Jeanine O'Loughlin

Fantasy, Science Fiction & Historical Fiction Author, Blogger, and Geek

Month: April, 2015

What Makes Useful Criticism?

Thinking Through My Fingers

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov

 

In any profession you have to be able to handle accepting criticism. In high school and in college my teachers would try to tell me that you have to take the good with the bad and learn from it. This is probably one of the biggest lessons I was taught but didn’t really experience until I entered the workforce. I was a good student, I loved school, and I always put in my best effort and got along with most of my teachers, so bad criticism wasn’t something I experienced often and it was always delivered in a very kit gloved manner.

Useful or constructive criticism is an opinion or statement wherein the ‘speaker’ supplies support and/or suggestions. Criticism that is less than helpful, even if well-intentioned, are things in which you get a vague opinion that is unactionable. If you don’t know how to make something better than the feedback is useless to you. Having actionable feedback to react to is key.

What do I mean by actionable? To explain let’s do a little role-playing and I commissioned a pieces of art from you for a new series I’m working on. I give you the basic synopsis of the story and a description of the characters. You put hours of work into the piece and send me a sample to review and give feedback. You get an email back from me and I say, “I don’t like it. Please make it better.” How are you supposed to act on that? You know that I don’t like it, but what do you do to make it better? Now, on the other hand I could have sent you an email that says “It’s too monochromatic and the character blends in with the background.” Now you know what I don’t like and can work on making the character pop from the background more.

Now one thing about those well-intentioned but vague opinions is that they can be a great teaching moment for you and the reviewer. Not everyone is used to giving good feedback and sometimes as the writer you have to help them dig a little deeper to get the answers you need. This helps the reviewer understand what type of feedback you’re looking for and in many cases they learn for the next time around. This also helps you learn what questions to ask when you run into these types of information. Things I usually start with are; did you like the characters? Could you relate to any of them? Was their dialogue believable? Did you get a good feeling for the setting? Was it believable? Then once they get into more specifics you can get to the real root of their like/dislikes.

Now I think most if not all of us are familiar with those terrifying creatures that stalk the darker places of the internet. Yes, I’m talking about Trolls. The way I think of internet trolls are like the annoying little brother who when sitting behind you at the theatre keeps kicking your seat just to see how angry he can make you. Then, when you turn around to strangle him, giggles maniacally and calls for Mommy. So, just like that annoying little brother (or sister, but I had a brother so that’s what I’m sticking with), you just have to take a deep breath, rise above it and ignore him. Then if he doesn’t get bored and move on… gag him.

Now once you’re able to identify what’s useful criticism you have to decide how to react to it. We’ll dig into this topic next week.

Happy Writing!

Weekly Writing Prompt

Books

These prompts can be used in any way to get you writing. Whether it’s the subject matter, setting or character; as long as you are writing that’s all that matters.

This Week’s Writing Prompt

Weather

Happy Writing!

Poetry Monday

My last installment of National Poetry Month. A classic by Walt Whitman.

Walt_Whitman_-_Brady-Handy_restored

O Captain! My Captain!

By Walt Whitman

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head;

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!

But I, with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

Friday Book Recommendation

PACKING_LUGGAGE_DOG_HOLDING_HOBO_STICK

Sorry guys no creative post today as I’m out-of-town on vacation. In place of a new story I’ve prepared some book recommendations for you; Operation Rabbit Hole; Ironhand’s War: Volume 1 by Mike Lyons

http://www.amazon.com/Operation-Rabbit-Hole-Ironhands-Volume/dp/0991139534 

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A great juxtaposition of the classic story of Alice and Wonderland and a US Special Forces unit. If you love Alice in Wonderland you’ll get a kick out of this short novel.

Happy Reading!

Why is Feedback Important?

Thinking Through My Fingers

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov

 

As with any human being I only have one brain and one perspective and that’s extremely limiting when it comes writing. As a writer you’re trying to reach out and make a connection with your readership and the best way to ensure that you’re able to do that effectively and in fiction also be entertaining is to get feedback from readers. My writing thrives off of feedback because when I finish a first draft of a piece I’m never happy with it, and I can’t always understand why. Then when I get feedback from my alpha readers or my critique community it often sheds a light on what it is I didn’t like.

On a more personal level feedback is incredibly motivating and confidence building. I like so many have struggled with self-confidence. In the few stories I’ve written in the past year I have gone from believing that nothing I wrote was worth the bytes it took on the cloud to making a blog. Now this doesn’t mean that I haven’t taken my lumps of people who don’t like the things I’ve written, and taking criticism is a part of soliciting feedback. I’ve got another post about that entirely. However, if I gave joy to even one person with the work that I do then that’s enough for me to keep going.

One of my favorite examples of this was in the case of the Hunter series I had a lot of feedback from people that writing about vampires and vampire hunters has become a tiring genre for readers with a recent flood of books since the popularity of things like Twilight. I completely understand that feeling, but this was a story I wanted to write so I wrote it. In a round of feedback I had several critiques that told me they hated the genre but liked my story in spite of wanting to hate it. It made me laugh and was actually one of the best compliments I think I had ever received. One commenter went so far as to say that my writing was too good for the genre and that I shouldn’t write what I think is popular but write what I love. I’m sorry sir, but I love vampires and vampire stories since my dad showed me my first Dark Shadows episode.

Now, I don’t apply all the feedback I get. I know the story I want to tell and sometimes there are pieces of feedback that I just don’t think will tell that story. I always welcome feedback from all sources and I think that it can only make me a better writer. So if you have feedback please feel free to send it along via comments, twitter, or facebook.

 

Happy Writing!

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