the sensitive critic

On WritingFirst, a disclaimer. When it comes to fiction, books or movies, I’m an eternal critic. While I abhor the idea of extending judgment to people, I rarely read or watch anything without picking it apart.

When it’s good, I sing its praises. And when it’s bad, wrath. Pure unadulterated wrath.

However, there are two things I take into account before I let a negative opinion fly. The first I’ve done for a while. The second I learned more recently.

Thing #1: Genre dictates critique.

I’ll give you an example. I like the movie Van Helsing. That said, I wouldn’t argue it’s great cinema. It takes a lot of liberties with some classic monster legends, and the story has some obvious weak points. If I were inclined, I could easily chew it up and spit it out.

But I’m not inclined.

Why? Because Van Helsing was never meant to be a modern classic. It’s a fun summer romp at best, and in that capacity it delivers. It is fun. Mission accomplished.

Before I rail on any fiction, I consider the kind of book or movie the thing was meant to be. If it’s supposed to be a sappy, over-done love store (like, oh, I don’t know…Twilight or The Notebook), I’m far more likely to say I didn’t like it (personal preference) than to say it’s definitively ‘bad’.

It’s an important distinction. The stuff that makes a superhero movie epic is the very same stuff that would wreck historical fiction. Unless, of course, Seth Grahame-Smith wrote it.

Thing #2: Company dictates vocalization.

A few months ago I saw a movie with some friends. When the film ended, I declared it a complete waste of time without pausing to consider my companions or waiting to hear their thoughts. As it turned out, one of my friends loved it but felt embarrassed and slightly attacked by my harsh assessment.

Lesson learned. Not everyone wants to know what you think. Some people read books and watch movies with little to no regard for the strength of the story.

And you know what? That’s okay.

There’s no right or wrong way to ingest fiction. Don’t make the arrogant mistake of assuming your criteria should be the criteria.

As writers, it’s okay to critique other fiction. More than that, it’s good for us. It helps us grow.

But there’s something terribly wrong with butchering the stories others love just to do it. You know the people with whom you can talk shop. Limit your really brutal assessments to that crowd.

And even around other writers, remember that people are more important than your opinions. Always.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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