the post/rant has made two very common mistakes in the critiquing process that most critics make but that every critic should have better sense than to make in the first place. In critiquing, the rules are simple, and I have pointed these out on many a post in regards to the matter.  The rules that have been broken that the poster in the rant I am referring to are as follows:

1.  Attempting to pick apart the symbolism in a storyline that you did not write. 

Here is how this works.  Unless the author specifically details every single aspect of the symbolism in a novel/storyline, he who did not write the novel is only guessing. Don’t guess. You can debate and discuss amongst yourselves all you want, but to openly try to tell others what the symbolism actually is in the story is not only incredibly presumptuous, but shows your lack of experience as a writer if you are one, and your lack of intelligence as a critic if you are just an avid reader. By doing this you have also simultaneously broken another very important rule when it comes to critiquing a story:

2.  Do not presume to know what the author is thinking or where the author is going with a storyline. 

Again, unless an author sits down and spells out every single last detail, no one will ever know every single last secret to the symbolism in a storyline. Chances are there is even symbolism in the work that the author was not even trying to make and are just happy coincidences. Many times over there is symbolism and references that readers will –think- the author was trying to make when he/she had no intentions of making such symbolism in the storyline in the first place.  To be brutally honest, you are not the author, so stop acting like you know what he/she was getting at, what the symbolism is all about, and what the author was or was not trying to accomplish.    

Critics and readers are notorious for trying to figure out what an author was getting at, trying to accomplish, and trying to unravel all the intricate symbolism of a story. Writers naturally want to do this because we have very curious minds and want to try to spread everything out into a neat little line. Again, debating such things are fine; I often enjoy myself a good debate with other authors on what was being conveyed in novels that I have read. It’s a good intellectual exercise to see what others think about certain storylines, to see how writers can read the same novel and find so many different aspects in the symbolism.  Where writers should tread lightly, however, is when they get so full of themselves that they think they actually know what the author was thinking. 

It is when we stop looking at storylines as authors and begin to try to analyze every single detail that we forget what it means to be a writer, to create the storylines and weave the intricate web that will have others trying to figure out what we were thinking at the time and what we are trying to convey with specific scenes and characters. In the end, writers should either be critics or writers, but never both.  Because it is when we stop writing as storytellers and begin writing as critics and editors that we lose not only our creativity, but the respect we have gained as a purveyor of creative literature.


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