Differing opinions... which to listen to?

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Differing opinions... which to listen to?

Post by Kif White » Sun Jul 18, 2004 1:49 am

Well, this is a question that came to me when reading Steve's recent reviews of my work, and his latest is a classic example of it. Basically, who do you listen to as a writer when getting reviews that directly contrast each other and are both sound and intelligently put?

I mean, if about 30 people say something is good for various reasons, and another person says that it's bad for contrasting ones, how, as a writer, do you decide who's right? I've never really believed that the majority is always right, but then that doesn't mean they're wrong either.

For example, Steve's latest review, to sum up without spoiling much, he didn't like Alesia's character that much. Fair enough, but when about 30 other people have praised her characterisation (amongst them Chris and Alex) then what do I do. Same with certain plot points... others have praised them, saying they're fresh and inventive, and contrastly they get also get dubbed as weak or poorly done. I'd like to listen to the 30 that give thumbs up, but the one may just have a point. It's kind of hard as a writer to grow when there are intelligent comments on directly opposite sides both telling you different things like this. So, basically, how do you determine which is right? I know the solution of "take both into account" can sometimes come into play, but direct opposites can't both be taken into account that easily. Any advice on this would be good from anybody.
Last edited by Kif White on Sun Jul 18, 2004 1:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re:Differing opinions... which to listen to?

Post by SirMustapha » Sun Jul 18, 2004 2:10 am

I, personally, always liked receiving criticism for several reasons: If I'm being flamed, I just laugh. ;D But with intelligent comments, it's different, obviously. But I like it when people discuss certain spots of my writing. I don't think I've ever been in a situation like yours, but I imagine that, at least with me, I'd be growing more if I received contrasting opinions. Firstly because I don't think it's a question of determining who's right and who's wrong. There's no right or wrong in art, I think. It all depends on the point of view. There will be ALWAYS people who like something AND people who dislike it, and that's something I'm always aware of when I'm creating something. But then, when people have differing opinions on a certain thing, I like treating both points of view with the same importance. I will think closely about both of them, and then consider what I think about it. Personally, when I have two different points of view contrasting on a same point, it will help me think of that point in different ways, and considering things that I hadn't considered previously. In the end, it always comes down to me thinking about the story in more different ways, and looking at it from more different perspectives. That's what I'm doing with A Summer's Tale, currently. Looking at if from different angles will help me make sure that it's smooth and seamless all the way through. Of course, it can make me insane if taken to a certain extreme, but I always avoided extremes. :)

But what matters is, writers have their own opinions, and they should accept them. Just as readers have opinions, the writers have, too! And a writer shouldn't hear ONLY what the readers are saying. I'm always debating with myself when I'm creating, and when someone makes a comment that's completely different from what everybody else is saying, it will make me think of a certain element in a different way, in a way that I hadn't thought of before! So, I'll always read the comments carefully, both the positive and the negative, and then think about them. It's not about the amount of people praising or bashing, or about deciding who is right or wrong. I, personally, always liked getting different opinions. And it's impossible to please everybody, so some comments will have to be discarded. But when everyone is praising or everyone is bashing, the odds are 9 to 1 that the final product WILL be unidimensional. A contrasting opinion can add a lot of depth to a creation.

So if you remove all the redundant parts of the message above, you'll see that I have, in fact, said nothing at all.
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Re:Differing opinions... which to listen to?

Post by c_nordlander » Sun Jul 18, 2004 11:15 am

Very good topic, Kenneth. (And Fernie and Rich have very valid points.) This is a question that has troubled me quite a bit with my latest bits of writing, so here are my two cents. For what they're worth.

Listening to constructive criticism is the *easy* bit. (Once you've developed the skin for it.) Changing the story, on the other hand, is hard. Chances are, when you wrote it you had a definite vision of what you were trying to say, and even if your reviewers make valid points that would really improve it, it can be extremely hard to accommodate them.

Of course, the problem gets proportionally more complicated when, as in your case (and my own, sometimes), different reviewers have different opinions.

Well... I have no solution to it. Wish I had. Of course, you can't just assume that the opinion of the majority is correct. (Or I would probably be the next Barbara Cartland by now.) Nor can you only accept the praise and disregard the negative criticism, or you'd lose all your friends in a short space. But nor, a fortiore, can you take it for granted that it's the nitpickiest reviewer who's right. S/he might well be, of course, but on the other hand he might have had a bad day, or missed a vital point, or something. After all, reviewers, like writers, are only human. (So you should take this post with a pinch of salt, if you don't already.)

At the end of the day, pointless (and egocentric) as this sounds, I guess it boils down to the author. If you're unsure of a plot point, or a character, take *all* the criticism of it into account and think: have these people understood what I'm trying to say here? Is the praise or blame warranted? Has the negative criticism missed what I'm trying to say, or, on the other hand, have I failed to achieve the vision I had for the person/thing?

It's not much, but it's hopefully some help.
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Re:Differing opinions... which to listen to?

Post by Archonix » Sun Jul 18, 2004 11:25 am

I get the feeling the problem lies not so much in the ratio of 'good' reviews to 'bad' (finding the right words is always so hard), but in the mindset of the author. Yes, there is one 'bad' comment, but tat isn't a bad thing. It's just another aspect of the grand review. It gives you an insight that you might not have considered previously.

Most importantly, it doesn't necessarily have to clash with the 'good' reviews. You can have the bad and the good in conjunction, as both help you define the character more clearly. The good tells you what you've got right. The bad tells you where you might need to improve. Very often, what you find is that you're goling to have to find a place in between what you have now and what the 'bad' review calls the better course. If you simply accept what people say and just blindly follow their path, you end up on one extreme or another, when there's a perfect course in between both.

I'd also agree with what Chris says about authors, and indeed everyone else as well.

so here are my two cents. For what they're worth.


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Re:Differing opinions... which to listen to?

Post by Bothead » Sun Jul 18, 2004 12:09 pm

Cuteswan's first two sentences sum up what I think about criticism. If you get bad ones just take it in your stride. If you felt you've done what you wanted then that should be enough. Add good reviews off other people and it is a big bonus.
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Re:Differing opinions... which to listen to?

Post by arpulver » Sun Jul 18, 2004 9:08 pm

One piece of well-argued constructive criticism is worth about five positive comments (and sometimes more) but in this case that still doesn't balance out.

While you should always listen to any criticism, whether or not it merits a change is something that only you can decide. Unless you personally think there's a problem, I think the positive comments gain the edge here. That doesn't mean that it's perfect, and that doesn't mean that the criticism should be ignored. But it does mean that you shouldn't lose sleep over it if you decide not to do anything.

No matter how good a writer you are, there will be critics who will have very compelling arguments against you. They should be heard, but changing something every time somebody criticizes it will take away all the fun.

This applies doubly since we're talking about characters. It is not possible to create a character everybody will like/appreciate (or even respect), and it is not possible to make every character in every work a masterpiece. I can't say too much, since I have no idea where this particular character fits into your scheme. You have to decide what to do, but by all means don't beat yourself up if you decide that she's fine just the way she is.
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Re:Differing opinions... which to listen to?

Post by gkscotty » Sun Jul 18, 2004 10:08 pm

I agree with Adam, especially since if you changed your plans to suit everyone who complained, you'd probably end up changing them daily.
If a person disagrees with your plot or dislikes a character, unless you have made a Major mistake (for example, txting in the 70's...) it's probably not worth changing your plot. If you like them and other people like it, you probably don't need to change to please the minority. Take on technical advice, but opinions on characters etc are just opinions, and you can probably go on majority rules there...
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Re:Differing opinions... which to listen to?

Post by Kif White » Sun Jul 18, 2004 10:09 pm

Well, on the subject directly, I actually spoke with Steve about it and got a few things cleared up, and it actually came down to a factor of different reviewing styles and a bit of possibly jumping the gun.

I hope he doesn't mind me saying this, but his style is rather different to most other reviewers I've come across. Most others seem to see what's happening so far and wonder what's coming next, while Steve tends to use his experience and a bit of personal foresight to predict what's going to happen. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but it's another point not considered really yet. I actually think it's a good technique, and if I was writing this while he was reviewing, it would be enormously helpful for me. In this case, we have a bit of angst regarding this character, and Steve has come across this being pointless and misused in the past, therefore thinks the same is likely to happen here. I'd like to maintain otherwise, but it can't really be fully judged, IMHO, until the results are seen, whether this is the case or not. This only really applies because of the fact that it's already been worked out, and, as I said, if it was a work in progress, it would have been extremely helpful in telling me what to avoid. I did plan things ahead, and tried to make sure nothing didn't add something to the plot. However, whether that's actually the case will be up to him when he reads the next 3 chapters or so and things are revealed. As far as liking characters go, well, Alesia has actually been a character that has got some mixed responses as far as being a character herself goes, e.g. the shippers tend to dislike her, but she has always been a character they love-to-hate. So I've never really got any truly negative comments about her as far as being a good original character goes, but the opinions regarding her personality have varied quite a bit from readers.

That about covers it. I've come to the conclusion that I personally think what I did was fine, because I have a point to it and it's all supposed to lead somewhere, but that by no means makes Steve's points redundant. Like I said, he may still feel the same way in a few chapters time, I don't know. But I do admire his reviewing technique, even if it may seem a little unfair. Experience and some personal foresight based on that experience can be a very handy way to look at things, and I would have cherished every word had I not already written what was to come. And I recommend any of you listen to Steve's POV if he previews any works-in-progress that you post :)
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