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Roger E. Eichorn's Blog: Fantasy, Philosophy, and whatever else I feel like writing about
(Originally appeared in 2002 here.)
A reviewer might wield any number of tools in the process of reducing your writing to Swiss cheese. Some critiques follow a predefined method; others are loose and free. Some discuss only broad narrative elements (the “Macro”), while others leave the Macro to others and focus on immediate grammatical or stylistic elements (the “Micro”).
Regardless of the manner in which your work has been reviewed, however, you should first run the review through a series of questions before you change your writing—a review of the review, so to speak. It’s especially important to ask yourself these questions when you’ve received a review of an isolated chapter of a much longer—and most likely uncompleted—work. Writing is, of course, an attempt to communicate, which is why following basic rules of grammar and punctuation is always advisable; if readers can’t understand what you mean, or if they have to consciously recast your sentences in their minds in order to follow your story, then it’s time you revisited the basics. But when Joe Q. Reviewer jumps in at Chapter 41 of your latest pseudo-medieval fantasy novel, he doesn’t know what occurred in the first forty chapters, he doesn’t know your characters or your world, and he doesn’t know where your story is heading. In all likelihood, he has little sense of you as an author. So when should you heed his advice, and when should you ignore it?
Sometimes good, solid advice will seem terrible at first blush; other times advice that won’t help at all—and may even hurt your writing—will seem spot on. My advice is that no matter how reasonable (or unreasonable) a reviewer’s suggestions may seem, always ask the following questions before either implementing or dismissing his or her suggestions (and these are good general questions to ask no matter what’s been reviewed, even a completed short story about to be sent to Asimov’s):
1) How much do I know about the reviewer?
a: Is the reviewer representative of my audience?
b: Do the reviewer and I share similar tastes?
2) Have I already given thought to the points the reviewer has raised?
a: Has the reviewer considered my intentions before criticizing my execution?
b: Is the reviewer attempting to hijack my story?
c: Is the reviewer pedantic?
3) I don’t agree with a reviewer, but am I just being stubborn?
Let’s explore these question further.