The Critic is your friend (…sort of)

There are many people in this world who have great writing ability, but are unsuited to ever become writers.


That’s right. Because to be a writer, you have to be able to take rejection and criticism. Many would be writers wither at the first rejection or the first encounter with someone who is unimpressed with their work, but this is a mistake. Critics and unfriendly reviewers can be you friend if there’s any sort of consensus. For instance, if just about every review mentions that your characters are wooden, or maybe that you write too much description, you might want to take notice and work on that part of your craft. They can’t ALL be wrong; listen to them.

On the other hand, many one-off comments can be safely ignored with the understanding that if there was anything to it, almost everyone would be saying it. Every writer learns to shrug off frivolous rejection and criticism. After all, even popular works have their critics because different people have different tastes. I once got two rejection letters from two publishers on the same day; one said the work was too unconventional and the other said it was too “mainstream”…and they were professionals!

So some unhappy readers are inevitable, and an unhappy reader is usually the most eager to make his displeasure known on Amazon or some similar public forum. Here’s a little secret that might make it easier: some criticism is worthless and you will never understand it. Here is a case in point….

I haven’t had very many bad reviews, and they are usually of the vague “I didn’t care for it” variety, but recently, I got one that mystified me.

My book The Confessions of Gonzalo Guerrero has a couple of good reviews, one of which said the book was “brilliant” and “moving” in its depiction of a Spaniard shipwrecked among the Maya and later forced to choose between his Mayan family and the country of his birth. Another said it was “A solid and imaginative story that opens a window onto a vanished civilization.”

But one review rated the book only two out of five stars and said it was “juvenile”, “implausible”, and “politically correct” without giving any actual examples. All right, so he didn’t care for the book; that’s his privilege and you can’t please everyone, but juvenile? The book depicts, among other things, sex, bloodshed, epidemic disease, human sacrifices, treachery, warfare, a rape scene, and slavery. Its characters grapple with culture, religion, duty, loyalty, and the necessity of making hard choices in an imperfect world. Is that what passes for juvenile these days?

As for being implausible, that might possibly apply to various specific actions or plot twists, but the overall plot is based on a true story, and follows the recorded events very closely. If the book is implausible, then so is life.

Finally, we have politically correct. Well, one theme of the book is that the Spaniards were pretty callous and ruthless towards the Indians they conquered, but that is something that is pretty much accepted nowadays. At the same time, I depicted the Maya as advanced in many ways, such as astronomy, mathematics, and writing, but I also showed their  brutality, human sacrifices, constant bloodletting, superstitions, and incessant warfare. At one point, a Spaniard says in exasperation, “Peace? These people have never known peace. When they are not trying to kill us, they are killing each other.” In short, the book never shows a simple view of evil Europeans oppressing saintly and virtuous Indians, so I’m not sure where the political correctness comes in.

So if you are an author, pay attention to your critics….if they are specific, and if they actually make sense.

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2 Responses to The Critic is your friend (…sort of)

  1. It’s very important to grab the jest of the criticism . It helps you in the long run. Nicely written!!!

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