The official website of Brandon Black.

Writers’ Circle Critiques: It Ain’t Just About You, Jack

There are some people who feel that a writers’ circle critique is for the sake of the person whose work is being critiqued and it is, but not solely so.

Critiquing a story is also a valuable experience and process for all the writers of the circle giving the critique. It is THE most valuable experience and process for making writers better second only to writing more fiction. And for that reason, I feel it should be done in as free and unfettered a manner as possible.

When we, as authors, bat around an idea — when we express that while we like, or even love, a particular idea but that how the author chose to use it doesn’t necessarily work for us and we then proceed to talk about why it didn’t work for us and what we might have done differently in that author’s place or what could, in theory, be done differently, that’s part of how we all grow as writers.

It’s how we develop new tools for the toolbox.

So when an author says that a particular criticism isn’t helpful because they’ve already decided what kind of story they want to tell and how, I would argue it is that statement that isn’t helpful. No one is expecting that a writer in the circle is going to follow all the advice or recommendations given to them and if you feel that the right choice is to stick to your guns, then by all means you should.

But answering every criticism of your work with the phrase “Well, that’s what I intended. That’s what I’m trying to do,” isn’t helpful or productive. If you must answer a criticism in circle (and heads up, you shouldn’t! A critique goes by better if the author remains silent), saying basically, “I’m not going to listen to that critique and you shouldn’t have made it in the first place,” is not conducive to a productive environment. You don’t have to listen to anybody’s critique, that’s already your prerogative — taking the time to antagonize people by saying “No, I’m not going to do that,” and then not getting into why is counter-productive.

The whole “the author knows what they’re trying to do and we shouldn’t critique that” theory invariably leads one to ask: what’s a critique for? If we’re not going to talk about the core idea of a story and the strategies the author used to develop it — if we’re not going to talk about where the story and its strategies succeeded and where we think they failed — if we’re not going to discuss what changes we would consider or recommend to improve the story, then what’s a critique for? Spell checking?

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.

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