Monday, February 27, 2012

Letter to a Peer Critic

Hello, my name is Joelle Pigott. I am a writer and administrator of a peer critique group known as Literati Sedition. I have been performing peer critiques for the past few years. I have a couple rules that I think are imperative in the world of peer critiques, and I shall list them here, in order of importance.

  1. The two most important traits a critic must foster are honesty and compassion. Honesty, because we must tell our fellow writers, our fellow artists the truth directly and honestly in order that they improve their art and themselves. Compassion, because these works are not only the sweat and blood of our peers, they are their hopes and dreams. Causing people unnecessary emotional pain in the name of bastardized honesty is immature and unnecessary. Hurting people is not constructive, but discouraging. In addition, it is unlikely to encourage them to take one's advice.
  2. One must cultivate a neutral tone and critique the prose, not the writer. This is not a casual conversation with a friend, but rather a professional discussion with what might be a complete stranger. A casual tone may be easily interpreted as aggression, especially as one is frequently unable to discern tone from text alone. Focus on addressing the issues found in the work itself and avoid the pronoun “you,” because this often devolves into saying: “YOU did this wrong,” “YOU have failed.” It is more appropriate to say: “THIS does not work,” “THIS is incorrect.”
  3. One must also be detail-oriented and specific. It does no good to point out something flawed, but fail to address why it is wrong and what can be done to fix it. It only serves to perplex and frustrate the author, rather than aid them.

Below is a critique from a peer critic whom I view to be somewhat misguided as to the proper way to help one's fellow artist. Comments in brackets are from me.

"On page two you put, ‘Normally, girls pet my hair sometimes even know Cassie hated it.’ This sentence makes no sense at all. Try rephrasing it.
(This is highly brash, bossy language. The critic seems to assume that they are the one in charge, not simply an observer making suggestions. It is extremely rude to command the artist to make changes, as a critic lacks legitimacy in a work that is not their own. Instead, it is best to make suggestions, e.g., “This doesn't make sense, perhaps try rephrasing it.” When phrased as a suggestion, it becomes friendly and polite sounding.)

I’m going to be honest; I don’t really like the beginning. It kind of just throws things at you, and that’s never a good thing.
 (This is not a place for the critic's opinions. It does not matter if the critic likes the choices the artist has made, but rather, whether the story works as a cohesive piece. This is why it is also best to avoid the pronoun “I.” It removes the temptation to make the review about me, me, me. What I think, what I feel, is of no use to the author. This part of the review is also highly unspecific, and does not explain in detail what is wrong with the beginning and does not explain in the slightest why this is a bad thing, but instead assumes the critic's meaning is obvious.)

Again, I like the first chapter; I just don’t like it at the begging. Everything happens so fast, the story starts and all of a sudden all of these things are happening. It just doesn’t sound good. I just think you need to slow down a bit and ease into all these things happening.
(Oh really? I've always thought the begging was the best part... Sorry for mocking typos, it's not the maturest of behaviours; however, there is a point here. When one is critiquing, one is not texting a friend or leaving a note for one's mum. One is dealing with other writers on a formal level. It is important to be clear and treat the other person respectfully, and that means keeping certain standards and not being sloppy. Typos do happen, and that's understandable, but do not believe that it is fine to critique shoddily. Here we have unnecessary repetition of the same criticism that adds nothing but emphasis of the critic's opinions and distaste for the writer's artistic choices. The criticism is again vague and does not properly support it's points. The author is directly addressed in an overly-familiar manner.)

Again I feel like things are moving too fast. I’m on Chapter two, page seven, and I feel like enough has happened to take up four chapters.
(Again, we repeat ourselves without giving meaningful explanations or supporting our ill-defined opinions.)

I find it a little unbelievable that Max would sniff his shirt to decide whether or not it is clean. Things like that only happen in TV shows that aren’t even supposed to be close to realistic. Real boys don’t really act like that, the care way more.
(Not only DO real boys act in this manner, it is extremely common. The criticism calls the story unrealistic without good reason and gives support for this opinion which is questionable.)

On page 8 the paragraph that starts with, ‘I open the fridge door…’ That whole paragraph it just sounds like you are listing events. It doesn’t sound right. I think I may have read another paragraph like that as well.
(“I think I may have...” is unacceptably lazy. The critic must sniff out the offending paragraph so that it may be properly compared. The author has no method of determining what paragraph the critic is talking about. One must give the author enough context to be able to find the problem area. The critic points out the paragraph in question near the bottom of the review instead of placing it here, almost as if they didn't even bother to structure their review, edit it, or even give it a once over. Almost as if they simply wrote the review in a long, rambling stream of concious with a focus on length rather than conherency or content.)

I’m only on Page nine, but so far I think it could really use some more detail. All I really know is that his hair is black and his eyes are brown. Other than that I know absolutely nothing. (Because of course, all we really care about is what the characters look like.)

Okay, being honest, the excessive cussing is really starting to annoy me. I don’t mind a little, but you have gotten a little out of hand.
(This is entirely opinion and most certainly out of line. The critic's sensibilities are not important. The author is the only one with the right to choose the content and style of their writing. One may make suggestions, but these sorts of demands are outside of the critic's right to make. We are here to provide constructive criticism, not judgement.)

Okay, so I find it a little bit unbelievable that Max would get so worked up over a girl, especially a girl like Cassy.
(More opinion, no supporting reasons for this criticism. One is, in fact, required to support the claims that one makes.)

They are sophomores? Now I find this all really unbelievable. They are much too young for all this to be happening. 15 year olds just don’t act like that. Things like that just don’t happen to people so young.
(Even more opinion, even less supporting argument. Highly insulting tone, with repeated nagging instead of constructive suggestions.)

Ok I still don’t feel like I know enough. Things are happening so fast and going at lighting pace yet I still barely know what Max looks like right now. What does the school look like? What does Jaxon look like? What does Melly look like? What does Cassie look like? Tina? There are so many questions I have right now that have not been answered. There is so much addition information you give us yet so much information you still owe us.
(You owe us. The writer does not owe the critic anything. One does not make demands like a petulant child in one's reviews. It is undignified and highly inappropriate. The critic is more concerned with themself and their needs than with helping the writer. The focus of the criticism here is on the visual, which is frankly unimportant in this medium. If the criticism is that more detail is needed or that more detail would improve the story, it should be stated simply, without whinging.)

Ok, if they are really sophomores than they act way too old for their age and I find it to be very unrealistic. Also they are not going to let a 15 or 16 year old work as a lifeguard. And sophomores don’t take Algebra; they take Geometry or Algebra 11. And the way Max is I would see him taking Geometry.
(More repetition of previous points, the critique is unfocused and poorly structured. It is almost like the critic ran out of points and is simpy padding for length. The points made are trite. It is not improbable that Algebra 11 might be referred to as simply Algebra and the age to become a lifeguard depend on the location. In many areas, it is as young as fourteen.)

Max should store Adam’s body in the Catacombs. That’s what I am going to do when I murder the most annoying boy at my school… Wait, I never said that! :P
(We are all highly amused. Coy emoticon.)

What does the park look like? I still don’t know hardly anything about anyone, and it is starting to aggregate me. You have a good plot line going and you are keeping me interested, but there are just so many things that could use work.
(If anyone is curious, the verb “to aggregate” is a synonym of “to collect.” Of course, it is obvious that “aggravate” was the intended word, but unfortunately, that means that the critique has again taken on an impertinent tone, with selfish demands in the place of constructive criticism. Much needs work, apparently, but it shall not be learned here.)

On Page 26 the paragraph that starts with, ‘The weekend goes by too fast.’ This paragraph sounds like it is just listing things. This isn’t the first time I have mentioned this.
(Why don't you listen to me, author? Jeez, you're kinda slow aren't you? Didn't you understand all my oh-so-clear instructions? The review may not have been intended to sound this way, but that does not make it acceptable.)

Okay, so I read to chapter six. Like I said before, it moves entirely to fast without giving us enough information. So many events happen in such a small amount of time. Also I have so many questions about Max alone that haven’t even been relatively answered. Also I noticed a few times where your tenses disagree with each other. You are obviously trying to write this in presence tense, but there are a few places that mix that up. Also I think they act entirely too old for their age. They act like 18 year olds, which makes it seem very unbelievable. There are a lot of things in this story that seems unbelievable. There is definitely not enough detail, either. I find myself unable to sympathize with Max because I just don’t know enough about him. Your character development could use some work as well. For where I am right now I feel like I should know way more than I do. I also noticed some grammar mistake, not many, but some. I didn’t point them out though because I remember reading somewhere not to point out grammar unless it is really bad. This is a good story and has a good plot line but it could use some work. Keep writing and I look forward to hearing what you have to say about I’ll Be Here All Summer!"
(And we shall sign off with a deluge of narcissistic, poorly connected and half-formed thoughts and insulting, insipid opinions. We shan't even bother to give specific instances or even point out the locations of the many flaws we thought were serious enough to mention, but not important enough to actually aid the author with fixing. Why? Because the critic does not care. The critic is not here to help the artist. The critic is here to talk about me, myself, and I. The critic does respect the author, and the critic certainly does not respect the author's work. Perhaps the critic did not intend to be nagging, judging, and quite frankly, insulting, but on all accounts, they succeeded.)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sad Book

I opened a children's book, today. On a whim, nothing more. It had a goose and a turtle on the cover.
Inside, I discovered a tale of a old turtle and a young goose, who are the greatest of friends. They do everything together. One day, the turtle passes away, and the goose doesn't understand. It takes some time, but after remembering all her friend had taught her, the goose comes to terms with her friends death.
If you will excuse me, I have a sad.

Thursday, February 9, 2012