Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Right Kind of Criticism

by Julie Coulter Bellon

There hasn’t been a lot of family fare on television this summer. One series we’ve started watching, though, is Wipeout. Our toddler is fascinated, not by the show, but by the bad looks we have on our faces and the myriad of “Oh, that’s gotta hurt,” comments that seem to follow every segment. If you’ve ever seen that show, I think it’s a miracle people aren’t wheeled away on gurneys to a waiting ambulance by the end.

The other show we’ve started watching is America’s Got Talent. I was so surprised by what some people deemed talent, but just as surprised by how much talent there really was. The show is gearing up for the semi-finals this week and I’m hoping my favorites get through. (Did you SEE Jackie Evancho? Amazing. But I love Fighting Gravity, too. Hard choices).

One thing I don’t really like in the show, however, is the way Piers Morgan criticizes the contestants. He buzzes them during their performance, and then when they are done, all smiley, and thinking they’ve done their best, he out and out tells them, you were terrible. I was totally bored watching you. That was the worst performance I’ve ever seen. Most people just stand there and say nothing, some have welled up with tears, and others have argued, but it’s disheartening to watch because he rarely offers constructive criticism. He states his opinion, but doesn’t say WHY he hated their performance. He doesn’t tell them how to improve it, he just seems bent on saying something horrible to them. And he’s really mean to Howie Mandel, calling him half-wit and other names, and totally discounts his opinions. He just comes across as an arrogant twit to me sometimes. (Can we say twit on this blog? I should have checked.)

But if Piers were an editor, reviewer or reader, I think HE would be terrible at it. He just doesn’t seem to have the constructive gene needed to make a work or performance better.

As you know, for a writer, criticism is part of the job. Evaluators, readers, editors, reviewers, all get a say on our performance, but it’s the way they deliver their “say” that matters to me. Yesterday, one of my newer readers dropped off my manuscript with her comments, and she was worried because she felt she’d only put the negative and not enough positive. And yet, as I went through her feedback, she was dead on in her comments and I knew that by following her advice, my story would be stronger. She had a positive at the end, but honestly, while I loved the positive, I loved the negative more. I could totally see what she meant, was surprised I hadn’t thought of it myself, and was eager to get on the computer and fix it. Those are the types of criticism I find valuable. Something like, “this book was terrible,” or “I was totally bored reading this book,” (to quote Piers Morgan) would be entirely unhelpful to me.

So, the moral of the story is, I don’t think any writer out there just wants positive, happy, comments, with no criticism ever (okay maybe sometimes), because if we did, we would never become a published writer, since there is no way to make everyone love your book. But it’s the constructive criticism that we get during the process and when our books are on the shelf that helps us improve and grow and that makes us better writers. It’s those little things that get pointed out for improvement purposes that makes it invaluable to a writer. (Even though sometimes it does sting. I’m still working on that a bit.) But we need that sort of input if we ever want to be a better writer.

(And can I just say that I would LOVE to see Piers Morgan on Wipeout? Just once.)


At 8/19/2010 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Piers Morgan on Wipeout would be awesome!

With that said, I do think his criticism is just for show, as if people need a reason to boo. But yeah, if he did a critique of someone's writing, he'd be useless.

I do want to say that I received a very bad critique from the LDS Storymakers first chapter contest. Yeah, my story wasn't perfect. And four of the judges gave me things to look at.

However, this one judge basically called my writing crap (can I say that? Well, you said 'twit' so I'm going with it.) Either way, that's fine. I didn't mind the low score. It was the fact that the person said nothing to help me improve it. It's fine that the judge didn't like it. But to give useless criticism did not help me feel better as an author.

It honestly made me want to give up writing all together. But after the anger and bitterness subsided, I decided I'm just going to ignore it and keep the paper as motivation to prove that person wrong.

At 8/19/2010 12:30 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Anonymous, that really surprises me. As the person who was in charge of the First Chapter contest last year, I was so grateful that all of our judges were so professional and put in countless hours to make sure their critiques were fair and helpful. I honestly can't think of one that I saw that was "useless," in all of the 200 entries.

If you'd like to email me offline, I'd be happy to discuss it further with you.

At 8/19/2010 6:25 PM, Blogger Debbie / Cranberry Fries said...

Great article! Our family loves WipeOut also. It's just so crazy yet addicting. Haha.

At 8/20/2010 4:29 AM, Blogger Anna Buttimore said...

I completely agree with your comments about criticism - it can really help sometimes. I am laughing, however, at your comment that Piers Morgan would be a terrible editor, because that's what he was! He was editor of a major newspaper over here (can't remember which one) but lost his job over some scandal where the paper printed something about someone and got sued. The odd thing is that on Britain's Got Talent he's actually one of the nice judges. We have Simon Cowell who is scathing but honest, Amanda Holden who is lovely and too nice and Piers who is somewhere in between. I think since America's Got Talent doesn't have Simon Cowell, Piers has taken it upon himself to be "bad cop" because Sharon Osborne has to be good cop and David Hasselhof, as the only American on the panel, has to think of his image.

At 8/20/2010 11:17 AM, Blogger Michael Knudsen said...

Critics like Piers and Cowell are entertaining but ineffective at what they are supposed to be doing. They critisize based on people's talent as it is NOW (and how it compares to what they consider to be "world class" and offer no comment on potential and suggest no improvement. Nothing constructive, as you say. A good critic will not only point out what's "bad" but will bullet-out exatly what would make the same performance "good".

At 8/20/2010 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anna, how funny that he was an editor, but one tainted by scandal. Interesting. Although we don't have Hasselhoff anymore, we have Howie Mandel, who I actually really like.

Debbie, Wipeout is one of those shows where you just can't turn away.

Michael, I think you got exactly what I was trying to say. And good point with the good and bad being pointed out.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments!



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