Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Is critiquing objective or subjective?

julesjones has posted a link to an interesting essay. However, I would suggest that it's possible to be more objective than the writer of the essay claims. Beyond what she calls correctness are things like: is the language fluent and are there vivid descriptions of character and place? Is there some originality in the language, for example in the similes and metaphors used, or is it full of hackneyed, over-used phrases? (It's perfectly possible for the prose to be grammatically correct yet full of boring clichés.) Is there a good balance between narrative summary (telling) and dramatised scenes (showing)?

These are the things tutors on creative writing courses have to assess and I've found that even though our tastes in reading may differ wildly, there is a remarkable agreement between the marks that tutors award for a story. (A random sample is always second marked for quality control purposes.)

That's because it's perfectly possible to award a high mark to a story that actually isn't to one's taste at all and I think that different genres actually have more in common regarding to what constitutes good writing than there are differences.

I also agree with shriker_tam (see comments to julesjones's post) that believability comes into it a lot, whether it's lit fic, fantasy, romance or any other genre. Some of my students use incidents that happened to them in real life and then get cross when I say that it's not believable.

"But it happened to me!" they insist.

"That's beside the point," I reply. "The way you've written about it in the story didn't convince me. Just saying, 'It happened,' isn't enough. You have to make it believable in the context of the story.

Some writers can make fire breathing, time travelling dragons believable. Some writers can't even make a chance meeting with a friend sound plausible.

I admit that some readers just cannot read some genres. (For me it's romance and horror.) However well written the FTL spaceship, some readers will balk at it because it violates the known laws of physics and the story is not set in the world they know. But if you train yourself to look at how well a story is crafted, it's still possible to admire the skilful way it's been done, even though the finished product leaves you cold. IMHO, anyway.

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