May 31, 2006, 2:54 AM
Post #153 of 175
I was thinking about this topic again today, unbelievably, and I still think it comes down to the definition of harshness. I initially stated that I found harsh criticism unproductive. I suggested, after we first began to argue, that perhaps we differ in what we consider harsh.
Re: [motet] Self-confidence and writing meta
this is what i'm taking as the definition of harsh:
by dictionary: unpleasantly coarse and rough to the touch; disagreeable to the senses; extremely severe or exacting; scornful or contemptuous
by thesaurus: brusque, curt, blunt, short, clipped, rude, impolite, discourteous, unmannerly, uncivil, ungracious, crusty, gruff, bluff, bearish, churlish, bad-tempered, choleric, splenetic, morose, surly, sullen, sulky, petulant, peevish, shrewish, waspish, irascible, irritable, touchy, moody, grouchy, thorny, cross, bristling, quarrelsome, peppery, snarling, etc.
I have received some very extensive and serious criticism of my work before--so much criticism it suggested the manuscript I submitted was poor, but in general, the best writers in the class spoke objectively and neutrally, and their comments had not a hint of contempt or scorn. They sounded neither positive nor negative, just serious and professional. I believe it is possible to be like this all the time. I don't think there is ever any need to be harsh. If you look at the definitions and synonyms above, harshness generally implies that the person being harsh has some kind of personal problem (or has a limited vocabulary). It generally does not mean "so truthful it hurts." It means "unpleasant." Even if the harshness has some level of truth, I think it is more unpleasant than truthful.
yes, harshness does contain some truth--that's why it hurts at all--but it's often a twisted truth, a manipulated truth, meant to stab the listener, kind of like using someone's words out of context in order to highlight something embarrassing about him (it's like a tabloid magazine that zeroes in on a pimple and blows the picture up). yes, the pimple was there; that's the truth and it's harsh; but what's the point? You could find a blemish, a wrinkle of cellulite, uneven skin pigmentation, unsightly chin hair on anybody. Yes, that's truthful, but completely meaningless.
For instance, I once wrote an extremely embarrasing manuscript that didn't work on any level. the characters were predictable and cliche, the story was uninteresting and vulgar. It was pretty much the worst manuscript you could possibly submit. The very tactful professor wrote: "I think you need to re-examine what makes a story a story... a good book to read is...." Obviously it was negative, but it was not harsh. And if this is the worst manuscript you could possibly submit, then I don't think any manuscript really deserves anything harsh. harsh to me means unnecessarily negative, infused with non-objective feeling, personal, contemptuous.
This is how I personally would phrase the worst possible comments I could give:
Character: "I don't know if this character is complex enough to hold my interest."
Plot: "I don't quite understand how one scene follows another."
POV: "Maybe you should experiment with something else."
Overall concept: "I think you should re-examine what arrests you about this subject matter."
Style: "You should cut these adverbs."
Pacing: "Certain things have to be shown dramatically; other things have to be summarized and implied..."
going to post so that it doesn't erase