On the Conduct and Expectations of a Critic – A Sequel

On the Conduct and Expectations of a Critic – A Sequel

Criticism is a gift–A gift whose impact depends on the manner of its presentation by the critic, and the disposition and maturity of the writer who receives it.

A critic is a surgeon and a writer’s story her patient. On several occasions, the patient is wheeled-in to the theater with physical injuries that may be major or minor in their appearance and extent. These physical injuries might be anything from errors of punctuation (which might be easier to detect and treat) to those of syntax (these are more difficult to operate on, even though their diagnosis is easy for the trained surgeon-critic). The critic should do her best to quickly treat such injuries as they can be damaging to the acceptance of her patient in the wider society. As it is popularly said, first impressions are very important. The critic should remember that the physical beauty of a story is a very potent quality that invites people to appreciate the story’s depth and character. She should thus do well to use the right procedures, tools and medication in repairing the damage caused by such injuries.

It might be that the patient’s calamity is not of the outward physical type. It might be that he looks fine on the outside but bleeds on the inside. This happens when something good or great or flashy has been achieved in the story and ends up concealing or diverting attention from the story’s physical defects. The critic should not be deceived. She must, as a duty to the father of the patient–the writer, detect these errors even if the other surgeons are misled by the outward signs of health.

A critic should be eagle-eyed and true to her beliefs. She must not let her familiarity with the patient’s father prevent her from telling him the truth about his child–the story. Telling the truth becomes especially hard when the patient is diagnosed to have a character problem.

When the story comes to the critic with a character problem, she must depend less on her surgical tools and rely more on her skill as a counselor. Character problems are mostly incoherent, unrealistic or underdeveloped storylines and dialogues. Character problems are emotive and so any attempt by the critic to confront and address them can quickly elicit angry words from the writer, and might be construed as an affront on the writer’s personality. Nevertheless, a critic must still offer her advice but must be careful to do so in a way that doesn’t hurt the writer’s pride. She must first try to tell the patient his good sides; her being eagle-eyed must come to good use in detecting the strong points of the story and not just the faults. As a standard procedure, she must employ the anesthesia of deserved praise or euphemism to dull the pain that her surgery of words might induce.

It is imperative for the critic to understand that she would most likely never be the only surgeon attached to a story. Depending on the hospital the story is admitted to, the other surgeons might range from a few people to millions of ready critics! She must understand that she should never be guided by the opinions of the other surgeons except she is on an editorial team that must spend time in back and forth surgery on the patient. Her primary duty is to paint a picture of what perfection means in her own world; of what is wrong and what is right; of what works and what fails. She should know that what increases the patient’s chances of better and faster healing is the opportunity to be examined by several surgeons, who will in turn suggest various procedures and medication. Of course, the patient’s dad would make the final choice of suitable therapy; but at least he would be grateful for the pool of advice that influenced his decision.

The critic should never be under any illusion that whatever she says must stand as right. Even the greatest of minds that have traversed this earth have at one time or the other been humbled by silly mistakes. Others have been greatly shamed by the disproval of their theories which they believed to be absolutely right and above invalidation. The critic must understand that what she gives out is ultimately counsel and not instruction. She must never become angry when her counsel is dumped for another’s, and must come to terms with the reality that her sole reason for offering advice is to provide the writer with material that would feed his thought-process as he ponders on what is best for his story.

Lastly, a critic should never attack the personality of a writer. His personality has nothing to do with any aspect of her role as a critic.



20 thoughts on “On the Conduct and Expectations of a Critic – A Sequel” by chemokopi (@chemokopi)

  1. Spot-on @Chemo. That surgeon-critic approach is just so apt. Whatever the case maybe the critic should know that his job, as a critic is only recommendatory and in that pursuit, tactfulness is a virtue.( although I understand that in the larger world; literary reviews are hardcore, no-holds barred and some of the best critics pound the gavel just as hard).

    It is more of a writer to develop a tough skin and rid himself of undue sentiments from his work (and we all have sentiments) before writing off a critic as a sadist. In my opinion, the writer would have to be more objective ‘cos in the end it is her name on the work, not the critics.

  2. Spot-on @Chemo. That surgeon-critic approach is just so apt. Whatever the case maybe the critic should know that his job, as a critic is only recommendatory and in that pursuit, tactfulness is a virtue.( although I understand that in the larger world; literary reviews are hardcore, no-holds barred and some of the best critics pound the gavel just as hard).

    It is more of a writer to develop a tough skin and rid himself of undue sentiments from his work (and we all have sentiments) before writing off a critic as a sadist. In my opinion, the writer would have to be more objective ‘cos in the end it is her name on the work, not the critics.

  3. I do not agree, to an extent. You make it look like writers are at the mercy of the critics. A patient to its surgeon? No na. A critic has no responsibility to the writer. Most critics do not ‘treat’ a writers work so that the writer would get better. A critic is an attacker by nature. It is the duty of the writer to heal his work, and make the work so good that it would withstand and resist any critic.
    A critic is not superior to the writer.

    1. God bless U…

    2. @kaycee thanks for your comments and I agree with a number of things you said…but I think you missed a core part of the gist: the writer’s STORY is the patient, not the writer himself. Again I wrote this in the article: “Of course, the patient’s dad would make the final choice of suitable therapy; but at least he would be grateful for the pool of advice that influenced his decision.” The patient’s dad here is the writer so how does the article make it seem the critic is at the mercy of the writer? The artist can never be inferior to the audience…never.

  4. Criticism…every writer’s Achilles Heel.
    My opinion? Criticism is cheap, and varies. So, while some may be scathing, sift through n find d good n meaningful ones.

    1. Thanks for your words @Raymond

      Criticism is cheap when it attacks or praises in generalities. For it to make sense and be valued, it MUST be specific in what it points out as wrong or right. It is even more valued when it suggests solutions.

      1. I agree on the need for the critic to be specific, @chemokopi. Having said that, that is merely my opinion. Some critics would criticise your criticism of their criticism as being too critical; for them criticism is simply an opportunity to flog writers with the nine-tailed bulala of their caustic tongue, no more, no less.

        Also, the analogy of the story being the patient is not quite spot on; diagnosing and treating illnesses is a more objective (less subjective) task than criticising work with the view to making the work better.

        1. @TolaO: I like the way you played with variations of the word ‘critic’…lol. I have learnt something valuable from your comment (which I will keep to myself). Thanks for your contribution to the discourse!

        2. @TolaO the play on the words, very punny.

  5. I think @kaycee couldn’t have said it better… A critic’s job is to criticize, to analyze the work and spot errors, things that don’t work, things that could be done in a better way…

  6. Everything that could be said on this has been said.
    I should however also add that if there’s nothing nice to say, then nothing should be said (good or bad).

    1. Very interesting perspective @brizio, something I am very conscious of these days when given a critique. Find the good before the bad; it makes the bad more readily assimilated and accepted.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. If you can, read the prequel. Many liked that better.

  7. @chemokopi well-said…………

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