Tuesday, May 2, 2017

When NOT to Take Criticism

Several contests opened this spring, so in a few weeks, authors will be getting back scoresheets and . . . criticism. 
But not all criticism is helpful. “I don’t like this character” is one of those unhelpful comments. What isn’t liked? Personality? Reactions? Hair color? I mean, it could be any reason, and if you don’t know the why, how can you improve? 
Then there’s other criticism that means well, but is wrong. You just know it’s wrong. For example, my debut novel, Betrayal of the Band, that releases in August contains three POVs. Five years ago, when I was just starting the story, I met with an established author at a conference for feedback. She advised telling the story from one POV. She also informed me that my plot was lacking excitement. 
I left the meeting feeling less than encouraged. I’m a plotter, so on the one hand, at least I only had to throw out a synopsis and a scene list, not an entire manuscript. On the other hand, did I really need to abandon my vision and create an entirely new story?
I spent a couple of weeks thinking and praying about the story and the concept, and I came to the conclusion that the story was supposed to be about the band. Not one character’s journey, but the journey of the band. So one POV wasn’t right for the story. But while I knew I wouldn’t take that advice, that didn’t mean the rest of her advice should be ignored. Confident in my decision to keep the multiple POVs and tell the story of the band, I tackled my synopsis and scene list again. I analyzed books with multiple, equal POVs and brainstormed until I had a better manuscript to write. Three years and two rounds of edits later, I received an offer of publication.

So not all constructive criticism or well-meaning (and well-respected!) advice should be taken. But that doesn’t mean the criticism isn’t useful. Examine your story and determine why you shouldn’t listen. Perhaps the advice is off the mark, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t lacking in some other way. And you’ll have a strong argument for your decision!

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