The Builders And The Wreckers – a Blast From the Past Post from 1/4/2012

*This post is mostly about writing, but it isn’t REALLY.  I’ve said for years that the main difference between us and the left is that “We Build” — while they mostly wreck.  I grant you a lot of the reason they wreck is that their prophecy promises that if our system falls perfect communism ensues.  But I think it attracts the sort of people who like to wreck.  Like the critics I mention here, they are people who feel incapable of creating or dwarfed by others/the past, so they must tear that down, because in a flat landscape their little molehills look like mountains.  I think this is ULTIMATELY why they must tear down every great figure of the past, in our field and others and why — who the heck said it?  I have no memory — the left takes over an institution, guts it, then wears the skin demanding respect.  I think at the heart of it is this wrecker instinct. – SAH*

The Builders And The Wreckers – a Blast From the Past Post from 1/4/2012

Recently there has been some furore over a review of Dave Freer’s Dog and Dragon.  After Patrick Richardson posted his excellent and quite accurate review, not only did a gentleman (note I use the term loosely) feel the need to throw a big hairy hissy fit over the fact that no good fantasy has been written in the last twenty years and that since his writing idols wrote all possible plots twenty years ago no new ideas could be written BUT another gentleman (again a very loose term) felt the need to write an entire article on the grammar and typos in an UNCORRECTED ADVANCE READING COPY.

This is not designed to highlight the fact that some gentle– oh, heck – some cranks didn’t like Dave’s book.  The first didn’t read it, and the second read it looking for things to throw snitt-fits about.  Also, since the first took the time to comment on how wretched that Pratchett creature is, I think Dave should be rather proud of hanging with the good people.

No, this is designed to illuminate a type of person all of us, published, unpublished, wanna bes and serious workers at the word-vine will come up against, whether we want to or not.

Reading the screaming hissy fits above, what struck me was the pointlessness of it all, and it reminded me of an incident back when my husband and I were very young (a condition that’s often covalent with stupid, but in this case it was a good-stupid.)  After about six years of infertility treatments, when we were twenty eight we decided to take the option that had been suggested by everyone: take a long vacation.  Dan took a month unpaid break and we went to Portugal to get away from our normal environment for a while.  (This didn’t quite work as we didn’t conceive then, but we conceived shortly thereafter, so perhaps it was delayed effects?) A lot of this time was spent at the beach and one day in a fit of silliness, we decided to build a sand castle.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that an excess of geekness made this a whole day project and therefore caused us to build turrets and ramparts and an artesian fountain in the courtyard.

Towards the end of the afternoon, as we were finishing, we noticed a group of kids glaring at us – by which I mean glaring.  I wondered if it was a cultural thing since adults in Portugal rarely play in public or do anything that seems less than dignified.  But I was wrong.  As soon as we packed and turned our backs – and I mean, before we had gone three steps – the group attacked the little castle screaming and gleefully destroying it.

To this day I’m baffled by this behavior.  Yes, I know tearing down the castle is part of the fun when you made it for that purpose, but this wasn’t it.  They acted as if the castle were evil and had offended them in some way.  Besides, the castle wasn’t that type.  It was the type that I’m always delighted to come across, usually as the waves are starting to take it, and examine what people did and how.

I didn’t understand their anger or their impulse until years later, when I was trying to write for publication and we had a writers’ group.
There was a gentl– oh, heck, a crank – in the very first formation of our writers group who started every critique with “To begin with, this didn’t work for me.”

Now, I will be the first to note that when that group started, almost nineteen years ago, we were all green as leeks and twice as wet.  Sometimes, by blind groping, one or the other of us would produce a fully functional short story, but most of our poor efforts were truncated, deformed and went lurching into the night of unpublishable.

That said, none of us deserved the critiques this critter gave.  After that hopeful start, he would go page by page noting every time we’d misplace a comma (yes, dears, it IS a wonder he ever got through critiquing my stories.)  Then he’d open with something sweet like “Your grammar is a mess too” after which he would give us every single typo that might be misinterpreted as a grammatical mistake.  (What, you never left an apostrophe before the s in a plural?  Then you’re lucky.)  From this he would proceed to tearing down your character’s motives.  One of my characters, who was confused and rather paralyzed by a situation got classed as “supine”, doubts were cast on the character’s masculinity and, oh, yeah, do not dare in any circumstances to have a character who is anything but heterosexual because then the critique would include YOUR moral shortcomings.  This, by the way, even if the character was an alien from a species with three genders.

By the end of this spittle-flecked tear down, most of us would feel like never writing again.

Curiously, this person rarely brought anything in.  When he did it was usually a short short of such a startling lack of originality as to sound like the slush at any hundred magazines.  While competently written for the most part, the stories would provide plenty of fodder for those of us who wanted to go after commas or typos and, oh, yeah, by the way, the moral implications of some of these just-so stories, if you wanted to explore them, were … uh.

Fortunately he was so in-your-face poisonous that the rest of the group – fumbling and inexpert though we were – got together and decided we could not take it anymore.  As such, we tried to gently give him hints.  When that didn’t work, we changed the meeting time and day and place and told him the group had dissolved.  After which the group continued with what he had stigmatized as a “love in” – amazingly, we didn’t want to tear each other or even each other’s stories to shreds.  Who knew? – and shortly thereafter (two, three years) we all started getting published in turn.

Since then I have met variants of this gentleman everywhere, from local writing groups to reviewers.  They are not all as openly poisonous as this person or even the commenter and “reviewer” mentioned above.  Those are openly wreckers and though their motives might puzzle those of us on the creative side of the equation, their aggression and poison is as obvious as that of those kids on the beach.

Some commenters and reviewers are semi-reasonable and will be taken seriously at least for a while.  Take the “published author” who joined our group five years after this incident (she had a book published ten years before and had written nothing else.  We failed to take in the implications of this, because, duh, young and stupid.)  She was not so nakedly transparent in her tear downs, but she would say things that we felt we should understand, and which paralyzed us just as effectively, such as “Your story has no engine” or “your grammar is a mess” or… all of it with no specific examples.

I can honestly say she delayed our learning a good three years, until she left the group, after which we started writing more and getting published more again.  And it wasn’t until I had sold my first novel and told her about it that I realized she’d been just like Mr. “To Begin With This Doesn’t Work For Me.”

I realized it at that point because it was obvious.  First, she couldn’t process that the book had SOLD, even though I told her that first thing, and it was WHY she’d asked me to send her the manuscript.  Second, she simply didn’t GET it.  Third, she tried to tear it down as she had things in the workshop.  Her note back started with “You’ll never sell this book” and then told me that the story had no engine and that it read like a romance (a withering criticism coming from her) because of all the interior dialogue and the feelings.

Later on, through gossip (this field gossips) I found out the reason her career was benched was that, having been selected for a collaboration with Anne McCaffrey, she’d told Anne that her plot was all wrong and that she couldn’t plot.  Even Anne, who had a reputation as a gentle mentor, couldn’t take that.

BUT that in a way is almost endearing because it shows you how strong the compulsion is, to the point of being self-destructive, and how little it has to do with a wish to advance one’s career or even to help one’s fellow writer.

And that is where we must start to understand the wreckers.  I never knew those kids on the beach, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find any number of them are now hardened vandals – though frankly that wouldn’t make them much different from their age group in Portugal, the whole thing having to do with lack of jobs and possibly lack of supervision – but every other …  Let’s call them “Wrecker” I know is an unhappy, bitter person whose problems extend to far more areas of life than writing.  They’re also, almost to the last one, startlingly unproductive in terms of creativity, though claiming that they are “artists” or “creative.”  Oh, and when they do “create” the stuff tends to be pap and so generic as to need a white wrapping and a bar code.

That is part of the problem, I think.  These are people who were brought up thinking they were creative geniuses.  They have tried to be creative, have fallen short of their own ideals and want to – no, need to – tear down anything else anyone else builds, to salve the gaping wound in their ego and self esteem.  Unfortunately, they feel drawn to environments like writers’ groups where they’re forever reminded of how short they fell of their own expectations, and that frustration fuels their anger at anyone else who dares create and PARTICULARLY at any work that is particularly good.

Because these people infest the creative professions and often take over writers groups, and because in the new age of self-publishing they are gravitating to “reviews” I will give you a way to recognize them, deal with them and counter them.  Like vampires they can be relatively harmless if you know how to deal with them.  Like vampires too, they seem to be incurable.  At least I never heard of a single one who reformed and started creating.  It seems like once the wrecking urge sets in the pleasure of destruction feeds upon itself, and creation becomes impossible.

I will however also give you a way to combat your wrecker tendencies, in case you feel yourself going that way.

How To Recognize A Wrecker

1 – minute critiques of a story, even if you asked explicitly for an overall feel.  (You are excused if it’s your first time betaing, you’re overwhelmed and try, desperately, to do something useful.  We’ve all been there.)  If you asked for plot coherence and you’re getting typos, you’re either in the presence of a wrecker or your critiquer couldn’t find his/her own *ss with two hands and a seeing eye dog.  The later is curable, the first isn’t.

2 – Critiques that go beyond the manuscript to your personal traits, sometimes descending to over-the-counter Freudian.  This can range from “you know, I could never write a character that cowardly.” which subtly implies you can do that because you lack moral fiber to the fist-in-face blunt “I see you have another dumb character, just like you.” to the implication they know you better than you know yourself “Ah! Another species with three genders.  I wonder what that means about your sex life.”

3- Pointless nitpicking and sweeping generalizations.  You’ll get for instance that “your character lacks consistency” which turns out to be that at one point in your manuscript you wrote down he was blond instead of saying his hair was brown.  (Possibly because you heard “blond” off the corner of the room as you were typing.)  The critiquer will open with something like “your character kept changing and I had no idea who he was” and you think “Oh, I messed his personality” and it turns out to be something totally irrelevant that you can fix by changing a word.  Or “Your grammar is attrocious in this manuscript” and it turns out you have a dozen misplaced commas. *(Commas are a favorite nitpicking thing for wreckers, partly because they’re so easy to get “wrong” that each House has a different comma manual.  More on that at the end in footnote.)

4 – Stunning failure to produce, or really trite output, while, at the same time being deeply involved (often increasingly involved) in critiquing and reviewing and seeking out every opportunity to do so.

5 – Failure to be pleased with or admire anything they read since late adolescence or anything that is not universally considered a classic.  Even a few of those will bring out the sneers.  These are the people who sneer at Agatha Christie or well, tell Anne McCaffrey she can’t plot.  Yeah, I know my opinion of Dan Brown doesn’t bear repeating, but I’m willing to admit he must have done SOMETHING right.  (Just don’t pretend it was historical research, mkay?)  And I don’t care enough that people love his stuff to devote TIME to tearing him down.  There are many, many books I don’t like in the world.  I’m too busy writing MY OWN books to give much of a hang, frankly.

6- A new but consistent trait is the call for gatekeepers in publishing.  These people, as reviewers, rant, moan and bitch about the need for someone to keep the “sludge” out of the sacred halls of publishing.  This is particularly puzzling since by their own admission, publishing hasn’t produced anything worth reading for twenty years.

Yes, critique is important, but if you find the critique is both sweeping and detailed and always negative, you are in wrecker territory.

If someone’s critiques routinely shut you down, take a look at what you’re actually getting: is it important stuff you couldn’t get otherwise?  Some insight or detail that you’d never have seen (like in A Few Good Men Sanford noticed inconsistencies relating to clothing which I’d never noticed and were actually important.  Or Patrick went out of his way to research the behavior of a punctured oxygen tank.  While these are detail-oriented they are USEFUL.  And neither of them opened the critique with “First of all, what universe do you come from?” or “You have some serious inconsistencies” or… you get the point.)  Or is it an accumulation of nitpicky details and inconsistencies, some of them not real (a contest judge kindly informed me, for instance, that my vocabulary wasn’t up to par because when I used stolid, I meant solid – i.e. the judge didn’t KNOW stolid, so she assumed…) all presented in a way to make you feel dumb and incompetent and to elevate the critiquer to authority?

If the second be aware that this is a person who NEEDS to believe him/herself an authority.  The things to understand are the following:

1- this person can’t create.  Either he or she started out that way, or he or she has become that way, but in either case, he or she can’t create.  When in the presence of something that they feel is better than what they could do (which in terminal stages of the disease is EVERYTHING) they are driven to assuage their wounded ego by showing they’re better than the creator and giving themselves justification.

2- if his/her fury is particularly fierce, your work must be particularly good.

3- You MUST cut them out of your writing process.  Leave the group, or if the entire group complains, have him/her leave; stop giving them beta copies; stop reading their reviews.  Even totally misguided critique can cause the type of self-doubt that makes writing grind to a halt.  And if you become frustrated enough you could turn into a wrecker yourself.

This is another way in which wreckers are like vampires. Stay in a group full of them long enough and you will turn into one.

Part of this is learned.  You learn to see “flaws” because you’ve heard them pointed out so often, and, of course, in group critique sessions you want to prove you’re competent, even if you have all those “issues” they keep seeing in your writing.

Part of it is psychological.  By tearing down your confidence (however small.  Most writers have a hole where their confidence should be) they destroy your ability to create or to show what you create.  And then you have to salve your self-esteem by tearing down others and showing that really, it’s not just you…

IF you find yourself having wrecker- behavior: you find that a story is making you pick at flaws and point out everything the person did wrong.  Or you find yourself incensed at a story…  Walk away from that story.

Look, there are stories that will p*ss you off.  Some even written by friends.  There are published, award winning stories that make me froth at the mouth.  This usually has more to do with their theme or plot than their execution.

It is better to excuse yourself in those cases, than to vent your misguided fury on little things.  Because the wrecker behavior is an habit.

There is another thing – particularly with those you mentor – sometimes someone will write a story so startlingly and wonderfully perfect that you want to find a flaw in it SOMEWHERE.  It is a form of envy too, and a form of assuaging your wounded pride.  Don’t let it.  It is common, but it is wrong.  Just keep in mind that writing ability/careers criss cross.  The mentor today might be the pupil next time.  Compete only with yourself (unless you’re competing to produce MORE which is valid.) And rejoice when your friends make a big leap in craft.  Or, if you can’t rejoice, keep it to yourself and go and practice your own craft.

While I don’t advise staking wreckers, they are exactly like vampires.  They can no longer walk in the light and the sun, and they’re trying to drag you down to their own bitter state.  Let them go their own way, and you go on creating.

* Commas are a favorite target of wreckers.  Most of us – except me, and there are reasons for that – think we know how to place commas.  Most of us can advise people to diagram sentences or some other solution.  The thing is that, except for extremes, commas are highly individual.  We can safely say my mother – who uses them in lieu of periods, which she reserves for the end of the letter or essay, I suppose to signal the missive is over and you should avoid continuing to read what’s not there (and yes, we all tease her about this.  She ignores us.) – is wrong.  We can also say I tend to overuse commas.  (The reason I do so is that my first instruction in punctuation was in romance languages.  The way you separate clauses and parentethicals and emphasize bits of the sentence that English language doesn’t.  And even though I know the rules for commas in English, the instinct to use them is older than that.  I can “glue on” comma sense by doing grammar exercises obsessively in my free time.  And I would if I didn’t have so much else to do.)
But even for native speakers, commas can be QUITE individual.  If they weren’t then each house wouldn’t change them in different ways (Baen tends to add commas to my writing, while Berkley takes them out to the point that some sentences are incomprehensible in my opinion.)

Being subjective, commas of course attract wreckers like honey attracts flies.  In fact an obsession with critiquing your commas), (unless you’re Amanda, to whom I’ve given control over mine because I KNOW I need a minder and she’s generally sensible on those 😛   And note, though she teases me as I do my mother, it’s NEVER a tear down) is a sign of a wrecker.  Particularly if that’s all they find, or almost all they find, and if they make a big deal out of it.

285 responses to “The Builders And The Wreckers – a Blast From the Past Post from 1/4/2012

  1. [W]ho the heck said it?

    Not sure if the first to say it, but I’ve seen that line from Iowahawk.

  2. It’s always easier to Destroy than Create. It’s an attraction for the Lazy, and it often gets the same amount of attention. Technically, it has a better effort to payoff ratio. But without other people creating, eventually there’s nothing left to destroy. And that’s when you get that delightful red on red violence going on, where the wreckers eat themselves.

    • Pa made a point of $SISTAUR and myself having a certain class of toy as we grew up: Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Erector Set (Mechano), Bristle Blocks, and various kits, amongst other things. LEGO seems a curious omission. While not everything was like this, much was of a “You build it” nature. When an interest in astronomy appeared, it wasn’t “let’s get a telescope” but, “You know, you can grind your own mirror.” And that happened – and I learned quite a bit, making every mistake save shattering the disk, it seems like.

      And there was the critical thing learned: satisfaction. Even if imperfect, the result was generally useful – and the next one, if there was a next one, would probably be better.

      There was also the distinction between what is good and what one likes. For example, I can recognize Bernadette Peters’ singing (as Rita the cat on Animaniacs) as being very good – but it’s also not something I care much to listen to. And I know some things I happen to like are, well, of dubious quality, but I like them just the same.

      • I’ve told the story here before of a former co-worker who is a Jazz musician, and another co-worker flabbergasted he could say “That is a very good and talented band” and “I hate their music” about the same group.
        I found this from that band from about that time.
        Shot Down In Ecuador Junior: (Warning, really crappy video from 1988)

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          I’ve read Harlan Ellison’s work and generally dislike it.

          But it is obvious to me that Ellison is a Good Writer.

          • Exactly. Many folks just cannot make that distinction.

          • on the other hand, I’ve had things I’ve been told were great that were poorly done by less than talented people. Then again, I like some stuff that isn’t totally well done, that I, for what ever reason, like.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Eric Flint once commented (about another writer) that there are “good story-tellers” and “good writers”.

              Eric thought that the other writer was a “good writer” but a poor “story-teller”.

              Eric said that he preferred to be a good “story-teller”. 😀

              • And look what that’s done for him (~_^)

              • Harold Coyle is one of those; pretty good story teller, abysmal writer. Last book of his I bought, the fourth time he had someone ‘absconded’ behind his desk (as opposed, I suspect, to ‘ensconced’), it was a close-run thing to avoid book-to-wall. I guess you don’t have to be an accomplished creative writer to be a military officer (though I suspect it might come in handy at times), but you’d think (okay, I guess I’d think) the publisher would have *someone* read the damn thing to catch these basic items before sending it to press.

                Also Vince Flynn, whose penultimate book looked as if it had been mailed in. Of course. the man was dealing with cancer at the time . . .

                Maybe the economics of the tradpub industry is such that an ‘established’ writer isn’t given the oversight a newbie would be because the expectation is that quality will be built in. Thus cheaper to cross your fingers than pay an editor, or even a reader, to take a gander.

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  Or an “established” writer would be able to leave that publisher and find another publisher if he didn’t like the edits. 😦

                • “Maybe the economics of the tradpub industry is such that an ‘established’ writer isn’t given the oversight a newbie would be because the expectation is that quality will be built in.”

                  Has way less to do with economics and way more to do with ego. As in, the successful author / film maker (Lucas) / etc. decides that being spellchecked etc. is beneath his dignity and goes off on someone who tries, under threat of walking.

                  • AKA: Do you want to tell Mr. Heinlein that I will Fear No Evil is incoherent?

                    • I LIKE I Will Fear No Evil!

                    • I didn’t say I Will Fear No Evil was unlikable, merely that it was incoherent.

                      The classic Bogart/Bacall film, The Big Sleep (1946), scripted by Leigh Brackett* and William Faulkner based on Raymond Chandler’s novel, was re-cut about a year after the original production ended, changing out one of the actresses (Eddie Mars’ wife, Mona) and adding some scenes of the Bogart and Bacall banter that audiences had so enjoyed in their previous film. Unfortunately, the reworking of it made one little error which meant that the murder could not** have done it. Audiences have apparently found themselves able to overlook this minor flaw for seventy years.

                      *Leigh Brackett was inspired to write her first detective novel – No Good from a Corpse, the book that won her the job writing the film – after seeing Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

                      **While working on the script, writers William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett couldn’t figure out from the novel who murdered a particular character. So they phoned Raymond Chandler, who angrily told them the answer was right there in the book. They shrugged and returned to their work. Chandler soon phoned to say that he looked at the book himself and couldn’t figure out who killed the character, so he left it up to them to decide. In the original cut, shown to the armed services, this question is resolved; in the film as released, it isn’t.

                      Director Howard Hawks later said: “I never figured out what was going on, but I thought that the basic thing had great scenes in it, and it was good entertainment. After that got by, I said, ‘I’m never going to worry about being logical again'”
                      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038355/trivia?ref_=ttgf_sa_1

                    • If it is incoherent, yes. My opinion is worth what he’s paying for it —- and if he’s paying any significant amount, he might want to listen to it.

                      Far too many software projects of my experience seem to think that as long as they have a slot for QA, and someone to fill it, they don’t actually have to do any.

                    • “Incoherent” is more complimentary than I’d rate it.

                      While I have some favorites among the Early Heinlein, I find little to like among the Late Heinlein.

                • Edgar Rice Boroughs. Wonderful story teller. Sucky writer. Some paragraphs need a machete. His Portuguese translator improved him immensely.

                  • Burroughs was a great world-builder, and he created some wonderful characters and plots. His style sucked, though — it was punchy but stereotyped. I loved him as a teenager, but now see the flaws in his writing.

                • An awful number of successful writers are veterans, I’ve noticed. This may be because the mindset of those who join the military is can-do, and it is reinforced by their training.

                • Perhaps Coyle has, as I have on occasion, worked for managers who, when confronted by a crisis on the shop floor, will escape by hurrying behind their desks?

                  • *cracks up*

                    • Years ago at a con, Patrick Nielsen Hayden said that modern editors at Tor only edit the first book or so. Experienced writers should be editing themselves or hiring a freelancer. Editors have to go to meetings during the day, and have to read the slushpile on the train going home. Explained a lot.

                    • They no longer read the slush pile. But yes. I think I was on my seventh book before anyone edited it. (Not copyedit.)

                    • PNH’s comment would explain why Brandon Sanderson (who is published by Tor) relies on the same group of volunteers to proof read his books before he sends them to Tor.

                    • That’s kindof funny, when you consider that one of the supposed advantages of publishing traditional is “you have someone to edit your work!”. If they aren’t going to edit your work, then it makes me wonder what you’re getting from them…

                  • I can’t remember working for any of that kind of manager, though I did have one who pretty much stayed in his office and hardly ever came out on the shop floor, then tried to give the lowest marks he could come review time.

              • You shouldn’t make it a choice. As Tom Simon sagely alerted us, style is the rocket. If your rocket can’t carry the payload of the story, the story will be flawed. There are definitely things you can worry about to make your style better.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              Sometime back I realized and decided that whether I enjoy something or not is one set of criteria, and whether it is trashy or not is another.

              Giant humanoid robots are a favorite example. I have to turn off an awful lot of physics nitpicking. Now that I’ve learned to do this, I purely enjoy them when the emotional, moral, and human sides are done correctly.

              • Hence, “Guilty Pleasures”. Mine was the need to see any Schwarzenegger senseless violence movie. Brain dead stupid but highly enjoyable.

        • There are two components in play. Technically a band/musician may be superb. Artistically, however, their work may be banal, boring or annoying Or a band may be technically raw (e.g., The Ramones) while being artistically daring,, inventive and fresh.

          Practice can treat technique (at their beginning The Beatles were very very raw musicians) and artistic decisions may develop as they grow confident in their choices.

          There were several acts (most prominently Barry Manilow) I never particularly cared for but could perceive what choices they were making and appreciate the skill with which they did so. What is important is to refrain from confusing personal preference with universal standards.

          • Unfortunately, those who don’t know what actually goes into making music, will mistake being raw as being “artistically daring, inventive and fresh” and give us musical salmonella.

          • Also, the individual components can be good, while they do not work together as a whole. I have no real-world examples, only an episode of Happy Days, in which the Fonz compared the guys’ band to ketchup and ice cream: Each one good, but terrible together.

      • Legos were not cheap, then got cheaper. Also, probably handmedowns/yard sale items.

        • If anything was a yard sale sort of thing, it was a very well cared for example of such. If the items weren’t new, they were in like-new condition as I recall.

        • Yes. Lego still is not cheap, but 30+ years of collecting (some sets from Denmark proper, even!) leads to a reasonably large set to be handed down. Almost everything else will get passed on, but Lego is generational.

    • Destruction allows one to display erudition, critical judgement, literary finesse and wit without taking any real risk. Creation means putting your work out there where it either stands, falls, or wobbles abut dangerously. Risk is at its heart.

      • The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows. — David Foster Wallace,

    • “It’s always easier to Destroy than Create.”

      Only when authorities don’t insist on environmental remediation as part of the destruction. 😛

      • That is more than counterbalanced by the regulation of creation… permits, licensing, environmental impact statements, public hearings, union kickbacks, etc.

        Not to get theological (I hope I’m not violating the blog rule here), but stuff like that can turn a six day project into something that takes billions of years.

        • Clear sign of the devil’s work, there….

        • Not always. “Asbestos remediation” and “adjacent occupied building” being the key phrases in causing a replacement building to go up in less than half the time its taking for the building it replaces to be taken down.

          • Of course, the irony here is that if asbestos isn’t damaged, it’s perfectly harmless…and removing it can put the very dust in the air that they are trying to avoid!

  3. There is at least one field where the “wrecker” is an important part of the critique:

    Board game testing.

    When you’re writing a board game, one of the best things you can do to your design is (after getting the basic design down) to bring in one of these guys to tell you what he thinks. He’ll look at every detail of the game, trying to find the tiny little gaps in the rules that will let him – and only him – win.

    After taking copious notes, you go in, fix the most glaring design gaps – and don’t bring him back until the next time you have a new game to work on. This cuts down about 90% of the rule lawyering in most designs.

    • I’m not sure I’d call the rules lawyer a “wrecker” so much, at least not the ones I’ve run into. They have their own art of creation in sniffing out the rules that combine well for them and create the unstoppable strategy.

    • No. This is fine too, in novels. You’re confusing wreckers with harsh critics. We need harsh critics (even though they often need diplomacy to be heard.) Wreckers don’t tell you flaws that are in there. They INVENT flaws, which you can’t pinpoint, because they’re not there. They destroy/shut down everything.
      In political terms, they’re the people pointing at American society and seeing a white supremacist patriarchy.

      • Right. For your board game, they would tell you it’s been done before (but not tell you the name that did it), or that your rules are sloppy, or that the premise is boring, etc.

    • Same thing applies to software. The first law of applications programming:

      Applications Programming is a race between Applications Programmers to create idiot-proof programs, and the Universe creating bigger idiots. So far the Universe is winning. Handily.

      • The Universe will always win that contest. There’s no such thing as an idiot-proof program. Experienced applications programmers know this. The best we can do is make it highly idiot-resistant.

      • Part of the problem is that they’re idiot-proofing by trying to make it so someone can’t make a mistake– rather than trying to figure out the reasoning, and fixing that.

        Yes, there usually is reasoning. USually it involves standing in the blind spot the guy who lives and breaths this stuff has, which is bigger the better they are at their job.

        My parents are having a LOT of “not fun” with the new hired hand, who is just out of high school… he though he had experience on farms and with cows. Apparently, his experience is about what my seven year old daughter has… riding around with (relative) and sometimes handing a horse some flakes of hay.

        He broke a pitchfork because he couldn’t figure out he needed to cut the twine on the bail of hay without being told… he doesn’t make the same mistake twice, but some MAJOR world-view adjustment is going on for “things that need to be said.”

    • That’s not “wrecking,” that’s QA testing. 🙂

    • Devil’s Advocate or Rules Lawyer might be a better choice, but there are a lot more wreckers around.

      “Find out who has a D&D group in the office and challenge them to find ways to break the rules” might work, though. 😀

    • The big difference here is that the person tearing apart the board game is doing so with the objective of making it better. A true wrecker isn’t trying to improve anything except his own sense of superiority.

  4. It ain’t just writing that has the wreckers. They never have anything good to say, and they try to say it in a ‘most helpful’ manner.
    Years ago a person I knew (counted him as a friend at the time) tried a bowl of chili I had just made. In fact, he had three bowls.
    And before he had taken the first bite the criticisms started:
    — “Real” chili has beans in it – and if I’d made them that way, he would have said I used the wrong type of beans.
    — The meat chunks were too large. Never mind the roast I had cut up lacked any gristle, so he had to find something to complain about.
    Then he had the first bite.
    — Too salty (or not enough, I don’t remember). Regardless, I couldn’t season right.
    — Not enough chili powder. I’d used plenty.
    — It wasn’t spicy hot. I should have used more peppers. Hey, I don’t *like* spicy hot food. If you can’t taste the flavor of the food, what’s the use?
    There were several other comments of like nature.
    When he wound down a bit, I told him, “Shut up, George. You’ve had three bowls!”
    Honestly, the fact that all he could do was criticize spared me from feelings of inadequacy.

    • Like my coworker who was half-way through his second piece of pie when the boss said, ‘You know, this looks like pumpkin, but the flavor is a little thicker. What did you do?” I smiled and said “It’s sweet potato.” Co-worker tossed the remains of his piece in the trash and stormed out, almost-shouting, “Ugh! I hate sweet potatoes!” The boss shrugged and ate the rest of the pie over the course of the day.

      • To be fair, I’ve had experiences like that where if I don’t KNOW that one of my least favorite foods is involved, I can eat and even enjoy something, but once the knowledge comes in, it overwhelms everything else. Usually it happens with things containing bananas: if I don’t know that there are bananas involved, I might notice that there is something slightly off about the sweetness but otherwise be okay; once someone tells me, I realize that the “offness” is the banana taste, and that becomes all I can think about.

        It’s not a desire to tear down the cook or insist that no one can like bananas; it’s just a personal thing.

        • I quite understand. If I can identify real banana, it’s off-putting (Ma once tried to foist off a banana hidden in a chocolate shake. I hurled the shake out the door, giving it the ‘woodland fling’ – and thus ended any attempt to foist off banana on me) yet, curiously, obviously artificial banana flavoring I don’t mind. *shrug*

          • Whereas I am just the opposite.

          • That might have something to do with the fact that artificial banana flavor was designed around a cultivar of bananas that isn’t available in the US today.

        • So I’m not the only one who can’t stand bananas? I’m not alone!!!

          According to my mother, for my first 18 months of life, I ate ALL the bananas, then suddenly it was like a switch turned and I couldn’t stand them. It’s not just dislike; it’s a bone-deep aversion. I can pick up the flavor and smell no matter how you try to disguise it. The fact that I willingly cut up bananas for my own children and now for my granddaughter just shows how much I love my babies.

          • My mother has said that I must’ve eaten my lifetime quota of bananas as a child. She had to hide bananas from me, she says. Now? No temptation at all.

          • Apparently I did the same thing with eggs: as an infant and toddler I was told I ate them quite cheerfully, and then somewhere around the age of two — before conscious memory starts at any rate — I suddenly balked and refused ever to eat them again.

            I still can’t stand eggs, although for me it is much more about the texture than the taste — I love French toast, mayonnaise and hollandaise / bearnaise sauces, for example, but actual eggs, whether poached, hard-boiled, devilled or scrambled, I just cannot get down. Yeuucchhh. But the experience has always been a useful metaphor for understanding that some dislikes are so visceral they neither can nor need to be explained.

            • About ten years ago I stopped being able to eat chicken. it tasted like warm feathers smell to me.
              That seems to have started going away two years ago.

              • At some point in my childhood I recall declaring that I did not like pizza anymore; it tasted too much like candy. (I like candy. I have no idea what kind of candy I thought pizza tasted like. I don’t think my mother remembers that bit.) In my twenties I suddenly decided I liked it again.

                I cannot explain.

          • I don’t like bananas, either, except for one odd exception: Banana splits (and no, it’s not just because ice cream is involved. I don’t like banana milk shakes). Maybe it”s the sauces, but I CAN eat banana splits and it doesn’t gross me out.

        • I have that experience with peanuts, only I was eight or nine at the time. For some reason, peanuts when I was growing up was synonymous with Christmas; we’d always get a lot of peanuts in our stocking, and I remember getting lots at Christmas parties.

          One year I ate so many peanuts that I simply can’t tolerate peanuts anymore. I’ll have the occasional peanut butter sandwich, or eat the occasional Snickers, but I don’t like it when I do.

          The funny thing is, though, I have so much nostalgia associated with peanuts that when I saw some at the supermarket the other day, I wanted to buy a bag. Neither of my daughters were interested in them, though, and they didn’t think their Mom would want any, and I knew *I* wouldn’t eat them, so I passed.

          But it was surprisingly difficult to leave them there….

      • There are few things I eschew in a culinary sense (I have eaten rat consciously and with malice aforethought (tasted like raccoon), though I have so far avoided balut), but leggy shellfish and walnuts give me anaphylaxis so I *know* in short order if I’ve eaten them, and peanuts make my face itch.

        I also don’t understand the ‘pleasure’ of superhot foods. If your tastebuds are overloaded with fire, I don’t see how one can enjoy the other flavors involved. I’ve read it has something to do with the production of endorphins, but I suspect if you need an opiate analogue in order to consume your comestibles, something is wrong. But that’s just me.

        • I like spicy, but there is a limit. I shouldn’t be in pain and missing flavor beyond heat. Yet, the spiciness can be enough that sometimes people will ask if I am alright as there is obvious physiological effect. I’ve had to assure folks that I was enjoying the food.

          I have, however, learned that if an Indian or Thai place numbers levels of heat 1-4, I should not order at 4, and need to think over 3.

          • It’s not hot until your eyelids sweat. Overdid hot food for awhile in my 40’s. Had to quit for five years before eating hot again. Used to love 4. Now I max at 3 on general principles.

          • My husband orders hot levels at Indian and Thai places, and we usually specify “hot like you make it, not American hot.” Me, I go for mild, after nodding at the server to indicate that he’s serious and not just trying to show off.

            Note that he doesn’t do insane levels of heat at American-style restaurants, for the simple reason that Indian and Thai places know how to balance the spice blend. But his superpower is “but I only added one hot pepper!” It’s amazing how much heat he can get out of one jalapeño, and as one of his coworkers said when eating his salsa, “My mouth is burning, but this is so tasty I can’t stop eating it!”

      • I love good pumpkin pies. The good ones have at least one brown spot on top. No brown spots means under cooked. There was this one cafeteria that had barely tolerable pumpkin pies. Better than no desert. Months later I overheard a coworker raving about the awesome sweet potato pies there. How embarrassing.

    • Yep, THIS is a wrecker.

    • The chili critic was wrong, according to Sheldon.

      • Yeah, I like the “chili doesn’t have beans in it” types.

        If chili didn’t have beans in it, generations of people wouldn’t have had to refer to “chili con carne” to indicate chili with meat in it…

        • Besides, how can peasant food not have peasant food in it?

        • Meh, it’s just a regional pissing contest– like the “REAL football is soccer” types.

          A defensible statement would be “gridiron football” vs “society football,” along with “rugby (school) football.” They’re all variations of a much older game where rugby comes closest to being the “true” example, with gridiron football second (an being a cousin of it) while “society football” (society rules player=> soc player => soccer). By age, rugby wins, too.

          It was really cool to find out that Unseen Academicals was a paper-thin fantasy version of a real thing, rather than being a spread-it-with-a-spade thick parody of “sports.”

          ***************

          For chili? About the only requirement is that it’s gotta have chili. Other than that, let regional variations ring! (Just like curry!)

    • Honestly, the fact that all he could do was criticize spared me from feelings of inadequacy.

      I’m sure the fact that he didn’t stop after the first bowl helped, too.

  5. sabrinachase

    I would feel a great impulse to tell such a non-producing wrecker in a crit group “You know, you keep saying that but I just don’t see it. Why don’t you submit something for next time as an example of the right way to do it?” And when they don’t, keep pointing that out.

    Fortunately, most of the critique experiences I’ve had did *not* involve wreckers.

    • Oh, this would be awesome. You’re lucky; I think most critique groups have one of these, who love finding all the faults in everyone else’s writing but somehow never bring in anything of their own. Telling them to actually WRITE something and see what happens… That would be awesome.

  6. If I have a complaint about something, I will point to the specific paragraph and page. (Like a name change in the middle of the manuscript). Dang it. I really have a hard time with people who rip things apart. It is particularly common in poetry fields. There are whole websites where people tell each other that they are banal and insipid. Well, that may be true– but there are ways to fix it– and these “wreckers” don’t know how. That is also a “red flag” when they don’t know how to correct a real problem.

    Still I know that when I write novels and stories, my grammar and commas go out the window. I write how I think. For some reason creative writing is more organic and more satisfying.

    • I know – I have to have a run-through several times, paring down the long, comma-riddled sentences which are my particular weakness.

    • That is critique, not wrecking.

      • True– although I think if you can critique, you can also go to far. It helps that I write so I know how it hurts when dealing with “wreckers.”

        • It shoud* be “too far”, not “to far”.

          *obligatory grammar/spelling mistake required when correcting someone’s grammar and spelling online**.

          **And yes, I corrected you just so I could have an obligatory grammar mistake. 😉

          • One of the things I have problem with typing for some reason– so I refuse to get upset… It is a glitch that started after being on 14 years of chemo… some other words glitch as well.

    • Polliwog the 'Ette

      I made my kids stop watching the YouTube channel “Everything Wrong With (insert movie title)”. There was nothing to be gained except a false sense of superiority and that isn’t something that should be encouraged. I told them a big part of my concern was how easy it was to shred something (especially when you go looking for flaws) compared to how hard it can be to create. Time spent watching someone else shred something is doubly lost compared to creating something or even trying to clearly communicate one’s own criticism of a book, movie, etc.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Nod.

        About the only time I really spend time “looking for flaws” is when I get the feeling of “something about about this story doesn’t work”.

        IE I basically enjoyed the story but something bothered me about it.

        Of course, even when I enjoy the story, I’m not “above” kidding an author about the author thinking a “direwolf” is the same animal as a “sabretooth”. 😈 😈 😈 😈

      • I’m of two minds of those sorts of internet snarks of things I consider bad works. On the one hand, they can be really funny and somewhat stress relieving, particularly when I just can’t stand something super popular. On the other hand, there’s definitely some real bitterness behind some of those snarks that bothers me. I’ve seen a lot that have the tone, “This should never have been allowed to see the light of day, even though it made the publisher a gazillion dollars, when MY story is still unpublished even though it is clearly so much better.” I haven’t been able to break myself of the snark habit, but I do to avoid the bitter ones.

        • SheSellsSeashells

          I have an embarrassing fondness for snarks of 1) bad stuff with 2) obnoxious fan-snubbing creators. Laurell K. “All My Haters Are Jealous Prudes” Hamilton and Terry “I Don’t Write ~Fantasy~” Goodkind are my main examples, and on a bad day I amuse myself by reading the reviews of Hamilton’s latest. Mostly because they have both insulted their readers enough that I get a bit of schadenfreudish joy watching their work get shredded.

      • I enjoy the channel, but normally more for his end gag of replacing the audio on the movie scenes with audio from other movies than the criticism. The Cinema Sins does point out legitimate plot holes (some from the source material, other just from the script) in addition to his personal pet peeves (narration, title drops). And yeah, as he’s become more popular and bloated his videos from 3 minutes to 15+, they’ve gotten less critical and more wreckery.
        Nostalgia Critic, another one of those guys who makes a living reviewing media, had a great editorial about how if you find yourself pointing out plot holes, it’s because the story has failed to engage you. Take Princess Bride — most of us can quote the whole movie, but it’s filled with the most ridiculous plot holes and unjustified coincidences. But we don’t care, because it’s good enough to suspend our disbelief.
        It’s much harder to create than to criticize, but seeing what other people complain about in works — particularly if you find yourself agreeing with the criticism — can be helpful in improving one’s creative output.

      • THANK YOU!!!

        I really, really, REALLY dislike the fad for teaching kids contempt– it’s just not healthy, it’ll get them killed.

        It’s also dang unpleasant for everybody else.

        • Teaching kids contempt is also about as necessary as teaching pigs about mud.

          There’s a C. S. Lewis line about Susan Pevensie — “She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

          Looking that up I found this notable display of an author’s failure to grasp what has been written:

          J. K. Rowling has also commented on the same issue: “There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.”
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Pevensie#Criticism

          Apparently a little success can make one quite sure of their critiques of an other author’s work, and prone to boiling an issue down to the simplest fundamental element. I think it more than likely Lewis would assert it is because she has lowered her gaze from Heaven to the Earth that she has lost sight of Narnia; sexual awakening is the merest component of that. Susan has placed being comely in her fellows’ sight above being comely in Aslan’s eyes, and that is no more “about sex” than Harry Potter’s adventures are about witchcraft.

          • I still have a hard time getting my head around someone not grasping the rather golden example of “the best time of my life was high school/college” type folks, which is sad even if you’re not looking at the religious angle Lewis did, and thinking “oh, it’s all about sex.”

            Guess it’s one of those things that someone Very Serious must’ve come up with and taught Mrs. Rowling?

            • Somebody even wrote a song about that …


              Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
              Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye
              Glory days, glory days

              • Totally missing the “dang, that’s pathetic” angle.

                Seriously, high school?

                • For some people that was the high point of their lives.

                  • I know. It’s still depressing. Worst paid educator I ever had was that way–his Jr year in high school, he was good at football.

                    I don’t believe in suicide so the usual cheap shot is out, but dang, that’s a huge sign you REALLY need to reconsider your life choices!

                    • I prefer the song that goes “You’re gonna miss this” about multiple stages, including the difficult parts. Being able to identify a peak in life is… okay, I can’t say it’s implausible that someday I might look back and go “That was the best; I wish I could go back and it’s never going to be that good again.” But the idea of peaking that early, that it never gets better than high school, is kind of terrifying.

                      And my high school years were good! I occasionally worry that I did peak then! (Mostly because I was good at school, good at my chosen extracurriculars, and while prone to procrastination was in some respects more diligent than I am now.)

                      And, you know… then I consider the afternoons I spent sobbing at my mother because the boy I liked didn’t seem to be interested and what if that always happened, and right now I can look up from the computer and see my husband and daughter across the room in the house we just bought. So… yeah, actually high school was in many respects awesome, and can be fun to reminisce about, but I think I can safely say it wasn’t the top.

                      Could probably make the best of the coming years by working on that diligence thing, too.

                    • This, verily, THIS. In High School we’re still very much self-focused and feeling emotions strongly. It is an illusion and only a cruel world would say it is the goal. The first sip of liquor seems to have more kick, but the last is the sweetest.

                    • I had a high school teacher who used to tell us that “people who say these are the best years of your life are lying.” I usually add “…or amnesiac,” to that when I pass it along, but it’s really telling how many high schoolers relax considerably when an adult tells them that. I also add that life gets considerably easier around the age of 21-23 when the hormones stabilize and you don’t have mood swings slamming you against the floor and ceiling.

                      Seriously, how many kids contemplate suicide because they are convinced it’s not supposed to get better? “The best years of your life” crap has real consequences.

                  • Keep in mind when the song was written, and for whom. The guys knew college wasn’t an option for them, ans so did the gals. Springsteen was. of course, eulogizing an image of America already thirty years gone if it had ever been true. This was for the folk who constituted Blue Collarville: once out of High School you were looking to land a job on the line at the plant, or maybe rotating tires and doing engine tune-ups at a gas station.*

                    Like Archie & Edith you could live a life in the genial lower-middle class. The next time you would see glory was at your son’s ballgames or daughter’s wedding. Lives of quiet desperation, as acted out in Grease for kids for whom being adult simply meant being put to the harness.

                    It may have been true — Bernie seems to think it was — but it didn’t reflect any part of the country with which I was familiar. It was mostly just a different kind of lie they told to get you to stop struggling.

                    *Yeah, up until the Seventies “gas stations” sold auto parts & service with no attached convenience store.

                    • *snort* So it’s like “Little Boxes” is for someone who didn’t have to deal with the old, “romantic” places, or “big yellow taxi” for someone who hasn’t dealt with “spots on (his) apples.”
                      Or listed to the folks who did.

                      Y’all think I go off on songs, I come by it honest– my grandmother (picture the queen as she is about now) would dang near rip the dashboard off if that “Little Boxes” song came on. Her family was very well off– the kids got to sleep in the barn.

                      ******

                      There’s always been things you can do to be admired for, at least in living memory– they just require work.
                      Hm. I think dad may have pointed that out to me when I got a little too sympathetic for the loser educator whose high point was high school… he could have been awesome, if he’d been willing to work at it, and instead he wasn’t even willing to do his job. *

                      Just wanted it handed to him.

                      Which flips back around to the original “too fond of lipstick” thing.

                      *
                      Look at Alice Cooper: he was very famous for his music; now he’s got real glory for helping kids with a Christian camp, and mentoring other performers so they aren’t eaten alive by the stage.

                    • I listen to a lot of metal and industrial and stuff, but don’t even get me started on most Megadeth, System of a Down or Rage Against The Machine songs.

                • High school.

                  I am proud to say I survived it, barely. Took me 15 years of avoidance before I entered college.

                  • It just…was.

                    Maybe my folks blessed me with a good worldview (mom had a habit of telling the story about how each stage of the kids’ life, she thought it was pretty awesome, and then the next one topped it) but I’ve found joys in every stage so far.
                    Some of it, there was a good bit of shoveling horse poo to get, but the little liar voice that whispers “it’s terrible and it will never get any better” is a liar.

                    • Sometimes I think the only difference between a good life and a bad life is what you focus your memories on.

                    • That is pretty much what George MacDonald advises C.S.Lewis’s narrator in The Great Divorce.

                    • That is a good worldview and I hope to have that attitude about my kid. (Right now I’m just trying not to be intimidated by her increasing mobility, and reminding myself that while there is a period where she won’t understand such things, she will eventually learn enough to be trusted with her own life around common household objects.)

                    • The utter terror is a standard package deal. 😉
                      “Oh, wow, she’s walking!”
                      “Oh, wow, she talks!”
                      “Oh, wow, she reads!”
                      “Oh, wow, that was a GOOD conversation…”

                    • “Oh, wow, he’s more educated than I am.”
                      “Oh,wow, he really dates crazy women.”
                      “oh, wow, will he ever find the right one?”
                      “I’ll never have grandchildren!”
                      “He’s going to die alone at his job.”

                    • I remember sitting with the Beloved Spouse and imagining how sweet it would be when the Daughtorial Unit became voice-operable.

                      I also remember finally realizing that the D.U. utilized variable command code.

                  • High school was (4/age)x100% of my life. No, I didn’t like most of it, but it wasn’t the sum of my existence. That’s why I never “got” that high school reunion reality show that was one some years ago. It basically tried to rekindle old teenage drama in adults. It was high school for crying out loud. People grow up.

                    Judging by how the show was canceled, most people probably feel the same way.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      High School reunion?

                      Never went to one and never will.

                    • I allow as I have considered attending a reunion of my High School.

                      Mostly the consideration consisted of “What would be the point? Really, why go to the effort?” with the occasional “Those people? For a whole weekend day afternoon?”

                    • Our class has had one. Went to it at the encouragement of my wife. It was all right, because everyone had grown up.

                      It was a bit illuminating. The fellow I thought would make a career in radio hadn’t; one thought I’d gone into stand-up comedy. And then there was the fellow who I didn’t remember who made the comment he wasn’t in the in group. I remember thinking I wasn’t in the in group, either, but apparently he had thought I was. Did not giving a flip make you in the in group?

                    • It was high school for crying out loud. People grow up.

                      Based on the class reunion experiences of some people I know, apparently not all of them.

                    • Sadly, I can vouch for this.

                      You can’t even go off of the traditional “they never left home” or “they left home” thing– with college the way it is, some are WORSE than in high school.

          • Teaching kids contempt is also about as necessary as teaching pigs about mud.

            Except I’m pretty sure you can’t teach pigs to prefer mud over clear running water, or that it’s a great thing to have the mud-wallow in the poop corner.

            (Seriously, pigs are cleaner than a lot of people, given half a chance; we had a perfect set-up when I was little where the pigs had a gravel coated stream bottom to wallow in and they located the poop corner as far as porcinely possible from it and the food corner.)

            • Yeah – but I was grasping for a quick simple example. “Hippos and mud” seemed likely to startle people out of the thought.

              It ought be noted that there is absolutely Nothing wrong with animals wallowing in mud, particularly animals with exposed hides who probably lack a good source for SPF 40+ Lotion. It can help cool, protect against UV and biting insects. I share your disdain for the types of people who force them to live in horrific conditions and then use that to slander the poor innocent beasts.

              But let’s not get into a discussion about Liberals.

          • Polliwog the 'Ette

            Not that I’ve been impressed with Rowling’s worldview anyway, but I’d have said that Susan’s issue was that she chose to seek the approval and admiration of her peers (lipstick being a symptom of the attitude) instead of the righteousness and truth that she *knew* existed.

          • That’s…not quite it, I think. It’s close, but it’s more that Susan wants to spend her entire life living like she’s between the ages of 18 and 25.
            Being presently within that age range, I understand why the idea has its attractions (and think Polly is being a little hard on 18-25 year olds), but the crucial thing is not only that Susan doesn’t want to grow up in the real world, but because of that she doesn’t want to remember Narnia, because she “grew up” there.

      • Ugh. Every time I get suckered into one of those, I want to backhand someone in the mouth because of the things they don’t understand are SUPPOSED to be done the way they complain about.

        • OMG in the mountain scene in LoTR there’s an error lol legolass is walking on top of the snow!!1!1! Bad CGI even teh hobbits are sinking.

          (Dramatic rewrite of an actual “error” report from the Lord of the Rings movies, because it’s an example I really like; done in the style of…well, yeah.)

          • As I recall from the book (admittedly my memory is not very good), Legolas pretty much DID walk on top of the snow. He scouted something that was supposed to be a couple of minutes walk for a human in that snow in seconds. And I don’t remember if he supposedly left footprints or not.

            • It was kind of a big deal that the Hobbits sank into the new-fallen snow, while he had such a light step he didn’t. When I saw the movie, I squeeked a bit in joy that they’d gotten it right.

              But the person putting in the “technical errors” didn’t know that. 😀

              • I remember specifically *watching* to make sure that Legolas could walk on the snow.

                • Oh, and I should add, I was pleased when they got it right, too!

                • And now that I think about it, the complaint reminds me of the person dismissing discussions about the Titanic because “it was just a movie” (or alternatively, the person may have been surprised to learn it really happened; I can’t remember the conversation accurately…).

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Yep.

              In the book, it is stated that was something elves could do that non-elves couldn’t do.

          • I trust someone pointed them to that actual scene in Fellowship where Legolas is described as doing exactly that because ELVES AREN’T HUMANS.

            Ahem.

            Yet another example of someone posting about something they obviously have not read.

            • Side question: Is it weird that the only time I have read the Lord of the Rings books is when I was reading them to my children?

              • Lifts hand. I read the hobbit at 14 in Portuguese, but yep.

              • I have a heck of a time reading them at all– my mom told them to us like they were mythology, and she’s a good storyteller, so reading a different story teller putting it in book form is hard when you already know the story.

                Yes, that does mean Tolkien succeeded in his goal of making an English mythology along the lines of Beowulf…..

      • I generally like to be nit-pick-ingly accurate, and don’t mind identifying nits to pick in my favorite movies…but I’ve generally only watch one or two of these things for the same reason.

        On the other hand, I’ve encountered a “What ruined [Nickelodeon/Disney Channel/Cartoon Network/Etc]” series that I’ve enjoyed, because it identifies what went right, where it went wrong, and how it could improve in the future. With the “World of Warcraft” video in the series, there was even an element of “I’m not even sure that what they are doing is wrong, I just don’t like the direction” in the critique….

        Then there was the critique of “The Force Awakens” in which about half of the “fatal flaws” were foreshadowings that of things that, if not resolved in the sequels, would indeed be flaws, and another half were things explained in the movies themselves.

        While I have my own reservations concerning “The Force Awakens”, when want to see a list of fatal flaws, I want to see something substantial. I don’t want to have to explain things like “Those monsters that were inconveniently let out on Han Solo’s transport ship? They were there because Rey unintentionally let them out when she was trying to close the blast doors to trap the bounty hunters trying to capture Han Solo. The fact that you don’t know this makes me wonder how seriously you watched the movie!”

    • I’m a reader. I read a bit of his book, didn’t like it and didn’t buy it. The author asked me for detailed feedback. I didn’t know what to say. I said that it didn’t grip me. The writer wanted to know why. How should I know why it didn’t grip me? I’m not a writer or reviewer. I like to read and hate to write. I don’t offer unsolicited criticism. It’s frustrating to be asked my opinion on something I have no knowledge.

      Sorry if I sound cranky and / or this is off topic.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        That’s why I won’t tell an author that “his/her story didn’t grip me”.

        Not a “slam” at you by the way, but if I can’t tell an author the problem that I had with their work, then I won’t say anything.

        A good person, who is a writer, can reasonably want to know why his story “didn’t work”.

        Of course, a not-so-good person, who is a writer, might blow up even if we could explain “why it didn’t work”. 😉

        • I’ve done a review to my friend of “this seemed to work, but it’s not a genre I usually read, and it’s similar enough to a genre that I *do* read that I’m looking for things that aren’t supposed to be there.” Which is true, as it happens—her book was fairytale-based paranormal romance, which seems like it should be more similar to urban fantasy or fantasy-based fairytale retellings than it is. I was having serious issues with expecting tropes that weren’t there and then getting smacked across the face with the mandatory seduction scenes…

        • Margaret Ball

          Some of those books/stories that just “don’t grip you” are durn near impossible to critique – it’s like chewing fog. I always try to find something to praise in a manuscript but what can you say about fog? Those are the ones that make me say, “It’s not even wrong!” Because doing something badly is actually a step up from doing nothing at all, at great length, over many pages.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            And the “reason it didn’t grab me” can be purely personal taste (especially if I don’t realize it) and there’s nothing that the writer can do (or should do) about it.

            There’s one series from an author that I otherwise enjoy that I can’t read but others enjoy.

            The series contains a type of humor that I dislike and the author intended that humor to be in the series.

            Oh, while I mentioned this “problem” to the author, it was only after he had mentioned that “this humor wasn’t for everybody”. 😉

            IE when he said that, I politely said “yep, not for me”.

            Of course, I’ve never been “the author must always write what I enjoy” type of person.

          • I’ve been reading from Kull. I’ve identified a few common “why this kicked me out” and will have that and how to fix them tomorrow for my MGC post. BUT those are the common ones. Some of them is just “something about this person’s voice is holding me out of the book.” A friend was asking me if I read some book he adores and I had to tell him that.
            I call it “Sliding on glass” unable to get into the book. When this happens with the book I’m writing, I’m REALLY ill.

          • “I don’t like it and I’m not sure why” is still a valid answer, if only to provide another demographic data point for the author.

        • The author asked me why I didn’t buy it.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Different story. 😀

          • If the author was so confident you’d like it, why not give it to you with a request that, should you like it you’ll send a check?

            Reading a novel is at minimum a donation of several hours of your time that could have potentially been more pleasurably spent. Even if he offers to refund your purchase price he can’t rebate the time spent reading.

      • not really since as readers we are asked to critique. I’m a better critiquer because I write. You said what you could.

    • One of my pet peeves is authors who sometimes use a first name other times a last name and other times a title when referring to a character. A good story can overcome the flaws. It just bugs me when I have to stop and think it out. Sometimes it is required. Such as when a character moves in many social circles and is referred to by others. But it is still annoying

      • Some years ago a supervisor type was in the general habit of calling most folks by their first name. What made this stand out for me was that was most and not all and the exception wasn’t “His boss is Mr/Mrs. $LASTNAME” but… I wasn’t Orvan, but Mr. Taurus. I eventually asked about this and I’m unsure he realized he was doing that, as he didn’t have any explanation. I didn’t mind, I just found the situation curious.

      • I do that. Invariably from different points of view, though.

        • I understand their are good reasons for doing it. It’s just that some authors, David Weber for example, has a kazillion characters in his books in the first place. It just make it that much harder to keep track.

          That being said. There are some great books that require effort to keep everything straight where the effort is rewarded.

  7. Brent Olson, the essayist, describes it as like when he was working in a combine and flushed a skunk. The skunk sprayed the combine and stalked off, leaving Mr. Olson with watering eyes and misery as he tried to keep harvesting. The skunk accomplished nothing but made finishing the task almost impossible.

  8. One old technique is to wrap your critique in approval, so that you get the fixits in, but you also tell people at beginning and end of the critique about what they did good.

    The thing I ran across with my brother’s novel was that I actually was too soft on certain aspects of his structure at first, because he was doubting that it was any good. OTOH, I don’t know if that was a bad thing, because he needed building up. And to be honest, I did not see what the structure needed; I just knew that it was awkward in places. Kevin had to figure out a lot if it for himself, which was just as well because he came up with stuff I never would have considered.

    Next time, I think I will be able to see more of what is going on, and be able to tell him earlier without worrying. Making money from strangers appears to be helpful for filling that ego hole!

    • Margaret Ball

      Yeah, a number of my editors worked that way. Sometimes they wrapped their critique is so many layers of warm fluffy that I wanted to scream, “All right already, I’m glad you really liked the chapter numbers, now can you please get on with it and tell me what you want me to fix?”

      • Oh, nine times out of ten, what throws me out is a serious anachronism. Not using the wrong word, I’m not one of those purists who sits there going “this word sounds too modern.” It’s more like “this concept is not right.”
        For instance, yesterday I virtually walled a mystery in which a regency woman characterized a man as a misogynist for not wanting his daughter to have higher education… IOW for acting like a Regency man. I could see her saying he wasn’t of a liberal frame of mind, or that he was very strict, but MISOGYNIST? My suspension of disbelief choked and died.

        • Margaret Ball

          It wasn’t exactly an anachronism, but… I will never forget the wannabe historical writer who placed her characters in a motte and bailey castle and then had her heroine fall into the motte.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              I’m guessing that she meant “Moat”.

              • Where she was rescued by One True Scotsman, rowing along in an ad hominem?

              • moat. Hey, stop displaying your spelling privilege. I’m 5k words up today and the spelling is the frist ting to gow

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  To make you feel better, I couldn’t spell “moat” for the life of me and had to look up “castle” to find the word for the ditch around a castle. :embarrassed:

                  • Does make me feel better. The worst part is I thought Moat but wrote mote. I guess G-d’s eye and all.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Sarah, while in Jr High/High School, I had book reports to do.

                      One of the biggest problems for me was that I’d “know” the word I wanted to use but would have to stop to look it up.

                      If I misspelled it, I’d know that it was spelled wrong but I couldn’t think of the correct word.

                      For several of these book reports, I’d have to sit down and tell Mom what I wanted in the report.

                      She’d write down what I said until we got the report done.

                      Of course, being Mom, she had me take what she had written down and write the report myself.

                      Oh, this was pre-PC time and the reports had to be hand-written. 😉

              • I was wondering how Sarah expected this woman to get to the other side of the Coal Sack.

                (Holds out big frying pan to catch flying carp)

            • Perhaps it was Mott, her being the apple of her author’s eye?

        • I am one of those purists. I flinch when people have strong suits before the invention of cheap paper, and so of playing cards, and so of bridge. I mind when pre-firearms culture fire arrows. I also object if a culture without orchards talks about windfalls and low-hanging fruit.

          A counsel of perfection, perhaps, but it helps to be aware of metaphors.

          • no, more like the publisher who forced me to use queue instead of pony tail, because pony tail only came into use in the US in the fifties. This is ridiculous as the word is exactly the same (translated) in every language I know and a horse culture would have course see the similarity. While queue evokes Chinese, at least for me.
            THAT type of word prudery.
            I might once or twice have used out-of-turn words, like for instance, I’d assume suit was either lawsuit or “plea” as in “he had sued for her hand and had a strong suit.”
            BUT normally I immerse myself in primary sources, so the hard thing is to be understandable.

            • And a queue implies braiding. It is a big long pigtail — which is what period UK sailors called queues, Chinese and otherwise. Gave me a big laugh as a little girl.

          • I very politely jumped down the throat of someone who took a medieval king’s phrase, “A promise, then,” and changed it to “It’s a deal.” Just… no.

            Of course, nothing irks me more than public comments “in Shakespearean style” that have no connection to actual Elizabethan grammar. I really wish I’d saved my response to one of those, where I put an entire Doctor Who speech into iambic pentameter, because I apparently work at my best when challenged.

    • That’s what I do. Always start out with what you like about the thing being criticized, and then describe your issues not as problems but as opportunities for improvement.

      (This assumes you are critiquing a manuscript in progress for the writer; it should be acknowledged that there is a difference between doing this and reviewing a finished, published work for the benefit of might-be readers. But even there I prefer to acknowledge what a book does well if anything, simply because what I dislike may be exactly what another person wants.)

      • I’ve had several reviews I put on amazon that included my flat-out stating that I did not like the book, but that was *me,* not a problem with the book.

        I’ve got peeves! That doesn’t make it holy writ!

        It’s kind of like when your read a review of an essential oil– I think it was lemon rind oil– and folks care complaining because it doesn’t “smell like lemon.” Well, no. It smells like a very high purity extract of lemon oil, that smell you get when you take a rind and squirt it in the air. (It didn’t work for what I wanted it for, but that was because my idea was lacking, not because of an issue with the oil.)
        It takes a lot more than just putting an oil into a perfume to make it “smell like” the thing the oil is from.

    • When I was taking AP English, I almost always did horribly on essays. My teacher saved up all our essays, though, and gave them back to us at the end of the year, before I took m y AP English test. I noticed something interesting: on my first essay of the year, it was filled with comments “you did this right, and this right, and this right!” while all the remaining ones were “you did this wrong” or “you did that wrong”, all matching up with the “you did this right” comments in the first essay.

      Up to this point, I had gotten a “2” on the AP English practice test. I used this commentary to write one last fantastic essay for the class, and go on to take the AP English test were I had the feeling the first essay was well-done, while the second left much to be desired…and it was enough to get a “4” on the actual test.

      I suppose both criticism and praise are great when it addresses specific issues, but when it’s vague and perhaps even platitudinal, it’s not so helpful…

      • ….Timing. Timing is also important. For example, receiving these comments before you had to write the rest of the essays for the class!

  9. The disconcerting thing is that one can be very good at finding typos for others (in a copy editor or proofreader way), but terrible at finding them in one’s own work. Often this seems to tie into emotion or neurological quirks, but mostly I blame Murphy.

    I love finding and eliminating typos. It is never meant as an insult to anybody, but rather as a convenient use of my skills. It is basically the same as washing dishes.

    In general, I don’t think that writers should worry about appearances while in the throes of composition. If typo elimination or even grammar stuff knocks you out of creation mode and into editing, why bother until you are ready to edit? And if you cannot edit to your own satisfaction, that is what freelance editors are for. (Or relatives.)

    But an editor is lower on the creativity totem pole than any writer. Editors are about making your presentation of the story as pretty and transparent as it can be, but they cannot make the story itself.

    • A programming/engineering (or technician, anyway) approach: First, make it work. ugly but works still works. It can be made pretty later.

      • Yep. I just completed an engagement where the project manager had to be reminded that you can’t start performance testing when all you will be accomplishing is increasing the error rate.

      • Yes. Start at the top level (does the plot work? Are the first and last halves of the story actually the same story? Are the characters consistent?), work through the middle (does this scene accomplish enough to justify its length, or should I cut it and wiggle in the little it does elsewhere?), and end with the bottom (am I using this word too often?)

      • Sometimes, I find I just need to get the idea out of my head, and *then* get it to work. Most of the time, though, I do things bit by bit, until something emerges, that strongly resembles the solution.

        I’ve never liked the idea of “Test Driven Development”, where you write special “unit tests”, and then make sure your code passes them. Too many times, I start on a task that I’m not even sure what it will do — tests will get in the way — and *then* there’s this assumption that the *tests* will work perfectly, and won’t need to be debugged — and finally, that the tests will be able to test *everything*, as opposed to testing a handful of things, and then cross your finger and hope for the best.

        Unit tests are helpful, to be sure, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all of development!

        (As an example of something that can’t be tested completely: if you wanted to test the “ADD” instruction on a 64-bit microprocessor, you would have to test 2^64 * 2^64 combinations…which you aren’t going to do, and still have heat left in the universe. The best you can do is test specific types of addition, or generate thousands of numbers to test randomly, and git a good statistical result. This is something simple, yet very important to get right, too!)

    • Oh yes– I have a friend looking over a manuscript right now who found what she called “nitpicks.” Then she nicely said that she loved the story. LOL

    • The issue with the wrecker with the typos, is that he was often inventing them (i.e. they were typos according to him) and he read them one by one ALOUD. If he’d only noted them on the manuscript, that’s a valuable service.

      • and I still remember the written critique that had a lot of “change this to that’ when both were grammatical. I assume that he thought it improved style — he gave no reason — but I didn’t agree.

        And put any substantive disagreements when he happened them, in the thicket of this/that changes, of which there were ten pages. I wasn’t going to wade through the rest to get them.

    • Having spent years writing technical manuals, I found that editing my own work almost impossible near the end of a project, unless I could take a week or two off and do something else unrelated to the project.

      It’s as if I knew how things should be, and then be blind to any deviations from that. Several of us took to saying that we probably couldn’t catch misspellings of our own names in the text by then.

      Hooray for good editors.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Yeah. I once wrote an overcomplicated opaque mess. (People here are no doubt shocked, shocked to hear this.) Got a bunch of “I don’t understand” feedback, looked at it again, and it really was incomprehensible. Embarrassing, but then I knew I needed to figure out simplicity. On I went.

        I mostly write nonfiction by feel. Sometimes I can tell when I’m doing very good or very bad.

        I have to plan fiction.

        • The best time to comment code is a month after you write it, when you can still summon back what you intended if you think, but you have to think.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I’ll have to remember that.

            On the mess, I waited a fair while before doing an editing pass. I am certain I need other pairs of eyes for my own fiction at this time.

    • My dad was a newspaperman (first reporter, then editor) for over 30 years, and one of the first things he made sure I understood was, “you can’t proofread your own copy.” It doesn’t matter if you’re Steinbeck or Hemingway, you just can’t do it. Other peoples’, sure, but your own, never.

      • I think distance makes it easier. I can’t proofread something I just wrote very well (though I’m better at it than some because I am doing it from the visual end rather than the language end; occupational hazard.) What I *can* do is proofread it after some time away, when it seems a little more foreign. After all, *I* am not the person I was five years ago, so it’s a little more like reading something from a stranger.

        • I think you’re right about that. Remember, I was hearing this in the context of writing for a newspaper, where it needed to be print-ready for the next edition.

        • The distance needed can be surprisingly slight. We are all familiar with the that becomes glaringly obvious immediately upon hitting the Post Comment button.

        • I find that I can proofread my own writing if I read it upside down. That way I have to engage my brain more. Read it in normal orientation and I see what I expect to see, not what is there.

          My older sister forced me to learn to read upside down as the Scrabble games we played always faced her way.

      • The best way to find your typos and mistakes on a blog comment is to hit “post comment”. Reading it over and over again before that doesn’t help.

    • The disconcerting thing is that one can be very good at finding typos for others (in a copy editor or proofreader way), but terrible at finding them in one’s own work.

      You already know what it says…. My husband noticed that I dropped entire paragraphs if I was writing down stuff that we’d talked out ahead of time, especially if I wasn’t writing it straight through.
      So when we’re driving and talking, HE takes notes. 😀

      At least we’re in good company. “I think in shorthand, then smudge it.”

      • Incidentally, this is something that the Navy’s “method” for calibration is really, really good at fixing.

        Even if it’s freaking obvious, you do EXACTLY A, then B, then C. You don’t do A, half of C, do B, finish C, because that’s a good way to either screw up something in B that you spaced was related to the part of C that you did, or to forget to finish C at all.

        This makes it a SERIOUS issue when the procedure is wrong…..

        • When I was doing that Foxfier (Navy PMS) I usually ended up re-writing the cards because things changed and the cards didn’t change lol. My shop did several of them because I was the only old tech (2 years of work) amongst newbies. (just out of A and C school). The newbies didn’t know what to ignore and what was important.

          • Ugh, I know that Air’s were fairly well written because they could route it through the cal lab to get it fixed, fairly easily– some of the junk I hear about, oy.

            And of course during inspections you have to do EXACTLY what it says, AND follow safety measures, so if it tells you to do something impossible or unsafe you’ve got to count on the good sense of the inspector. -.-

            • Unfortunately it could take three-six weeks to get it fixed then. So I would do a– “using this correction until otherwise notified” lol… Easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

        • Procedural design is very important. I actually did some at the photography studio I work at, because they were transitioning to digital at the time I was hired, and I was the only person who thought through the implications of nonstandard file-naming, for instance. They haven’t had to use my procedural manuals for a while, thankfully, due to technological and procedural upgrades.

        • I have recently warmed up to the idea that every law, when passed, need an explanation as to why it’s being passed. That way, when a judge is evaluating a person who was arrested for carrying lobster in cardboard rather than a plastic container, he can consider that the purpose of the law that clearly applies to professional lobster fishers didn’t apply to some lone guy flying in an airport.

          It would also make it easier to go through laws and say “Really, why was this ice cream permission note from parents law passed? Does it even apply to modern day ice-cream eating?” and throw out the laws that are either no longer applicable, or passed with flawed premises in the first place.

          I would suspect that it would make sense to have such justifications for calibration, too, but I can imagine justifications for some items can end up pages long…

          • It would be very helpful, although you’d have to be careful that it didn’t replace the actual law, or gut equal protection.

            For your lobster example, the reason of “plastic containers can be sterilized to prevent food contamination” would not apply to either a pet lobster or a lobster in a take out box, but would apply to the guy who does weekly lobster fishing weekends.

  10. Polliwog the 'Ette

    Entirely off topic, but how do I set an avatar of my own choosing?

  11. > And even though I know the rules
    > for commas in English,

    *A* set of rules. Or *some sets* of rules.

    Every time we moved to a new school system when I was in school the English books changed, and everything I had been taught was then wrong.

    After a while, I quit paying attention to “the rules.” Because they were just another set of ephemera that would go away next time we moved.

    And during my entire scholastic incarceration I never heard of gerunds, split infinitives, dangling participles, passive voice, or some other things people seem to worry about nowadays.

    • My uncle, who used to teach 4th or 3rd grade (it varied) once had to do some research for continuing education, certification, whatever. He annoyed several classmates of his when he showed the reason why grammar (sentence diagramming and such) was taught: because it was hard and would “build character.”

    • NOTE: NOT that it was considered at all useful. It was not about utility of itself, but the difficulty.

    • I subscribe to the approach, “Put’em wherever you think they might go, and let the reader cross out the ones they don’t like.” 😉

    • gerunds

      *can’t remember what that is*

      *looks it up*

      …folks worry about nouning a verb?

      • “Worry about” is probably too strong. Like passive voice, gerunds are a well established grammatical category (in fact, both are forms of the verb) that has a technical name—in contrast to dangling modifiers, which really can be errors in word order that make a sentence harder to real, or to split infinitives, which are traditionally regarded as errors because they’re not possible in Latin. (So a traditionalist would say either “to go boldly” or “boldly to go.” Actually I kind of like the latter, which puts “boldly” in the strong position up front, but it’s not idiomatic.) There’s nothing wrong with using a gerund.

        (Technically, there are three main ways to noun a verb: as a gerund, as an infinitive, or as a derivated noun. For example, if the verb is “elect,” we could say “Electing/to elect/election of the President is a complicated process.”)

        Sorting out confusing sentences is a technical skill, and technical skills have technical vocabularies, rather than just “thing” over and over, for a reason.

        “The French don’t care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.”

        • I cannot remember the specific examples at the moment, but I once hunted down examples where there was actual semantic differences between a phrase where the infinitive was split, and where it was left unsplit.

      • I admit I lose more* sleep over the problem of people verbing our nouns.

        And don’t even get me started on those foul fiends adjectiving poor innocent nouns! I can be quite dogged on the topic of the ways they have been dogging our dogs.

        *It’s not impossible

        • *grin* Part of the reason that I will muse over, say, choices of metaphors and seeing where they don’t fit is because of late I’ve been losing sleep over things such as “the 17 year old magazine’s advertising page tore,” “Baron OPENED MY TREASURES!”, “Can we play Pokemon tomorrow?” and “I need a hug. Again. Number twenty or so tonight.”

          Notably, not due to any inability to sleep on MY part….

      • no, using gerunds is supposed to be bad, because they don’t exist in Latin. Never mind. Drive on.

      • The things is your nounings of a verb should take a possessive, not a noun, and people who don’t know gerunds keep insisting that it should be “you nouning” — which is correct when the (pro)noun is “you” and “nouning” is the participle modifying it, but not when “nouning” is the gerund.

  12. Back when I was first learning to copy edit, we were taught that there are two basic styles of punctuation. In closed punctuation, you say, “I pause slightly at this point in the sentence, so I should put a comma there.” In open punctuation, you say, “I pause slightly at this point in the sentence, so it’s obvious that a pause there is natural, so there’s no need for a comma to mark a pause and I shouldn’t put one there.” And both styles are legitimate, though individual publishers may impose one or the other in their style guides.

    • I’m more of an open type. I once had someone edit my text for more of a closed style, but they got it wrong. Closed clauses don’t annoy me the way actual comma splices do.

      • I’m fairly confident that I could turn an open style passage into a closed style passage, or vice versa, and not change the meaning or introduce grammatical errors. But normally I wouldn’t do so, unless the publisher’s style manual demanded it. (For example, one of my current clients requires that sentence adverbs such as “thus” or “on the other hand” always be set off with commas—and I just had to explain this to an author who preferred not to do so.)

        My theory of copy editing is that my job is to figure out what the author meant to say, and make whatever changes are needed to say exactly that, without distracting the reader with awkward or ambiguous word choices or word order. If I change the author’s meaning, that’s a failure. I write a fair number of author queries in the form “Is this what you meant?” or “Does A or B better express the intended meaning?”

        When I was training other copy editors, the thing I found hardest to get across is that nearly every rule of English grammar applies in specific contexts and not others; so imposing a rule throughout a text without checking the context will usually butcher it.

        • When I was training other copy editors, the thing I found hardest to get across is that nearly every rule of English grammar applies in specific contexts and not others; so imposing a rule throughout a text without checking the context will usually butcher it.

          *chuckles* If it weren’t so, then various automated grammar checking would actually WORK! *big grin*

          • The first thing I do in an edit, and the last thing, is spell and grammar check. I never do “change all,” but walk through item by item deciding if Word knows what it’s doing. (I remember the time I checked one of my own books and it wanted to change “superhero” to “superego”!) That’s really helpful in avoiding dumb oversights. And in between, I do the real copy editing.

  13. To begin with, this didn’t work for me.

    I could delve into chapter and verse abut reasons why, but I’ve already told you the only significant thing I have to say abut it, so why should you spend your time listening to all the reasons why when in fact those follow from it not working for me and are not causative. I find I blow through a great many flaws, especially in a production draft, when the story works and spend all my time gazing around at the molding trim when it doesn’t.

    The purpose of a writer’s critique group is to provide constructive criticism; even a bad story will usually have an element or two worth praising … and any criticisms past the first couple are merely belaboring the case, overwhelming the recipient.

    The most important thing is to recognize that not all readers share the same tastes and this is no flaw in them. Some readers adore Lovecraft’s elegant gothic prose, full of eldritch noisomeness while others prefer Spillane’s stripped down, straight to the point writing. That doesn’t make one person’s preference “right” and another’s “wrong.” Even being more skilled in the expression of one’s reasoning behind those preferences is simply more skilled in the expression of one’s reasoning — it does not mean your preference is “better” than mine.

    Besides, when I lay my money down to buy a book, a meal, or a vote in some con award, what I want is that which suits me.

    • …what I want is that which suits me.

      I’d ask if your birthday suits you, but I suspect I might prefer not to see that.

      • And my case could move you from suspicion to mathematical certainty at warp 10. 😎

      • Irritating as it is to admit, my birthday no longer suits me. When I was growing the anniversary of my birth was the day before Memorial Day, guaranteeing the day after my birthday would be a holiday for my convenience. Then the Federal government made that a floating holiday, the last Monday of May, depriving of my promised day of recovery. Unfair, I say, just as I was achieving the age to legally imbibe and gain fullest benefit of the arrangement.


        All-in-all, I still suit me)

        • There’s an easy solution to that. Just redefine your birthday as the Sunday before Memorial Day.

        • Ah, but what date does your birth date identify as? If it identifies as a “movable feast” then you need to respect it’s self-identity and do likewise.

          [And no, I couldn’t type that with a straight face. I’m out of practice.]

          • In a way that describes my and my sister’s birthdays (or anniversaries thereof. Pa would say everyone gets one birthday, after that it’s all anniversaries.) Born on the same month and day (a few years apart) Ma decided two cakes and all the stuff that goes with a kid’s birthday on one day was too much, so as soon as we were both old enough to understand, a solution was implemented. We split the ‘birthdays’ and one was one weekend, the other the next weekend. With both sets of grandparents local, we visited one one weekend, the others the next. Thus neither of us was ‘left out’ for the other and Ma had it a bit easier with things spread out.

            So now I can claim that “My birthday isn’t (necessarily) on my birthday, kind of like a President’s.” I did have to explain this once when someone was feeling bad that a gift sent hadn’t on or before the ‘correct’ date. Being off a few days is simply not a big deal to me. Heck, even as a kid sometimes I’d get a card with a note that “You’re getting $THIS, but it’s on backorder, so it isn’t here yet.”

            • The Princess was the only grandchild on the other side of the family, and other than siblings is likely to stay that way, and there aren’t even any close cousins for that side’s parents or grandparents to fuss over.

              So her birthday party is moved to the Friday after Thanksgiving. She’s still a little confused about how she should answer when someone asks about when her birthday is…. (We finally figured out this year that the kids all use “birthday” to mean the party, the cake, the gifts, AND any kind of “let’s go do something” treat, individually or collectively. And then only because the Duchess was asking if we could go get a birthday and then describing a cake. 😀 )

    • I had a similar thought: if it didn’t work for you, maybe that’s because you’re not my audience, and fixing the story to make it more to your tastes is counterproductive.

      Of course, if EVERYBODY in the group says it didn’t work for them, then maybe I need to consider if I actually have an audience or not, but one person…eh, okay, sorry you didn’t like it, moving on.

      • If only folks would accept “I don’t think I’m your audience”!

      • Oh, yes. If one person objects, there may not be a problem, if several do, it’s very likely there is one, and if most or all do, there almost certainly is.

        OTOH, just because they are right that there is a problem doesn’t mean they have correctly identified what it is.

  14. Can’t stand critique – don’t have the capacity to listen to other people’s nitpicking at things I didn’t ask them to notice, and not telling me what they like about what I thought was perfectly obvious.

    Fortunately for me (the world doesn’t care), I have developed standards and style based on the cumulative reading of ages (mine), and they are consistent.

    Yes, it’s arrogant. But I can defend every choice if pushed, because I did it that way on purpose, and it works for me. Have in fact done so in several blog posts. And, though it really only has to please me, I seem to have satisfied a very nice (but still too small) group of readers – and they seem to have the same standards, and don’t object to how I write.

    I wouldn’t dream of critiquing anyone else’s writing, and even less, criticizing it.

    It helps to be old enough to get away with that!

    The one time I accidentally (long story) got critiqued by an indie organization which awards medals, they told me I needed a thorough edit and proceeded to point out some of my carefully-made choices as reasons why I should pay them to do it. It’s hard to explain how horrified I felt; I have beta readers, but my work is NEVER going to go through an ‘editor.’

    Because of this one thing, indie saved me. Whatever goes out is my fault.

    Nice post – wish all new writers would learn to avoid the wreckers, and only listen to the builders-up.

    • A good copy editor will help you catch the inevitable typos and homonyms that crop up. Most authors reading their own work see what they think they wrote instead of what’s actually on paper or screen.
      A bad copy editor will nit pick your word choices and demand that you use proper English. A good one looks to make sure you are communicating with the reader.
      When I started helping authors it took me a long time to differentiate between beta, proof, and copy edit functions. I finally had to write an article for MGC to set the differences firmly in my own head.

      • I have an extremely nitpicky beta reader, but she mostly got clean copy from me (I embarrass easily if someone finds mistakes!). Her few catches were most welcome.

        Some people can find their own errors; others can’t see what’s on the page if they wrote it. Like being able to spell (and having the sense to check when a word doesn’t ‘look right’), some can, some can’t.

        People who can’t self-edit should get help – but I refuse to believe everyone is in that boat. There are a variety of ways to distance yourself from your own writing so you can edit yourself.

        I believe that learning to self-edit means your future work will be much better from the beginning; it’s worth my time. Others believe that should get the gist of it up on the page – that’s the creative work – and let someone else clean up the execution. Do what works for you.

    • “proceeded to point out some of my carefully-made choices as reasons why I should pay them to do it.”

      Well, there’s your red flag right there. Any time someone points out flaws as a precursor to asking for money is a time when their best interests are not at your heart.

      • ‘Any time someone points out flaws as a precursor to asking for money’ sounds like what the big publishers were pulling with Author Solutions connections, doesn’t it?

        I had to blog about the experience, because it hit my gut in exactly the wrong way.

        Being a fairly adult person, I assumed they were wrong. But it still upset me for days until I pinned it to the table and asked myself ‘Why?’

        And the ‘Why?’ was that they had set themselves up as arbiters of INDIE quality, and then failed my book. And made me doubt gatekeepers even more.

        Your attitude is the correct one: it’s a red flag, and you’d better be very sure you agree with them, their analysis of ‘problems,’ and their record in fixing said problems, and think hard, before you consider asking for (and paying for) their kind of ‘help.’ Way too close to a scam.

    • I tend to agree. Find my glaring plot holes, factual errors, and where I (accidentally) brought a character back from the dead (but only if it’s on accident), but leave my style and creative vision alone.

      • Convenient rule of thumb: Critique others’ work with the same thoughtfulness, candor and compassion with which you wish your own work treated.

        And if you are not submitting work of your own, why are you wasting our time?

        • That’s exactly why I can’t join groups: reciprocity is a requirement. I don’t have the energy, and when I can summon some, it is rarely at the same time as a meeting might be planned.

          If it isn’t a requirement, it should be.

      • I once cloned a car. I left it parked in one place, and then it appeared in another place. WORSE, it almost went to press like that…

        • Can we bu sure, absolutely sure nobody re-parked it while it was off camera?

        • My Dad drove a white VW Beetle for some years. One day he took it up to the mall to buy some tools from Sears. When he came out, his key unlocked the door, but it wouldn’t turn in the ignition. After fiddling with it for some time, he noticed various items in the interior that shouldn’t be there, and eventually realized he was in some *other* white VW Beetle that his key had unlocked, parked the approximately correct distance down the wrong row.

          That mall had about ten entrances, all obvious from the outside, but most of them came out into stores instead of the concourse; Sears had two or three of its own. Once you were inside and got turned around in the maze, it wasn’t always obvious which way you’d come in, nor were the entrances necessarily easily found from the inside.

          “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

  15. BobtheRegisterredFool

    but every other … Let’s call them “Wrecker” I know is an unhappy, bitter person whose problems extend to far more areas of life than writing. They’re also, almost to the last one, startlingly unproductive in terms of creativity, though claiming that they are “artists” or “creative.” Oh, and when they do “create” the stuff tends to be pap and so generic as to need a white wrapping and a bar code.

    I see a little of myself in this, or at least where I could have gone, or could go if I do not watch myself.

    I have trouble with the Oreo method. I try to improve. My goals are a) Not shutting the writer down by ‘wrecking’ b) Not shutting the writer down by being irritating and entitled c) providing feedback valuable enough to the writer to be worth the cost of communicating with me. I have a hard time talking to people a lot of the time, so those writers I speak to tend to be a subset of those I would like to tell that I enjoy their work and want to see more.

    As for my own productivity, it isn’t great. That I’m not happy with my own life has nothing to do with how other people are living theirs. I am happier for making the choice not to couple my sense of self to my sense of how others are.

    As for whether I am an artist or creative, let my works or lack thereof testify.

  16. I think at the heart of it is this wrecker instinct.

    I think some are going on the perfection/theory/ideal/scientific angle, too.

    Everybody here knows how hard it is to stop yourself from pick-pick-picking at something that works, trying to make it better, right?

    Sometimes you’ll end up with awesome– usually you’ll just destroy the good enough you had.

    Now imagine that you didn’t make the thing you’re trying to fix, and you haven’t actually had to do the work of building a thing in a similar situation…but you think you know how to do it, that your theory (however reached– and a lot of the time, it is based on actually doing SOMETHING) can be applied to Make It Better.

    We’ve all done that, too– it’s just like altering clothes, be it the way some of y’all real seamstresses do it, or the “hold still just a second– K, I whip stitched the waist so your pants aren’t falling down, go for it” level that I use.

    Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

    If you haven’t been burnt because of something that was your own fault– and with group projects, you usually haven’t, it’s almost always happening when someone else didn’t do what you expected they would and then it goes to heck so it’s not clear– then you don’t have a realistic grasp of your limits.

    And you just want to fix it.

  17. to the implication they know you better than you know yourself “Ah! Another species with three genders. I wonder what that means about your sex life.”

    While y’all know I haven’t written anything to the end, these ones drive me up a wall because they’ll jump into the middle of a good conversation and destroy it.

    Sometimes I want to know about why someone keeps hitting on a theme from different angles. Sometimes I don’t like that they keep hitting on it from the same angle because, frankly, it’s not as engrossing as they seem to find it– pause here for them to give some sort of a hint about why they’re doing it, and maybe it can be improved.

  18. “This story must have a major issue with it.” *wait a beat* “I loved it and can’t find a single thing to critique, and we all know I’m not perfect, so….”

  19. having been selected for a collaboration with Anne McCaffrey, she’d told Anne that her plot was all wrong and that she couldn’t plot.

    blink

    blink

    Recent Hugo and Nebula controversies aside, I guess nothing says “talentless hack” like being named a SFWA Grand Master.

  20. …because in a flat landscape their little molehills look like mountains.

    As I read this it occurs to me, in seeking equality of outcome they are philosophically seeking a flat world were nothing and no one rises above anything or anyone else.

    Although, of course, the keepers, as they envision themselves, might require a bit more respect and comfort to compensate for the burdens they have to carry.

  21. Christopher M. Chupik

    Fortunately, in my experience, wrecker behavior has been pretty rare in my writer’s group. I’ve only seen it a few times over the years. Can’t say too much, since I’m writing this comment under my own name.

  22. Wreckers are the reason that I always make sure to ask about the good things when I run my writing club. Critique is important. Wrecking never helps.