From Amazon reviews to author criticisms in forums – negative, destructive criticism happens. It sometimes even happens in critique groups. A few weeks back, I told a woman that her blog post about an author was exceedingly negative. Imagine my surprise when the blog author argued with me and told me her post was constructive criticism.
The post berated the author and poked fun at him. The post was written in a chiding and superior tone. For those of you who don’t know, yes, writing can have a tone.
It seems there are a lot of folks out there who don’t understand what CONSTRUCTIVE criticism actually is. Some folks think that constructive criticism simply means listing everything one perceives wrong with something. Others really believe that criticizing something or someone, poking fun at them, and using a chiding and superior tone is constructive.
Constructive Criticism actually means that the criticism is useful, has been carefully considered, is given in a friendly manner, and is meant to be helpful.
Can you pick out the constructive criticism in the following examples?
Example 1: This story was horrible. The punctuation and grammar were awful. Your characters motivations were unrealistic, your dialogue was horrendous, and you clearly didn’t do any research into [insert topic here]. You’re clearly an idiot and have no business writing.
Example 2: This needs a lot of work from the grammar and punctuation to character motivation, to plot arcs and dialogue. Do some research and take a writing class.
Example 3: I really like the entire premise of the novel! I imagine you’re still in the research stage since I noticed a few errors [insert topic here, list several errors and their corrections], but I imagine you can rectify that. I wonder if you could start the story at the point where John slaps Mary. Most of what happens before that is just back story and can be weaved through the rest of the story. I found it somewhat tedious to have it all given to me in four pages at the beginning. I know of a really great writing class being offered at the local community center if you’re interested. They have critique groups, too, which can be helpful when writing a longer work. I imagine you’ll catch a lot of the punctuation, grammar and usage errors during your editing process. I know a really good line editor who probably wouldn’t mind taking a look if you’re interested, or you could utilize one of those critique groups I was telling you about. I also like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I keep a copy of it on my desk. Thank you for sharing this and I wish you the best of luck! 🙂
Obviously #3 is the CONSTRUCTIVE critique. Notice how the first two simply list things that are wrong, the first more brutally than the second. While all three criticisms may be true (from your perspective), that doesn’t mean the one giving the critique should behave like an ass or lack tact. Tact is essential if one wants to be taken seriously or seen as a professional (or expert). The minute one acts like an ass, (s)he loses all credibility and the person the critique is slated for stops listening. Especially if the criticism is viewed as a personal attack.
Constructive criticism means the person giving the critique really wants to HELP the person (artist, writer, student etc…), not berate them, make them feel like a worthless ass, or make them want to give up. It means the critic really cares that the person whose work is being critiqued will do well and succeed.
Criticism given out of anger, jealousy, or arrogance is rarely, if ever, constructive. Instead – it’s just criticism fueled by sour grapes. In that instance it’s probably best that if one has nothing nice to say – nothing should be said.
So that’s constructive criticism in a nutshell. For those who often find themselves in a position to critique others I propose trying to build others up instead of tearing them down. I find it far more rewarding.
ADDED: In saying this, I am in no way suggesting one should never critique something or judge it harshly. Nor am I suggesting that you should never say anything negative or that you should give people laurels for underachievement. I’m just saying you have a choice to be an egotistical ass about it, friendly and helpful, or to just shut your pie hole and keep your opinion to yourself. 😉