META/POLL: The Purpose of Criticism
lalo.martins at gmail.com
Sun Feb 17 22:10:33 PST 2008
Also spracht Tom Russell (Sun, 17 Feb 2008 18:23:50 +0000):
I write mostly for my own fun; my secondary goal is "practise" (get used
to writing a large volume per month again; after about 5 years out of
professional writing, I'm so rusty, I don't think I'd have been able to
do it again if I got a gig last May, but today I feel much more
confident); and #3 is writing something other people can have fun with.
Now, it's not about quality and it's not art; I'm not practising writing
the absolute best I can do, mostly because, this environment -- "boss-
free", so to speak -- allows us to play with writing that would probably
not fly professionally. Specifically, I've been having fun with satire
and homages of the sort that would probably get me sued if done "out
there" ;-) But here it's fair game; it's one of the prime ingredients of
the LNH, after all.
So, erm, anyway.
I think point #0 I'd like to make is: it's always encouraging to have
"proof" that someone is actually reading what I post. Whether it's
Russell's Reviews, EOM, or just Martin answering the post itself with
some witticism, the FIRST thing through my head is a rush, "ooh, someone
actually read it!"
> 1. Is this basically how feedback can and should work?
As a matter of fact... there are two kinds of reviews, and I've never
thought about it that way before. Your "reviews" are akin to what you'd
get from an editor (whether because you're working for a given publisher,
or because you hired an editor yourself), or a professor, or -- maybe
more to the point -- a colleague in a writing club. The way they differ
from what we usually think of as "reviews" (the sort you'll find in
newspapers and magazines and websites) is the target. Reviews "type 1"
are targeted primarily at the author, and secondarily at other writers
with similar interests. Reviews "type 2" are targeted at *readers*;
their goal is to either (a) recommend a work, giving the reader a few
examples as arguments to "prove" it's worth reading/watching/...; or (b)
warn people that a given work is best left in the shelf. Occasionally,
it falls in a third case: "you absolutely want to get this one, but it
has a few serious flaws that you should be aware of (...)". I suppose
I've done my share of case (c), specially in the case of translated
works, where the original is awesome but the version is awful :-)
Oh boy. Did I digress again?
Maybe I'm exceptionally thick-skinned, but I do find the format very
effective. Yes, sometimes I do stop to remind myself that that's all
Tom's "IMHO", and sometimes I even disagree. But it works. In
particular, I enjoy reading Russell's Reviews because they're also
entertaining themselves; I've laughed more about your investigation of
"wuxia on acid" than I did about the original joke.
(Yes, I laugh about my own jokes. Weak, I know. But it's a gauge; if
something doesn't make me even smile, it's not worth putting on the
issue! Non-Lalo readers will probably like it even less...)
> 2. If not, how should one provide feedback?
No no no, wrong question :-) telling you how to write reviews is exactly
the same thing as your reviews telling us how to write. We can give you
"IMHO", but in the end, you write the way you want, and we either read it
or we don't.
Now... to address Martin's bits :-)
Reading a criticism from Tom stated as fact is immensely less "offending"
than one from a professor. That's because the professor is supposed to
be recognised as an "authority"; if he says I suck, then I probably
suck. If Tom says I suck, we'll have to agree to disagree.
Would it be nice if it was littered with "I feel that" and "IMHO"?
Well... hmm. Actually, no :-) It would get boring pretty soon. If you
really want to be PC, maybe add a header or footer, something like, "The
opinions expressed herein are just that, Tom's opinions, and don't
represent the official position of the Universe or any existing or non-
> 3. Is offering suggestions and alternatives, and pointing out flaws,
> tantamount to attacking a work or author?
It could be; I don't think it is, the way you usually do it. Not to add
lumber to an old flamewar, but: any sentence you write that has "Jesse
Willey" in it can be used as a reference on what it really means to
attack a work or author.
The problem with offering suggestions and alternatives, and I think this
is the sticking point for Martin, is that it can "feel" like you think
you know better.
Maybe I come from a different background.
I've written for a magazine. The way this is different than writing
books professionally is, you have no say about what ultimately goes
published. You deliver your copy, the editor reads it. In a big
magazine, he'll return the copy with comments ONCE; in a smaller
publication, not even that. Then you submit the final version, and he'll
probably still make a few changes. Sometimes you don't agree with them.
I'm also a Free Software advocate, and have been a developer for years.
So I also appreciate that for someone to give me a patch, or even a bug
report, said someone doesn't need to be a better coder or know my project
better than I do. On the contrary; a fresh pair of eyeballs is one of
the most valued resources in our community, because it examines our work
without all the baggage of understanding what every single line is there
for. It's one of the main forces that moves Free Software forward.
> 1. Authors whose work has been under review, do you find "Russell's
> Reviews" to be mostly helpful or unhelpful?
Let's talk about one specific instance. I was unsure about my decision
of adding "previously in 58.5..." to the top of the issues. Then two
issues before the first one that was supposed to have the recap, I read
in Russell's Reviews: "it would be nice to have recap boxes". Well, that
answers my question, doesn't it? :-)
Also... this is not RR, but: a friend of mine "discovered" 58.5 and read
it from beginning to #20. Then she told me I was underusing Bonnie; I
said, "wtf, it's one of my favourite characters, co-leader of the team, I
use her everywhere!" And then she went: "Yeah, and she's Storm in the
first two X-Men movies: we're told she's co-leader, and all she does is
pilot the plane." Now, could that be seen as offending? I suppose it
could. But it rang true. I couldn't address it yet, because I already
had a bunch of issues written or planned by the time she told me this,
but I did insert a scene that *directly* addresses the issue, and I tried
to dig into Bonnie's personality a bit more in the latest issue.
So, um. What was my point again?
If you tell me, say, Blur, or Manhandler, or Clara, or pick-whatever-
Workolips-character, isn't "deep" enough, I'll say, "yeah, ok". Make
mental note of the fact, and shrug. But in pointing out that Bonnie was
shallow, she informed me I was failing in something I had actually set
out to do; Bonnie is dear to me, and one of the main characters, I don't
WANT her to feel shallow. And I would probably not have noticed it if I
didn't have a fresh pair of eyeballs to tell me.
So many of our dreams at first seem impossible,
then they seem improbable, and then, when we
summon the will, they soon become inevitable.
GNU: never give up freedom http://www.gnu.org/
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