How to Deal with Bad Critiques

In my recent article published by Kingdom Pen I begged you to listen to your brainstorming and critique partners.”  But your critique partners aren’t always right.  If you’ve ever had your work critiqued, then you know it’s true.  Sometimes critiquers, just like writers, are wrong.  Sometimes their (well intentioned) advice isn’t good for your story.  How are you supposed to sort out the good from the bad?  How are you supposed to know what advice to keep, and what advice to ignore?  I can’t define good and bad advice for you here, but I can give you a three-step method for double checking your advice.  Follow it, and you’ll come out okay.


You need a (real) reason

First off, if you are going to ignore advice, you need a reason.  A good reason.  “I don’t like it,” doesn’t cut it.  And neither does “it doesn’t fit my story.”

Not only do you need a reason, you need a justification.  Try something like “Your idea won’t work because it puts the Hero in two places at once.”  Or “It won’t work because the theme is hope, so my hero can’t condone despair.”

You need to find a real reason (founded on strong logic) that the suggestion wouldn’t work.  If you can’t do that, then you should probably take a good long look at the idea your critique partner is giving to you.


You need to know that your story is better than that story

Secondly, you need to be sure that the story you’re telling is better than the story your critique partner just suggested.  I’m not saying that you should abandon a good project for a great one (which will inevitably be succeeded by another great one and another and… then you don’t have anything written.)  But if the proposed story is better than yours, find out why?  Dig into it.  What makes it more compelling, relatable, or intriguing than your story?  Once you’ve figured it out, incorporate that into your story.

Critiquing is all about finding fresh perspective (and ideas) for your story and then using them.

If your story is (actually) better than the proposed idea, proceed.


Don’t ignore anything

Okay, okay.  I’m not trying to be the “should I eat bacon?” flowchart, but here’s the deal.  If you have someone critiquing your novel and offering you advice, you need to take advantage of it.  It is a blessing, a HUGE blessing, to have someone look over your work.  Do not waste it.  If they have an idea that doesn’t work for you, ask them why they had it.  Ask them what aspect of your story they were trying to strengthen, and try to figure out a new solution with them.  If you like parts of the idea, see if you can work it in.  If you don’t like the idea, even just going through the process of developing why you don’t like it can strengthen your own perception of you story.


In the end, you don’t want to write off any advice you get for your story.  Even the stuff you can’t use directly is valuable, and should be treated as such.  Also, always remember, even if someone seems to have a lot of thing they think you should change about your story, they are on your side.  If they’ve taken the time to critique your book, and offer their advice, then they obviously value you and your writing.  You don’t have to defend your book from your critiquers.  You need to open it up to them.  Honestly and genuinely consider all their advice, even if it means a lot of work (and maybe even requires a little humility.  Ouch, I know.  I’ll have to plead guilty to blowing that one…)

You have to be vulnerable with your critique for their input to change your novel.  And you have to value their ideas (good and bad) for them to improve your story.


Photo: (HMM) Red Colored Pencil, aotaro, CC BY 2.0

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Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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