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.