In her comments (she has over 40 of them...do any of you want to tell me how to get more than the 5 or 6 that I average per post? I love those of you who comment -- I really, really love you. But if you're lurking and reading this, give it a go and comment because comments give me oxytocin and makes my heart happy -- yes, that's right, comments basically promote a healthy heart)-- Anyway, in her comments, I said that I think some writers are mean in critiques because it makes them feel better to condescend to others -- a universal condition not specific to writers, but which I believe is frequent among writers because it's easy to be pedantic about grammar and the like. Julie responded, "I believe critiquing may appeal to the sadist in some people. Wielding the critic's pen can give them a sense of power."
I was recently reading someone's writing. (No one's who reads this blog. No one you know. These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along.) And it was...well, I had some overall concerns, let's just say. And I felt the writer was...mmmm, maybe a little unwelcoming to criticism, shall we say, even when it was put tactfully and gently. And I thought, the way you respond to criticism is terrible and you're a biatch. And then I though, Oh GOD I'm a biatch for even thinking that! I'm mean! I'm meeeeeeaaaaannnnnnn! And then I thought, yes. That may be the case (and may also account for my low comment rate). But I know I gave my criticism kindly, as did others who gave similar criticism, because being cut down about the most personal of pursuits -- our writing -- is soul-crushing. Which brought me to: What do you say to someone whose writing/story is hopelessly beyond help?
I have some suggestions:
- Focus on what they did right. If they did nothing right (which is rare, frankly), then say something like "I couldn't connect with the characters. It might be just me. What does the character want?" Or something similar.
- Suggest some resources. "You might try books on plot, books on character development, books on story process. Here's a book I liked that might be similar to yours --The Godfather by Mario Puzo, try it."
- Do not say he or she should give up. There is every chance they may improve, or learn, or both. I believe that very strongly -- especially once we get over ourselves.
- Suggest he or she find more readers. This is important. More readers mean more feedback, and I know from my own experience that it's much easier to dismiss a single person's critiques than it is a whole horde of people saying the same thing.