Help Me to Help You to Help Them

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    The Writing Gremlin

      Hey! So, I’ve come  across a problem. So… what do you do in this situation:

      A friend emails you with their story asking for critiques because you’re writing buddies and that’s what you do. You look it over, but you really can’t stand to read too much more because you love fantasy and really only like to stick to fantasy and your friend is the same way… but with historical fiction. She likes to write very dignified and loves to stick to complete sentences and write with a professional L.M.Montgomery vibe. You write to get your point across and add those exciting action scenes where pretty much every word is a different sentence and it’s like a comic book in story form. BUT. You hate it when someone responds to you without any critiques and you know your friend would really love some help with her story, too, and you know exactly what to fix and where to fix it- but you know it would really sound more like your own book than hers.

      So, what does one do? Respond and say with dignity, “Sorry, that’s not my writing style and I can’t help ya” or “Fix this, this, and this, and it’ll be great. And. Break. Up. Those. Sentences!”

      How are you supposed to critique someone who writes differently from you? Also, how can you critique someone’s work that really kinda seems horrible to your own view but you don’t want to hurt their feelings and comment on every paragraph in Google Docs… where it really may just be your own preference after all?

      “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”
      ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭94:19‬ ‭

      R.M. Archer


      While I haven’t ever been in this situation myself (I tend to stick to critiquing genres I enjoy myself, because it is easier), but I can see two ways to handle this.

      #1, like you mentioned, is to let her know that you’re not the best person to critique it because it’s not a genre or a style you’re familiar with/you enjoy.

      #2 is to focus on the things that are the same across genres. Things like, were the characters likeable? Were they relatable? Did the writing paint a clear picture of the setting?

      Even if you go with #2 (which I would recommend, personally), I’d also recommend telling her that you’re not the best choice for critiquing her writing in general because it’s not your genre/style. I think it could be beneficial for you to practice critiquing a genre that’s different from yours, but letting her know after this critique that you’re not the best fit will help you avoid situations like this in the future and will tell her that she can find more helpful feedback elsewhere, so it’ll help you both.

      Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.

      Buddy J.

      @banana-peacock-warrior, hola!

      I actually really like this question… because it brings into play an interesting dynamic that I don’t get to experience often. So… keep in mind that I come in from a different place with different circumstances, but hope my thoughts offer some help.

      I get that we don’t want to hurt people’s writing. That’s key. Helping in such a way as to not impose upon authorial touch is VERY important. But there’s a flip side of the argument that has to do with the personal side of it… of who the help is being done by. Whenever I’m about to beta-read try to set myself into the work itself… I try to read it not first and foremost as someone with writing knowledge (that comes secondary) but as a reader. I give the text the benefit of the doubt and go, does this make sense to any reader? And is it the best way to affect a reader? Once I answer that question, if I’m giving advice on how to fix it… I’ll pull from what I know as a writer.

      This goes back to trying to understand as many different styles as possible. Spreading my reach far out. Not that I write in every style… but that I do my best to know it. Even if it’s my enemy. This is the whole point of Ender’s Game, right? 😉

      I would argue that one of the most valuable things for a writer is to be able to pick up a work and go, “Does this interest me… and why?” But do it as a reader. If it’s in a genre we don’t like, typically, maybe look at whether or not the prose actually holds together… and if we’re interested in what the writing itself has to offer. Not the genre, but the writing.

      Because although genre and writing have overlap in application they aren’t synonymous theory. And though a certain genre uses specific troupes… if the troupes try to hold the writing together we’re probably not looking at great writing. But if we can look at any genre… and try to understand the writing, that thread holding things together, we’ll come to understand how to more versatilely use whatever we have. It’s like looking at the patterns of clothes to understand how they’re made. Once we understand two different patterns, we can look at how to mix them.

      See… all writers are readers. This is a crucial part of the study. We’re detectives of words and their meaning. And I’ve learned that I can actually parse out what is good in different genres… because there are underlying rules. I write primarily sci-fi-ish. But most of what I beta-read is fantasy. This works because I can study them both for what works… and then it shifts ever so slightly per genre.

      You are a detective… and stretching the boundaries of what you read and study, analyze and synthesize, can bring together more knowledge and understanding than you thought possible.

      Yes, your friend should know it’s not what you write in… but maybe that doesn’t stop you from helping out. You might even find that in reading her writing, and giving feedback, yours strengthens as you learn the similarities and differences. You might pull from what she does, and she might pull from what you do… respecting authorial boundaries.

      So maybe it’s not quite all or nothing… maybe it’s more the work of a detective looking for clues in California instead of East Texas. How he does it will be different… but he still uses his same brain and perception to study and learn the new culture. It can actually be great fun! because we’re all still humans, and we’re all still writers… speaking English.

      I hope this is of help to you… and not merely a rock of opinion.


      -Wordsmith- Author of short stories, Reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

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