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Home / Meta / Rants / To Crit or Not to Crit?

Amazingly enough, I'm one of the few fanfic writers out there who doesn't beg for feedback.

It's nice certainly. And there are certain exceptions such as when I've just done something I'm especially proud of and I'm dying to know right now if it worked for other people the way I wanted it to. Otherwise I'm fairly content with one or two "Hey, not bad" type letters just to let me know that my mail server didn't screw up and make my post vanish into the ether.

It also must be said I'm very bad at giving critiques. More often than not I'll be the person in your box with the "Hey, not bad" response, if I respond at all.

But, that disclaimer aside, as a fanfic writer and long-time member of the fanfic community (I can at least claim geriatric status in the spec community since I wrote the third spec ever written and the ending for the first) I do feel I've got a right to toss my two pennies in on the concept of critiques. So here goes.

For starters, I don't understand why some people make a big, hornking deal out of it. Be they the people who want to get critiqued or those who want to give it, the most passionate supporters on either extreme seem to salivating at the mouth about this stuff and I really don't understand why.

In the interest of fairness I will take a second here to say I don't understand those people who beg for feedback and responses when all they really mean is the good ones. Or those people who will ask for the good stuff only and tell people who want to flame them to go to blazes themselves. (Unless they mean people who would flame a concept, like male/male sex, as opposed to their writing itself).

But, as you can probably imagine if you've spent any time with me, the real group I can't get are those who are just dying to give critiques.

If you've spent any time in the fanfic community (and every branch of it has them) you know who I'm talking about. Not the friendly beta-readers. The (as one friend of mine dubbed them) "fanfic police". The ones who post on your list/newsgroup/board/whatever and let you know in no uncertain terms "WE ARE DOING THIS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!"

These people I just don't get.

And no, I'm not talking about people like the Slashfic Hall of Shame. Harsh as JoAnne was at least she gave some leeway for newbie writers and, moreover, explained what was wrong with the stories she picked. She didn't do all-out condemnation, or say that the stories were bad because she, personally, didn't like them. Like her or not, at least she was trying to do something to educate the fanfic community.

What I'm talking about are the whiners. The people who come on and post that the fandom isn't what it used to be, that all the writing has gone downhill but (thank God) if only they were able to critique everyone and if only all the writers shaped up to their concept of what makes a good XFiles/Sentinel/VC/whatever fanfic author, then (again, thank God) the fandom will be SAVED.

Can I be the first to say that crit isn't all it's cracked up to be?

Look, I'm not anti-crit. I'm not one of those writers who utterly dies and tells someone to go to Hell if they didn't like something I did. I hate the personal reminder that I'm not perfect but hey, you know, life goes on.

However I do dispute those who believe that crit is the answer for everything. And I do mean the answer, even if yours is "No, but thanks."

First off, let's point out the obvious that not everyone has the same tastes. I can tell you right now I am already sick to death of editors (and here I mean professional editors that I've dealt with in my life as a professional writer) who edit me based on their personal preferences rather than comment on the quality (or lack therein) of my work. You know the kind - "You use too many animals in this story. I don't like animals. Make them intelligent robots instead. And I like the name Charlie so change your hero's name to that too." Crit coming from someone who doesn't share your viewpoint that Lestat is the best character/Duncan is a closet sub/Paris cries easily isn't going to be the most useful for you.

Secondly, there are the critiquers who are the English freaks. "This has a dangling participle." "You have too many misspellings." and so on. These drive me insane. Not because I believe that all stories should have spelling errors. I do believe in the power of the proofread (and in the proofread of your betareaders for that matter). But some people use English and its proper usage like a weapon. You MUST have perfect grammar always or ELSE.

Here's a mark of someone who doesn't do a lot of fanfic writing (or fic writing in general for that matter) (and yes, I know some of the fanfic police are also writers - my point is apparently they haven't done enough). First of all, the useage of good English greatly depends on your narrative voice. I know of one VC spec writer who got panned for bad grammar in her story (mind you, this is when she had asked for critique so this wasn't coming out of the blue, to be fair). Only problem with that is that in the VC universe bad grammar is your watchword. The proper voice for most VampChron characters is one that is uncomfortable with English as a written language. Moreover, even in her third-person POV novels Anne likes to write in a style that is more poetic than perfect English. (She's called Anne Thrice for a reason, you know.)

I'm not arguing that bad grammar=good narrative voice. I'm just saying the Good English Freaks need to realize that there's more to writing than the placement of your participles. Let's face it, if good English and grammar was required in every work of Fiction we'd have to toss things like Trainspotting, Huck Finn and practically everything written by James Joyce out of the window!

As for spelling errors - yes, people can spell check. But here's why I say these people haven't written enough. Have you ever tried running fanfic through a spellchecker? Having just completed one for Star Wars I can tell you the result isn't pretty. After the twentieth beep over yet another permutation of the spelling of "Jedi" ("Jedi's" "Jedis" etc.) and "Qui-Gon" and "Obi-Wan" and "Anakin" and... you learn not to rely on your spellchecker. Yes, I can tell my spellchecker to remember the proper names but it will still beep everytime I come up with a new planet name, or handmaiden name, or droid type or so on and so on. After the twentieth time of clicking "Ignore All" I'm going to miss a few things. Or I'm not going to trust the spellchecker even when it's beeping on something reletively normal. Misspells are going to slip in, no matter how many times you proofread it. For Heaven's sake, I've lost track of how many published texts I've seen with misspellings and left out words!

Does this mean I think all misspells should be allowed, up to and including a constant misspell of the main character's names? Of course not. But I do think someone who hangs their crit hat on the misspelling gripe is really no more than a flamebaiter. There is more to life than proper English and even Winston Churchill and my AP English teacher will back me up on this. The rules of English are meant to be guidelines, not unbreakable laws.

Let's tackle another argument then - I was told by one pro-crit person that the argument of "if you don't like it, don't read it" isn't acceptable. The counter argument being that if bad fanfic is allowed to come forth and propigate (usually encouraged by posters who need only the slightest stimulation or hint of sex to find a piece thrilling) then all of fanficdom is going down the toilet.

Now I'll be the first to say how frustrating it is to write a story that I've attempted to put a lot of thought and depth into only to get little to no feedback on because it required, well, thought and depth. Especially when I can look elsewhere and see what are, to me, very amateurish stories that get tons of "WOW" "KEWL!!!!!" and "WRITE MORE RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!" replies. It'd be really nice if stories that had extra work and effort put into them were acknowledged and rewarded as such. But guess what, that's not going to happen. That's not the real world.

The real world doesn't want to go out and make An Ideal Husband the #1 movie at the box office as long as Big Daddy and Austin Powers are out. It doesn't want to support Masterpiece Theatre when it can be watching When Animals Attack and it won't be supporting fanfic with depth if it can be reading "Blair Sandburg gets an Anal Probe, Ellison-style Part XXXIV". Bitch and complain about it all you like, but that's just the way it is.

So what can you do? Well with movies and TV you act with your participation or lack therein. I don't like those Fox shows so I don't watch them. I don't like Danielle Steele novels so I don't buy them. I know they'll still be around as long as there are thousands of other people who do like them, but at least I'm not supporting it.

In the fanfic world this changes a bit. Because fanfic authors usually include their email addresses and because the fanfic readers, by definition, have email in return the walls crumble a bit and suddenly you get people who feel it's their job to get in your face about what you wrote because they don't like it.

Which brings us back to the "good of fanficdom" concept. Which is, let's face it, bullshit.

If the fanfic police cared about the good of fanficdom they wouldn't be trying to stomp out all bad fanfic. That's never going to happen. Society shows us that there is always going to be an audience for the lowest common denominator. And hey, much though I don't like Danielle Steele, she's a millionaire and I'm not. Life's tough that way.

Nor would the FF police act the way that they do if they cared about the good of fanficdom. I have yet to see a member of the FF police act in a way that acknowledged that people could have differing opinions. Or, for that matter, that someone had the right to not care about the FFP's opinion on things. There is a way to critique that doesn't require an attitude of superiority and distain.

No, if the FFP really cared about the good of fanficdom what they'd really be doing is identifying the one thing fanficdom truly needs - something to provide support and acknowledgement of those fanfic authors who do go that extra mile. Fanficdom already has its share of people who both love and hate poorly written fanfic. What it doesn't have is people to reward, nurture and encourage the Schindler's Lists of the fanfic world. Give those "extra mile" fanfic writers the feedback and applause that they're not currently getting and just watch how much more writing they do. Sit there and bitch about how no one is good enough and watch how fast you get ignored.

It's just that simple.

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