There are two sides to every story. And two sides to the critical review of every story, once it gets released. Hopefully, with a little bit of insight on both sides of the equation, I can help both the critics and the creators deal with their, often vastly opposing, views on what a good story is, and what it isn’t.
This time around, as the initial approach to a 2-part ‘Comsie Talks’ post…we talk about giving and receiving criticism. Two sides of a coin that I don’t think most people fully understand each other on these days. Especially on the internet, currently plagued by unprovoked rants and knee-jerk reactions. So I’m going to highlight FIVE points that I think both the critics and the creators need to recognize so we can all have a symbiotic relationship here. One that will ultimately be beneficial to both parties in the long run.
Now, seeing as I am a self-proclaimed author and one of the ‘creators’ myself, I’m going to use my insufferable bias and start off with the ‘giving criticism’ part of this article! LOL! Because, for every single person that has ever told an artist of any genre that they can’t take criticism and are way too sensitive (I can’t *TELL* you how many times I’ve heard that lame argument over the years), they need to look back at what they actually said to this person to provoke that particular response. Seriously. Some critics have gotten way out of control, and they have not been given the green light to be as hurtful and as brutal as they want to be to a writer, simply because they are viewing the extremely hard work of an individual and feel entitled to something more than what they got. So…with a certain level of grace, let’s start with the rules of engagement aimed at the critics…
Rule #1 – Be constructive! For the love of God…have a point. When reviewing an author’s work, think about what you didn’t like about it, or what you thought could have been done better, and then give them your honest feelings on the matter. Simple, right? Not for some people. Don’t just charge in like a wild rhino and send harsh comments like, “Your story sucks!” Not only is that not helpful in any way, but it’s just plain rude and unnecessary and it makes you look like a total jackass. STOP IT! Take some time, read and absorb the writing as a whole, and find places where you think the story could use some improvement. What is it about the story that you didn’t like? What turned you off? What questions did you have? What are some of the things that you felt were unfinished or needed more exploring. If you’re taking the time to comment on somebody else’s story, then we (as authors) should assume that you’ve put some actual thought into your critique, and have something more intelligent to offer than “I hated it, and you’re not a competent writer because I didn’t like it.” Well…why? Explain in detail. If you can’t make any valuable suggestions and articulate your distaste for said story…then you’re not a critic. You’re a ‘heckler’. That’s not the same thing. Also, along with the critique, feel free to mention what you liked about the story. You’re taking the time to write a comment, right? Something about the story must have grabbed your attention and inspired you to review it. Make that a 3-dimensional part of your comment. “I liked the beginning, but I wasn’t so crazy about how it ended.” Then provide examples. While negative reviews might be hard to hear, this is the very purpose of feedback. “What did I do right? What did I do wrong?” Take some time and express yourself in your comments. It helps more than it hurts.
Rule #2 – Much like the story itself…the words you use? They matter. I’m sure that we all recognize the usage of words and the tone of voice in everyday conversation, even online. Not just as writers, but as human beings in general. Sometimes, there are language barriers that occur, worldwide, but try to be aware of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, if possible. Use TACT when talking about the work of an individual who has just poured their entire heart and soul into a project that was meant to entertain you. NOT to ruin your day, or to frustrate you to the point of throwing a mini tantrum, simply because you don’t like what you see. When reading a story that you think has a few flaws in it, feel free to be honest and let the writer know what might have confused you, or what might have been inconsistent from one chapter to the next, or if someone was acting out of character. These are criticisms that can actually help an author realize his or her mistakes and get better at their craft. But, please take a moment to calm down. The theatrics aren’t necessary to get your point across. Why are you so angry? It’s not an author’s job to write ‘your’ story. It’s an author’s job to write their own story, and then share it with you. That’s it. If you refer to an author’s plots and their stories and their characters as…’stupid’, ‘annoying’, ‘weak’, ‘frustrating’, ‘cliche’, ‘contrived’, ‘bullshit’, ‘ugly’, or any one of a thousand other negative descriptions that you would NEVER want to hear about yourself if you overheard other people talking about you, personally…then expect a backlash. Why would you do that? Every artist bleeds openly on the screen and reveals who they truly are in their writing, whether they know it or not. So when you make those nasty comments and use the ‘just being honest’ shield as an excuse, I think that’s a cowardly way to express yourself. You can be honest and direct without being an asshole. Take it EASY, for Christ’s sake. It’s a fictional online story. Never forget that there is an actual person bearing the brunt of the humiliating rant that you’re putting out in public for the whole world to see. Maybe you get off on hurting people for no reason. I do not.
Rule #3 – If you decide that you want to stop reading a story? If you decide to leave? Leave SILENTLY! Please, pay attention, because this is something that needs to be addressed. I’m SO sick of it, and I’m sure a lot of authors can agree with me on this one, even if there’s a large group of readers out there who can’t see it for themselves. If a story that you’re reading isn’t going the way you planned…if you feel the writing has gone downhill, or the plot is entering territory that you don’t want to jump into…if you think the updates are too scarce or that certain story elements just aren’t your thing…you may decide to stop reading. You might want to leave and find another writer that is more to your liking. And that is totally ok with me and with the authors that you’ve supported in the past. But…if you decide that their story is no longer an enjoyable read for you and you want to move on…then, just move on. Go away. Leave. It’s alright. Just click on something else. No harm, no foul. Follow whatever story makes you happy.
Some people act as if they can’t do that.
If you actually take the time to sit down and type out an angry email or post a nasty comment to specifically tell an author that you will no longer be reading their work because it’s not what YOU want to read? Yes! I, personally, find that to be extremely rude, and you should stop thinking so much of yourself. Just leave. Why are you making an announcement about it? Why the big production? A reader that does this usually has one of three major motivations. One…they’re trying to deliberately hurt the feelings of the author writing the story, and is just being cruel for the sake of feeling important. Two…they’re hoping other people will see it and agree and feel empowered by damaging your story and your reputation as a whole. Or three…it’s an empty threat that was made to emotionally manipulate you into writing everything their way instead of bringing your own personal genius to the written word the way that you intended from the very beginning. Neither one of these scenarios will make you look like anything other than a narcissist and a bully…so don’t do it. There is content on the internet that you see every single day that you don’t like, and you don’t care for…but you don’t feel the need to make some grandiose comment about every single one of them, do you? Why do it for THIS particular author? Why are you suddenly a ‘warrior’ for content that you don’t agree with or enjoy? If you really care about the stories you read, and the authors that created them for your entertainment, then show your support for their hard work, and offer constructive criticism whenever you feel they give you less than 100% of their true effort. Don’t INSULT them! And don’t think that your departure from their readership is going to have some major impact on their fanbase that it didn’t earn and doesn’t deserve. That’s your ego talking, and nobody asked you to walk away. There’s the door. Exit of your own free will. We don’t need to hear about it. Chances are, you never gave us any real love or support to begin with. No feedback at all. No comments. No emails. No word of mouth promotion. Nothing. So if your ‘first’ email to me is, “I’m not reading your stories any more!” My first reaction is probably going to be, “I didn’t know you were reading my stories in the first place. Who are you, again???” What have I lost? Honestly.
Just stop reading. It’s ok if you don’t like a certain story. Nobody is faulting you for that. But it is an act of cruelty to go out of your way to shame an author just because a story isn’t what you wanted it to be. Or because it takes too long to update. Or because the characters don’t follow your idea of how they ‘should’ act and react to what’s going on. I stand up for any author that has had to hear comments like these, and will continue to do so for as long as I’m alive. This isn’t easy, writing and exposing your true feelings for a judgmental audience. Please, remember that. If any of you want a story done your way…then YOU write it. That’s what I did in the beginning. Now you’re reading writing tips from ME! Hehehe, and I’m a complete idiot. Trust me! So what does that tell you?
Rule #4 – Know your biases! One of the elements that is most endearing about well-written stories like the ones on GayAuthors, is the fact that we can all put ourselves into the stories and identify with the main characters and relate to the situations being put on display. We can reminisce over what it was like to be in that same position, to get that first kiss, or to experience those nervous jitters, or re-live that first time walking into a gay bar. The best stories take us back to moments when everything was so exciting and sweet…and we tend to personalize those moments and make them our own. I do it all the time. However, again…it’s important to remember that it is NOT an author’s job to write your life story. Writer’s don’t know you, personally. They weren’t hired or contracted to build your fantasy and base it solely on your personality. Maybe you shared a similar experience, and that grips your heart and makes the reading all the more enjoyable, but don’t burden the writers you love with the task of writing your personal fiction. Please don’t. They are telling things from their perspective, and delivering a message that they understand as an individual. It’s their story. So if the storytelling deviates from ‘what would *I* do in this situation?’ that doesn’t mean that the story is unrealistic or wrong or lacking. I know that it’s natural to connect with a story or a character and really WANT to take control and have your own personal motivations, ideas, and desires, take over and guide the story in a certain direction. I get that. It’s flattering. But if you’re giving serious criticism on a story or a character or a certain plot point…you have to make an effort to understand and recognize your own biases in your perspective sometimes. You need a slight disconnect. It’s essential in how your comments are conveyed by other people.
I think “Billy Chase” is the one story where I’ve had the most trouble with this issue. And while I am HONORED that readers invest so much love and effort and can relate to what’s going on…I have spent years trying to defend the poor kid and reminding people that it’s JUST a fictional character and that the plot points and story arcs that I make are done for the sake of conflict and drama. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to please every reader that comes across that story, and I understand that. But people that I’ve talked to in my emails have severe biases that factor in to how they view the series. And sometimes it’s just not fair to fault the story itself for something that is so personal to that specific critic. I have to keep that in mind when I post new chapters, because Billy Chase was me when I was a 15 year old kid in the 90s. Shy, insecure, secretive, HORNY, hehehe! This is MY story, dangit! This is who I was back then. It’s the foundation of who I am now. But not everybody grew up the same way I did. Some grew up in an earlier time, some are currently going through high school right now. Some grew up in a major metropolitan city like I did, and some grew up in a small rural area in the Bible belt of America. Our experiences are different. And since I’m the one piloting this plane…you’ll just have to ride with me and hope for the best. Readers personalize the “Billy” character and then get frustrated and angry when he does something that they wouldn’t do themselves.
Again…that’s not fair to us as writers. We’re not responsible for rewriting someone else’s history. If they are so fired up about it, then they can sit behind a keyboard tell their own story. Don’t let that get you down. K? Some people have been cheated on in a relationship, some people have made bad decisions while they were drunk, some people have had issues with drugs, or suffered through physical or sexual abuse, or simply have regrets over not going for the boy of their dreams when they had a chance. All of these things factor in towards how they read your story. It’s baggage that some critics bring with them, and you just can’t satisfy them all. It’s insane to even try. They are triggered by certain situations and get flustered and full of rage, or deeply depressed and full of sorrow, and want to make your writing the culprit for making them feel this way. It isn’t. That might be an unsolved issue that they need to take up with their therapist. That’s not your fault. You’re a writer. Take care of your own issues while you’re writing. If you have something to say, then say it. And if critics disagree? So be it. You expressed yourself with honesty and integrity. So, by the time they read it, you’ve already done your job as an author. Be proud.
Rule #5 – Don’t automatically expect an author to submit to your suggestions or demands just because you make them. I will admit, I have gotten plenty of emails with really GOOD ideas for stories, or for continuations of my own stories, and I was like, “WHOAH!!! That’s a damn good idea! I wish I had thought of that!” Hehehe! Because there are a lot of fans and loyal readers that come up with concepts that never even crossed my mind. As writers, some of you guys might even incorporate some of these ideas into your story as time goes along. But don’t feel pressured into using every idea that is sent to you. Like I said, you can’t please everybody. Don’t try. To you creative critics out there, we LOVE to hear your ideas, and I’d never discourage any of you from sending them in to your favorite author. But don’t think that just because you hit the ‘send’ button and your idea is awesome, that an author is going to suddenly shut down their original game plan and follow your new path towards an ending that you’re not even aware of yet. That’s not how writing works.
See…some folks have an idea for a ‘scene’ or two. Something exciting and provocative and ‘wouldn’t it be cool if?’ scenarios. But, when writing a story, those great ideas need a build up. They have an impact, and consequences, and have to fit into the rest of the plot. I can’t speak for all writers, but I, personally, have a master plan in mind from the very beginning. And most times, other ideas, no matter how awesome they may be…don’t fit. I’m thinking of my story as a whole, and I only make changes when they fit the narrative. For folks reading the story, they might think ahead and, again…think ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’? But those ideas only fit a scene or two, and then it skews from my timeline and leads to an ending of their design, not mine. Which defeats the whole purpose of me writing a story of my own in the first place. But who knows? If you think you’ve got a great idea for your author’s project, maybe you’ll inspire something great within them. But, if your ideas are far removed from what the author is trying to say or the message that they’re trying to convey? It might not happen. If it’s a fully fleshed out idea that you think would make for a great story…then take a shot and write it yourself. Don’t say that you can’t do that, because you already came up with the idea. That’s one third of the battle already done. Maybe even HALF! Writing is very personal to most people. It is for me. I need to be connected to every part of it. Every word, every sentence, every phrase and metaphor. So, I may think your idea is fantastic and should be made into a story…it might not fit into my current expression. The story ideas were finished long before you guys got to read them.
So those are my five rules for critics that are reviewing and leaving comments on stories. I know that there are a lot of critics really don’t mean to be cruel, but honesty doesn’t mean brutality. If you think something is terrible, then the writer is going to assume that you know why it was terrible. So let them know your true feelings about it. Write your reviews as if you were talking to them face to face, instead of from behind the anonymous protection of a laptop screen. A true critic gives both positive and negative feedback if necessary, and concentrates on the writing itself without making it personal. Word choice is important, and you might be striking at a very sensitive nerve when you attack a story. So be civil. Have some class. And with a little coaching and true support…the writers you love will get better and better with every chapter or story they put out. That’s what you want, isn’t it? Give some encouragement when you can. It’ll only make things more amazing in the future.
Alright! This ends ‘Part 1’ of this discussion! I hope it resonates with you all and will help out in the future. Don’t worry, writers! It’s our turn next! Hehehe, and we’ve got five rules of our own that we need to think about when it comes to criticism! So don’t get too comfortable yet. See you next issue!