let's get the seven lines. (bookshop) wrote,
let's get the seven lines.
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Criticism and personal space.

Hikago fandom has been having an ongoing discussion about constructive criticism and the nature of critique in our small lovely fandom.

flonnebonne took me to task for my tendency to make openly negative comments about fics. I think she has a valid point, and I felt that my response would work better formulated as an open discussion, here.

Flonne wrote:
    I know some authors don't want negative feedback, but it seems all the worse when you write negative feedback on your own journal...and then the author finds the negative feedback anyway...It's a small fandom, word gets around.

    So why not just comment directly on the fic if you have something to say? If the fic bothers you enough to post about it on your own journal, I'm guessing it's worth the bother to say it directly to the author's face....Something as simple as, "This didn't work for me because..."



I think Flonne's right in a way. One thing I've realized over the course of discussions I've had this month is that there's a large element of control involved in this process. When I mention fics here there's a power imbalance to begin with. I'm trying to navigate the line between the reader's right to a response and the fact that neither I nor the author can control the ripple of that response.

My thoughts below concern the general giving and receipt of concrit in public spaces. I realize there are lots of exceptions as far as my own LJ goes, and I'm still thinking through them.

I don't think censoring discussion and comment is helpful to anyone. I believe we have an obligation, when leaving feedback, to give polite and meaningful observations. I believe we have an obligation, at all times, to respect the author. I don't believe we generally have an obligation to be positive.

Without the freedom to talk honestly about reader reactions, we can't freely analyze, understand, and learn from different points of view. Stifling our reactions because we fear they might hurt someone is not an honest response. In doing so, we rob the texts of their effectiveness. We rob them of the ability to do what language was designed to do: allow us to communicate.

I think once a work is published and put into the public sphere, it is released beyond the author's ability to control reader response, end of subject. I feel strongly that learning to take and accept negative feedback gracefully makes you a stronger writer. And I feel that, as long as the reader remains willing to analyse their emotional responses to literature/art, they should be free to talk about those responses, without involving the author/artist in any way.

I don't think localizing a response instead of sharing with the author is an attempt to sidestep direct engagement. Personally, if I don't directly feedback an author, it's because I don't know them or don't think my response can eaffect them one way or the other. When I am deeply invested in a fic or an author, I almost always contact them privately. I do this to allow the author to have equal control over the discussion. It's easier to talk when people aren't watching you.

To me, this isn't a hypocritical distinction, because to me, the two types of responses are completely different. There's a crucial difference between leaving feedback and talking about a story you read.

Feedback is designed to be shared between the reader and the author. A pure reader reaction is between the reader and him/herself. To me, reader response is a bit like an armchair Colts fan screaming at Peyton Manning on every missed pass, cheering when he gets it right. It's completely self-contained. Even if a self-contained reader response does reach the author, the reader doesn't have any obligation to justify that response to the author. It is what it is.

An author writes fiction and puts it into the public sphere. They cannot control reader reaction, and they should not expect the reader to give it to them in nice, polite ways -- any more than Robin Hobb should expect her readers not to write fanfiction just because she's a moron.

None of this means an author can't ask for only certain kinds of responses. Absolutely, they can, just as Robin Hobb has the right to ask her readers not to write fanfic. We can't force an author to acknowledge that the reader has just as much right to respond to their fic as they had to write it to begin with.

Are we assholes if we disrespect their wishes and go around dissing their fic when they've asked us not to?

Yes.

I don't want to be an asshole. I would always rather engage in a mutually beneficial discussion about writing than a one-way rant, and I will try to do more of the former from now on.

But the one-way rant can be satisfying. The reader is entitled to the reader rant, whether they're a Twilight fan suddenly confronted with the horror of Breaking Dawn, or a Maya fan suddenly realizing that there will never be another chapter of Drop Dead Gorgeous ever again. Or an Aja, trying to cope with that trinityofone fic where John gives birth to Rodney's baby and it's Rodney, oh my GOD. because I'm SORRY, SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO GO
D:


That's the beauty of art of all kinds: it evokes response. And ultimately, I think if your fic evokes any kind of response in a reader, then it's doing just what it's supposed to do: causing us to invest, to think, to react, and to discuss.


Anyone is free to comment critically, publicly or privately, at any time, on my fics.
Tags: fandom, hikago, meta, writing
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