Monday, June 11, 2012

When Is It Okay To Criticize?

The other day I read a suspense thriller written and self-published by an acquaintance. I use the term acquaintance rather loosely. With the Internet, we make friends with people we may never see face to face. This person is someone I've emailed a few times and someone whose considerable experience in his field I respect.

Eventually, I got to read his book It started off promising, but soon ran into trouble. I'm not sure what happened with the formatting, but there were no scene breaks. This made it awkward when I would be in one POV and then found myself in another POV with no line break to indicate the scene or person had changed. Along with that came some spelling mistakes.

There was considerable head hopping as if everyone's POV needed to be heard, a classic beginner mistake. Compounding that, were bits of dialogue that didn't quite ring true. It made me wince at times, but I plowed on because the story at its most basic form had potential and it held my interest enough to want to see how it played out.

For all the weaknesses, the suspense was well developed overall and some of the characters were quite engaging. In fact, for me, a couple of the secondary characters occasionally stole the show. The climax happened with a bang and kept me riveted to the pages.

Given the way the story ended, I'm guessing there might be a sequel coming.

Now, I'm a teacher in my day job. I spend time working with students trying to help them improve their language skills. When I explain where a student is making a mistake, I also make a point of telling her where she is doing well.

I wanted to write this author to say, "Hey, I read your book." But I haven't. Because I know if I send an email me that inner teacher is going to come peeking out and start explaining all the areas where this book fails.

This story had potential but it should not have been published. Not yet. This author would have benefited from some classes on writing craft. Even then, the story needed to be professionally edited and professionally formatted.

Having your friends read it and tell you that it's great is not the most objective form of criticism. Something else I'd point out.

As much as I want to explain all this to this author, I can't. This is his baby. His pride and joy. Who am I to criticize? In the end, the real world can be the hardest teacher of all.


Scotti Cohn said...

The interesting (perhaps a bit sad) thing is: There are a lot of people who won't even notice the problems you mentioned, including the spelling errors!

That said, this is (of course) why the self-publishing craze is so frustrating to authors who have had their work critiqued, edited, and polished to a fare-thee-well before it was allowed out in public. We are all lumped together in the minds of a great many readers as "authors."

"Oh, you wrote a book? So did my uncle... and my neighbor... and my cousin... and my cat..."

I wonder if your acquaintance will ever get the type of feedback his book needs?

Lesley A. Diehl said...

Wouldn't it be great if this author had access to a critique partner or a good writing group, one that provided constructive feedback. I know that may be difficult to find, but there are opportunities out there for exchanging manuscripts or parts of manuscripts. Go to the Guppies subgroup of Sisters in Crime and they have a manuscript swap. Writing is a solitary process, but if we write for publication, we need someone other than Aunt May to tell us what works and what doesn't.


Rolynn Anderson said...

The blogger threw my lengthy comment away, dang it. Thanks for the post, Garbriella. You raise important questions. I always ask what kind of critique the writer tough they want me to be.

Ana Morgan said...

Did (s)he ask for your feedback, Gabriella?

Josie said...

Most writers who have written for a while will probably say they want an honest critique. Perhaps you can steer your "friend" toward a good group for her next book. Sounds like she has potential.