This one goes out to the regulars – I have a question

Hi there folks, welcome.  And a brand new hello to the recent followers, nice to see you!

Today’s post is less about writing and more about your expectations of this site, and an idea I have recently had.  And whilst I can certainly do what I please regards this website, it is a foolish writer that ignores their readers.  So, I want your opinion.

This website has been operational for just under a year.  In fact I got the domain renewal notice the other day.  And, despite a brief gap in posting it has been consistent and follower numbers have grown.  I appreciate that more than you realise.  What you may also not realise is this is one of two websites I have.  The other website is a hobby blog where I talk about gaming.  I review stuff and explore educational and social benefit of the hobby.  Some of my posts from there have been shared here and some from here have been shared there.

Now, it occurs to me that having two websites has two readerships when in fact I really want one set of readers.  Granted, on their own merits each site is doing reasonably well for a first year site.  However, I believe that they will become stronger if they were to merge.  I have tried this in the past, and it has been a bit unsuccessful.  Which would lead you to rightly ask, what has changed?  If it didn’t work before, then what makes you think it will work now?

My answer is related to purpose and format.  Previously the format of the site was a blog roll.  And I treated it like a niche blog, except it had two distinct and discrete areas.  And I feel that is what caused the blog to have an issue with identity leading to its ultimate failure.

This time my intent is to run a website as my author website.  On Sharp Writing I have shared my thoughts on the craft of writing and storytelling.  I have spoken about things that I feel have helped me that I believe will benefit others. As I said, I want to merge the two websites I have and have a single author website.  It would have a static landing page describing the site, and me and it would contain both of my blogs.  I don’t believe this will cause an issue with site identity.  If I have an author site then it is reasonable to talk about my writing work, my writing thoughts and also share all of my public writing – in this case, my hobby Blog.

My question to you would be – does this make any difference to you as a reader?

I will break that down.  Would a site that talks about fiction, writing and my hobby feel weird to you?  Would the additional content make you less likely to stick around?  And how would you feel if the content was good, but the primary URL changed?

That is it, over to you.  Please, I appreciate your thoughts!

 

Advertisements

Wattpad or not…Sharing your work on public websites

Hello everyone.  If you are here I am going to guess one of the characteristics you define yourself by is “writer”.  And that being the case, I am going to take a leap of logic.  You write because you want people to read it.  I know that is not true in 100% of the time, but generally speaking a person writing is writing for another reader.  Hopefully lots of readers.  And thus brings you to a dilemma.  Because whilst it is often hard to get your work published and on the shelves of the local book shop there are places you can share your work publicly, and for free.  And a writer has to ask themselves, “Is this a good idea?”

That is what this article is about.  I will specifically be referencing Wattpad, which I do in fact use, however I have used others in the past and I suspect there are more story sharing sites out there that I haven’t found yet.

So, you are a writer and you have a story to tell.  You hear about this Wattpad and you are now hit with the quandrary.  Do you share it?

And the answer depends entirely on your purpose for writing and your purpose for wanting to share.

If you are writing something you want to publish, then the answer is most definitely not.  Keep your stuff away from the public domain.  For one thing, most publishers aren’t going to be interested in something that has already appeared on a website.  It doesn’t matter if only four people saw it.  They are no longer the first people selling your story and that takes the shine off for them.  Secondly, there is a chance (however small) that someone will see your stuff and it will inform their writing.  This might be something small, or it could be an outright copy.  Now, if it is an outright copy and your stuff is still present on a public site, and you can prove when it was shared then maybe you could legally challenge.  If it isn’t and the website has no record of your upload, then you will have a hard job proving anything.  And having stuff in the public domain is no proof that the person that wrote something appearing to copy you ever actually saw your work.  Coincidences can happen (Maybe one day I will tell you about the video game Dragon Age, and why I can never bring myself to play it – it relates to this).

So, that is one reason not to share.  If you are less worried about publishing then perhaps there is still a place for you on these sites.

If you have more or less finished and are just wanting to share your work to see what people think, then all power to you – go right ahead.  Just be aware that in my experience no one will read your work if you don’t read their stuff first.  Not until you are part of the regular community on the website.  And this might mean slogging through a lot of stuff that you may not enjoy.

The last reason I can think of to share on these sites is to find critique of your work.  As writers, we are fallible and unless you are supremely gifted/had your weetabix that morning, you are always going to benefit from a second set of eyes.  What better place than a whole social media network devoted to writing, you might say.

Well, a small(ish) group of folks who you know, and whose ability levels you are aware of for one.  If you are going to a public/social media platform to share your written work for criticism, I would suggest that the calibre of criticism you will recieve is low.  Don’t get me wrong, you will get some folk there who are good critics capable of giving balanced and useful feedback.  Sadly, it is my experience they are in the minority.  For the rest, best case scenario you will get people commenting who enjoyed your work and will start their criticism telling you such.  (You can read my article about feedback HERE where I take some time to explain why I don’t find this particularly useful)  And they will tell you stuff they liked about it.  And that’s probably about it.  Certainly not useless, as an ego boost and a confirmation that some folks liked what you did.  But there is no critique, for the most part on this end of the spectrum.  You don’t get anything telling you what to improve.

The other end of the spectrum, I have encountered perhaps two people in the community who gave critical feedback to me.  One was good, and I listen to that person when they say something isn’t working.  The other was awful.  I recieved a comment highlighting what the reader thought was a problem with the story.  That was fair enough.  I didn’t agree with it, however if a person takes the time with me I take the time with them.  I thanked the reader for their comment, and explained that I had considered their feedback but was not going to incorporate it.  And I explained why.  What followed amounts to harassment.  The reader decided I was wrong.  The reader sent me more comments telling me I would never be a good writer if I didn’t do what they said.

I’m not exaggerating that, and I believe the comment is still on my profile.  I didn’t feel embarrassed by it.  I handled myself with politeness but the reader did not.  And that is one of the problems.  The person giving feedback didn’t have any concept of how to give feedback.  Imagine if I had been a brand newly minted writer, really pleased with my work and someone comes along, seeming to know what they are talking about and tells me I will never be good if I don’t do what they say.  If I was less confident in my work, that sort of feedback could prove crippling.  I have to say this has only happened once to this extent, but it does illustrate a point.  There is a fine line between giving good, useful, critical feedback and giving a writer a metaphoric slap in the face.  There is no way to insure the first on a social media platform.

Actually, there is a third group.  The follow for a follow, read for a read crowd.  Since starting to move in blogging facebook groups I have become exposed to various threads that are follow for a follow back which always seemed disingenuous.  Unless the groups are similarly themed, those new followers (if they happen at all) are unlikely to read your stuff regularly.  And the folks reading yours to get you to read their work are unlikely to give useful critical feedback as they might not want to upset you.

I have an account on Wattpad.  I don’t share work I intend to send to agents.  I don’t share work for critique, though I sometimes get it unsolicited.  I share because I want folks to read my work, and the gratification of receiving a comment or a vote helps keep me motivated.  It confirms that whilst my work doesn’t appeal to all, I do have an audience out there.  In that respect, sharing on Wattpad or another platform is invaluable.  So, taking this into consideration then I say Yes, Wattpad, in response to the article title.

If you want to read my work, you can click the following LINK.  If you want to leave feedback, you can.  But none of your nonsense!  Thanks for reading.

Feedback – a Sharp Writing Guide

Hi there, you are most welcome here today.

Since we did editing last week, it is appropriate to now do feedback.  If you haven’t read my post about editing, then click on the blue text and have a look through first.  Done?  Good.

To get started, you will need more than one person.  Writing is often a solitary activity but it does require the help of others.  A pair is possible, a group of interested parties is better.  You will also need a piece of writing; between 500 and 1000 words is ideal.  You’ll need two copies of this, and the work you did for the editing post is most suitable, as you already have some thoughts on it. Failing that, any piece of writing of around 500 to 1000 words will do.  I recommend checking out the editing post as I have a number of suggestions on good etiquette.

Writing is a solo activity that requires the help of others

Right, you have your pieces of writing.  Pass one to the person to your left.  You will also be receiving a piece from the person on your right.  Now, everybody, write feedback on what you have received.  Don’t worry that we haven’t been through any useful information yet.  The purpose here is to just get people started and highlight if you have any bad habits.  Spend ten to fifteen minutes on this.

Ok, now that you have had a chance to practice some feedback, let’s have a look at a few things that can help you.  Because, if no one told you, giving feedback is hard.  Hopefully this post can help you a bit.

So, you have a piece of work from a friend.  They have (hopefully) told you what genre it is, and what they were trying to achieve.  Where do you start?

Read the thing in its entirety before doing anything.

It is all too easy to comment that something doesn’t make sense, and then to find that the answer you needed was actually later on in the piece and what confused you was actually a clever setup.

Avoid saying things like “I liked this piece…”

Saying you like a piece is always nice, but it isn’t particularly helpful for the writer or for you.  Firstly, like and dislike is a matter of taste.  You might have the best prose in the world in your hands, however if it is in a genre you hate, chances are you will hate it.  See the contradiction – how can you hate something that is the best prose in the world?

It is possible because you are looking for the wrong things.  The next thing I say is going to sound really harsh.

Whether you like a piece or not, whether you like a genre or not, is irrelevant to the process of feedback.  The process of feedback is to determine if the writer has made errors, to determine if the author achieved what they set out to do.  It is not to entertain the editor.  Too many times I have heard people in class saying they didn’t want to give feedback on a piece because they didn’t like the genre.  Tough.  Get over it.

Your enjoyment of a piece or genre is irrelevant when giving feedback

The writer can help the reader here by asking specific questions.  I listed some of helpful ones in my editing piece.

You are critiquing the writing, not the writer

This should be self-evident, however it is very important to re-iterate.  Your comments and feedback should be about what elements of writing don’t work.  Not what the writer did wrong.  It is a hard task giving, and receiving feedback.  Everyone is better served when feedback given is impersonal.

Be Specific

I cannot emphasise this enough.  In my many years of writing I have (thankfully not that often) received some useless feedback, and in many cases it was due to its lack of specificity.  An example,

“Don’t use clichés.”

That was a single note added at the end of my piece, with no explanation.  That was it.  Ok, I thought, I won’t.  Which ones are you talking about?  I hadn’t realised I had used any, or I would have avoided them (dare I say…) like the plague.  I didn’t know what the reader meant so their feedback was useless.

Another favourite of mine, and I get this frequently, is “Your sentences are too long”.

I do like long sentences.  I also like short sentences, and I like sentences of middling length.  So, that feedback on its own wasn’t helpful.  Were there extraneous words in it?  (In one case I can recall I checked.  I could chop one word without changing the meaning.  So I did).  Or did the reader simply not like long sentences?  Was the idea conveyed too complex for one sentence?  Would the pace have been better served by several short sentences? Certainly some sentences are too long, but in the case of feedback if you think there is a problem you need to say why.

An example of how the same feedback could have been useful is:

Avoid saying things like, ‘avoid clichés like the plague’.  It is an overused phrase and is therefore cliché.

That would have helped.  Another example would be to say:

That sentence repeats the same idea multiple times, and it is not necessary beyond the first and could be cut down a bit.

Where possible, or unless asked, avoid offering alternatives

Remember, the piece you are reading is not yours.  Your words may not be the best option when changing something.  Simply, specifically, highlight what is not working for you and why.  Then allow the writer to determine the right course of action.  Of course, if the writer asks for your opinion on what you would do, then by all means go ahead and offer any advice you have.  Just remember to check your ego at the door, it is their work not yours.

Check your ego at the door, we're doing feedback

And finally, answer any questions the writer gave you

It is good practice for a writer, once they have edited their work, to think of things they want the answers to and ask them of the people giving feedback.  If the writer has made that effort, do them the courtesy of answering.  They have made your job just a bit easier by doing that, so, help them out.

Ok, those are my major points for feedback.  There are probably other helpful things you can do, and if you know of any, please feel free to comment on this post.  I may even incorporate them into this work, since none of what I am sharing is new, ground-breaking or original.

Now, you have one copy of your work left.  Pass it to the person on your right, and receive one from your left and take 15 to 20 minutes (or as long as you need) to write feedback.  Then collect your piece, both of them if you haven’t already, and compare the two.  Maybe there won’t be many differences, because everyone has different abilities, and maybe there will be.  Compare the two, the second piece given is (hopefully) more helpful.  Though that is not to say the first feedback is not helpful, only that it may have been less polished.  Either way, you have two pieces of feedback now and that can only help you.

However, now I must share with you something incredibly important.

In my last post I mentioned there were four rules of editing and feedback, but I only covered the first three at that point.  They were:

First – Know what you (the writer) are trying to achieve.  This ranges from as broad as what Genre you are writing in, to what effect you want to have on a reader at a specific point.

Second – Ask those feeding back if you achieved what you intended.  People providing feedback will undoubtedly provide more, however this is the first opportunity for you to find out if you are having the intended impact.

Third – Be open to the feedback.  You may not always like what you hear, however going through the process will improve your writing and help build your resilience, which is a necessary attribute for a writer to have.

I will now tell you my fourth rule, and I believe it is probably the most important.

As the writer, you are free to ignore any feedback/advice at any time if you disagree with it, so long as you have good reason.  This rule also encompasses the rules of writing, in which I would say you are within your rights to ignore the rules of writing.  However I would not be so cavalier to do so as the rules can help inexperienced writers.  In this case my rule is about ignoring feedback and advice from others.

This seems to contradict my third rule, about being open.  It doesn’t contradict it at all.  You do need to be open to feedback, however, if after hearing your feedback and considering it you have decided it is not appropriate to make any changes based on it, then you as the writer have every right to disregard it.  And the person feeding back should not argue.  It is your piece, and sometimes the reader is wrong.  They may have missed the point of your writing, or they may have forgotten to check their ego before reading.  I have personal experience of that, where a person gave me feedback which I disagreed with.  I thanked them and explained why I wasn’t going to follow their suggestions.  They then argued with me and told me I would never be a good writer if I didn’t follow their advice.  I never sought feedback from them again.  They were not trying to help, rather they were trying to prove how clever they were.  And I still disagree with their feedback, so in that respect they failed.  Don’t fall into that trap.  If your feedback is rejected, move on.  The writer has ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of their work.  They are free to make any creative choice they choose.

You are free to disregard any feedback you recieve if you have good reason to

Ok, I think that just about wraps up what I have to say on feedback.

If this post was of use to you, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog, or even check out my hobby blog over on www.itsmorethanjustgaming.com

All the best, and see you next time

John

Was Marvel’s Iron Fist Netflix Series Bad? A look at criticism and feedback

I am a Marvel fan, and a Netflix Subscriber.  So, when they announced Daredevil as a TV series a few years back, I was excited.  Watching the series was no let down.  It was fast paced, well cast and had a great story.  Riding this success came Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and now, Iron Fist.  Three reasonably well known heroes in the comic world, (possibly four – I never really heard of Jessica Jones early story, so if I am misrepresenting her, I apologise) brought together to form the Defenders series given the popularity of the Avengers.  Iron Fist came out on Friday, so for me, Friday was Iron Fist day.

 

I enjoyed the series, and according to Meta-Critic User reviews, and Rotten Tomato Audience reviews, so did the general viewing audience.

Critics slammed it, citing problems with the acting (Hammy), Lack of originality, pacing, and a few just said they didn’t like it.  I am not going to attack them.

You can make your own decision by watching the series and reading the criticism on the Iron Fist Metacritic Page.

I am going to examine some of it, and there is a purpose to this – bear with it.

Critics said it was unoriginal.

I suspect the rich kid, presumed dead and taken in by monks/learning a deadly skill and having an obligation sounded quite familiar.  It is the basic plot of Batman, Green Arrow and Iron Fist.  All orphaned.  All declared/presumed dead.  All super-rich.  All returning with deadly skills.  The statement that Iron Fist is unoriginal is factual.  But it ignores context.  Iron Fist, and all of the others are Comic Book characters created in a time when stealing elements of your rival’s work was common place.

For instance, take the Nova Corps and Quasar from Marvel.  Put them together and you get something resembling the Green Lantern Corps.

Take Black Panther and Moon Knight from Marvel, put them together and you get something resembling Batman.  I could probably find other examples.

Next criticism – it is hammy.  Truthfully, I didn’t notice that.  But perhaps if your normal fiction doesn’t involve a living weapon, then perhaps it is factual.  However, again, it lacks context.  It is a comic book character.  Hammy is expected, and I personally enjoyed the journey from socially awkward tramp, to socially awkward billionaire to social justice ninja, to the Immortal Iron Fist.

Pacing – The pacing was a bit slow in the early episodes.  I have to grant that.  They were necessary, to set up the main character’s attitude towards inequity.  Having read some critics, who reviewed the show over a week before general release, I learn that they didn’t see the whole thing – just the first six episodes.  I thought the first three were slow, but worth it.  Maybe critics would be kinder if they saw the whole thing?

Some critics said it managed to stand on its own merit.  Some said it didn’t.  I will now arrive at my point.

For any writer, feedback and criticism is part of the deal.  And if you are supplying feedback you can have as profound an impact on the writer as if they were hit by the Iron Fist at full power (you’re losing more than teeth to that punch…).

As a person feeding back your enjoyment is irrelevant.  (I have said before, I will say again).  You are feeding back for purpose.  You are not reading for pleasure.  So, push your bias out the window.

Then, ask yourself (and if needs be, ask the writer), what is this piece trying to accomplish?

I once was asked to feedback on a piece of writing whose title was that of a flesh eating spirit.  I read the title and thought, “Supernatural Horror.”  When I read the piece, it read like black comedy.  I had to ask, “Did you intend that?”

Once you know what the writer’s intent is, you can feedback impartially.

You don’t like sci-fi?  That is fine.  Your writer is trying to communicate a sense of civilisation falling to dystopia.  Are they achieving that?

You don’t like romance?  No problem.  The writer is trying to communicate that the protagonist is in an abusive relationship, but doesn’t realise it.  Are they achieving that?

If start thinking about the purpose of/context of the writing, you can give significantly better feedback than simply writing, “I enjoyed this,”, “You should rewrite this sentence,” or “Word repetition.”

Iron Fist – Purpose to tell the origin story of a Marvel Comic book Character with fidelity to its history, whilst tying it into the extend Marvel Netflix Universe, setting up the Defenders.  Didn’t like it?  No problem.  Did it achieve that?

Yes.

Everything else is technical, and you can judge on its own merits.

all the best.

Can’t wait for the Defenders.