Nov. 5, 2023: Conflicting Critiques
Last month I had the honor of one of my yet-to-be-published manuscripts winning big in the 2023 Royal Palm Literary Awards Competition. It was the Gold Winner for the Young Adult category, and it was second runner up for Unpublished Book of the Year. As you can imagine, the thrill is still with me.
This week I received the judges’ rubrics and feedback. As always, these kinds of critiques, are so valuable to writers. As I sat down and read through them and make my notes, I was once again faced with something that writers often deal with- conflicting critiques.
For writers everywhere, critiques are a valuable and essential part of revising and reworking our writing. Critiques can identify weaknesses, uncover gaps, and point out errors. Critiquers are the new eyes on our work. They may be fellow writers, beta readers, historical experts, or contest judges. They provide the essential feedback we need to bring our writing to the next level.
But what if you get conflicting critiques? Feedback on the same piece of writing that is in opposition to each other?
Too much dialogue. Not enough dialogue.
Scene too far-fetched. Scene is too bland and ordinary.
As a writer, is it essential that we remember that writing is subjective. At least reacting to writing is subjective. There is no way around it. As much as editors, agents, experts, beta readers, and critique partners try to be unbiased, it is not entirely possible. Every reader brings their own experiences and perspectives to your writing. That is part of what is so exciting about the author/reader relationship.
So how should you handle conflicting critiques?
First, do not discount them. Take a cold, hard look at them both. And do not simply shrug off the one that is the most troubling or critical. Actually, that is the one you should look at the closest. Are there any explanations that help to clarify what the issue is? Is this the first time you have heard this particular criticism? Or is this part of a pattern?
Second, consider the source of the critiques. If you have two conflicting pieces of advice, what is the background of each of the readers? The expertise of the critiquer must be taken into account. If I had two conflicting pieces of advice and one came from a reputable literary agent and another from an unpublished writing friend, I know which I would consider first.
Lastly, think about how the advice of each would impact your story. This is taking a step back and looking at the big picture. If in fact, you acted on the suggestion, would that change the overall story? For the better? Worse? What other ripple effects would be felt in the piece?
For my first book, Saving Home, one of my critiques came from a renowned historical scholar. He gave me great historical advice and found some glaring historical errors. He also shared that he thought the dog in the story had no place and needed to be removed. I was devastated, as I felt the dog was central to one of the character’s motivations, and in several critical scenes, I used the dog to symbolize deeper thematic messages. After weeks of losing sleep and stressing over what to do, I decided the dog needed to stay. Based on author visits and mail I get from children who have read my book, the dog is always one of their favorite characters!
Ultimately, this is your piece of writing. What you do with conflicting or troubling critiques and suggestions is entirely in your control. Do not make the decisions lightly, but remember that feedback, even conflicting or negative critiques, are food for thought and insight into at least one reader’s reaction to your writing.