I was just reading some of the threads on Fanfiction.net, and I decided to weigh in with some of my thoughts.
The thread was about criticism and flaming, especially by certain groups, and I thought I’d copy what I posted here on my blog.
So, here it is:
Wow, I was just reading this thread, and I never realized just how bad it is for some, especially in some fandoms.
I guess I’ve been pretty lucky, I can’t say I’ve gotten any reviews that really hurt my feelings or were upsetting. My stuff is by no means perfect, heck it’s fanfiction, something I’m not getting paid for, so I don’t put hours into rereading my work several times like I do with articles I actually publish for a living. I’ve looked back at my own work several times and caught dumb little mistakes here and there. Things like simple mistakes that spell check doesn’t catch, like writing ‘had’ instead of ‘hand,’ but I actually relish readers who point things like that out. If you’ve ever pointed something like that out to me, then I’m sure you’ve gotten a response back from me thanking you for catching the slip-up. I appreciate people pointing out those errors because it gives me a chance to go back and correct it for future readers.
For those who know anything about me, you know I do write for a living, but I write non-fiction articles, mostly in the horse and rodeo world. I use fanfiction as a platform for learning and developing my fiction writing skills, so I love hearing back from readers about what things they like and don’t like. It helps me learn. I guess I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had anyone spewing that they thought my work was crap, though I’m sure someone out there does feel that way. *shrugs* I guess I’ve always felt that everyone was entitled to their own opinion. Not everyone’s styles and tastes are the same, and writing styles reflect this.
I’ve read stories, even in this fandom, that are greatly loved by many of the fandom, but personally, I didn’t care for them. Often, it has nothing to do with anything like bad spelling/grammar or even bad writing; it’s just a difference of opinions and tastes. I can appreciate their writing skills and techniques, but I won’t rush to read it again. And that’s just fine, I’d rather leave it alone for someone who does like and appreciate that style or storyline.
Writing styles vary with every writer. Doesn’t make them wrong. I do tend to overuse commas, and I know it. But more often than not, I’m using them the way I want to. Unless you’re doing technical writing, writing really is an art form. In my case—and many other writers—we use punctuation to control the pace of the reader. Different punctuation gives the wording different inflections and causes pauses of varying lengths. It may not be punctuated how your English teacher taught you in high school, but this ain’t a high school English paper. You write how readers read, and to control how they read. My favorite lesson in day one of intro to magazine writing was this: Take everything you were ever taught about grammar and throw it out the window. (I loved that lesson and it can be applied to any writing that is to be read by the masses)
I got kind of a kick out of some of the reviews I received for my story A Change Is Gonna Come. I’ll admit, especially early on, (well, I guess throughout) it’s pretty angsty, but I was surprised at how many reviews I received telling me how pissed they were with Eric reacting the way he was, and just really being down on him. But honestly, I loved their comments, it was kind of a rush for me since, I knew what was going on in the story and how it was going to end. The whole point of writing the first half or so of the story how I wrote it was to demonstrate how messed up things can get when we assume things. The story was only in Sookie’s view up to a certain point, so the reader was feeling and seeing what she felt. Then when the chapter from Eric’s POV came, we finally saw what was going through his head and could see why they were both making the wrong assumptions about each other. I laughed at the number of people that did total 180’s on Eric’s behavior after they read “the rest of the story” so-to-speak.
I guess some writers might have been upset by some of the slightly negative responses (both reviews and PMs) about Eric’s behavior and why I was writing him that way, but I guess I took them positively because it meant they were really getting invested in the story. It might have been easy to get discouraged by some readers who were really getting upset over Eric’s actions and stopped with the story, or tried to change it to make everyone happy. But you can’t make everyone happy.
I think new/inexperienced writers should just remember to put themselves in the shoes of their reviewers. Are they pointing out things like misspelling or grammar errors? If so, take an objective step back and ask yourself if your work would be improved or more readable if you made those changes. If they’re complaining about the storyline, look at it from the reader’s standpoint. Are they just complaining that they don’t like how the story is progressing? Well, consider if they are just feeling the angst of your story. If you’re writing an angsty story, then take it as a compliment that your readers are so into your story and so invested in the characters, that they are that upset about what’s happening.
And as clichéd as it may sound, sometimes there are creative differences. I don’t personally care for darker Eric stories, but some writers (and readers) like to explore the darker side of characters. Bravo to those writers for supplying darker vignettes. Because the truth is, there are probably scores of readers out there looking for a particular subset of stories but don’t always voice their desires.
One of the great things about the internet is its anonymity, but sometimes readers prefer to remain in its shadows, never voicing their thoughts, whether positive or negative. Keep that in mind when you write. You may be hearing from 10 people who love your work and let you know it, and 1 or 2 people who don’t and let you know it, but there’s probably another 20 or more people who love your work and follow it closely, but remain in the shadows, never voicing their thoughts.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from one of my journalism profs (and he was my advisor) was to get tough skin. May sound simple, but the truth is, if you want to write, even in fanfiction, you’ve got to have tough skin. And it’s not easy to do. I remember some of the first articles I wrote in the real world, biting my fingernails as I waited to see what people would say. I’ve been pretty lucky, but I remember the first time I had a source complain about how I quoted them, and thought I’d misquoted them.
Luckily, the phone conversation was recorded on my digital recorder, and I had the notes to back it up, but I still remember being devastated that someone thought I had gotten something wrong. It turned out that they’d just misspoken, and hadn’t realized it. Hey, it happens. Over the years, I’ve learned to ignore the complaints of retired, frustrated high school English teachers. It’s my theory that you can’t ever make them happy; I’m always splitting infinitives, or something else I don’t remember from high school! 😉
As a reviewer, I think we also need to take into consideration the writer’s age. Most of our writers are older, by nature of this fandom, but we do have some writers that are self-professed 18 and 19 year olds. At that age, they don’t have the life experiences that someone twice or three times their age does. At that age, love at first sight still exists and the happily ever after is still just over the hill. Even at my age of 25, I’ve lost those illusions so I don’t write about love at first sight, though I am still a sucker for a happy ending. But keep this in mind. Just because a writer is telling a story about love at first sight, doesn’t give you the right to trash it simply because life has taught you differently. Allow our younger writers to find their own story telling based on their own life experiences, whatever they may be.
Okay, I’ve gone on quite a bit longer than I intended to now, but those were some thoughts that were running through my head after reading this thread.
My mother is a professional writer and past editor of several magazines as well, and I think one of the best things she ever taught me about editing others’ work was this: be conscientious and be courteous. That can be said for life in general as well.
And remember, old sayings are around for a reason. They’re true. You do get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.