Part 3: FLAMEWAR!
that is, Responding Properly to Criticism
"Turn the other cheek." "An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind." "Let it be." These are all time-honored principles which have absolutely nothing to do with writing and criticism on FictionPress. If somebody critiques your work, particularly in the manner described in the previous section, then you have an obligation to respond as quickly and as strongly as possible. This final chapter will show you the proper way in which to do so.
Continuing the pattern of previous chapters, we will start with the information that applies to good writers. Recall that a good writer is one who only receives reviews in this vein:
Your great! There were a few typos, thogh. Keep up the good work!
Notice the glaring lack of detail and impersonal nature of this review. There is only one way to respond to this kind of non-criticism: add the critic to your "Favorite Authors" list and be her friend for life. A good writer will have no fewer than twenty authors on her list of favorites, and most of these will not have published anything other than criticism and perhaps a rambling, self-serving autobiography. This is perfectly normal and very, very healthy.
If you are a bad writer, the process is more complicated, but remember that you brought this upon yourself, what with expressing a dissenting opinion and everything. When the system works properly, a bad writer will mostly receive reviews that look like this:
U SHUD GO KILL YOURSELF!!! just because I'm a charter member of Greenpeace and I only eat organic vegetables doesn't make me an environmentalist and you cat'n type worth BEANS so SHUT UP or I'll kill your goldfish!!!!!!!!!!
Your first inclination may be to laugh at such juvenilia, or to ignore it outright. This is the worst mistake that you can make. If you don't have a visible emotional reaction, the critics win! Thus, you must take decisive action. All of the following methods are appropriate when dealing with such a critique:
- Respond in kind:
- Review the critic's work using the same tone that the critic used toward you. You don't even have to read the piece which you are reviewing-- simply follow the formula described in the previous section. If the critic has not posted anything, send the critic a threatening e-mail. If the critic has not left an e-mail address, take your frustration out on somebody on the critic's "Favorite Authors" list. If the critic does not have any favorite authors, choose your target at random.
- Take the high road:
- The insults didn't get to you; really, they didn't. To prove just how unhurt you are (and how much better than the critic), you are going to give one of the critic's stories an objective review-- a very long, detailed, objective review. Pick the story apart, word by word and line by line, and find all of the flaws. Even if the perceived flaws are matters of opinion, insignificant, or placed deliberately for the purpose of making a point, be sure to discuss all of them at length. Ascertain that the critique is well organized-- use double line-spacing between paragraphs, indent your quotations, and include big, bold headings for each of your points. Keep reminding the critic that he is a miserable little upstart and that he has a lot to learn from you. The finished product should take up at least as much space as five average-sized reviews, but it's worth the effort: it will prove conclusively just how little you care about what the critic says.
- Take the really high road:
- Independently or in addition to the above suggestions, make a point of being magnanimous. Tell everyone that you have decided to forgive the critic, since she doesn't know any better. Repeat your message of forgiveness to everyone at every opportunity. If the critic accuses you of being sanctimonious, forgive her again, more loudly. Repeat until the critic discovers your physical address and sends you some anthrax. Tell everyone that you forgive her for that, too.
As the last suggestion may have implied, your response to criticism is likely to evoke its own response from the critics and their friends. Do not fail to let the situation escalate. Enlist the help of your friends (people who are on your "Favorite Authors" list and who have you on theirs) to write hundreds of death threats and stinging critiques of your critics and their friends. This is known as a flame war. You may find that your life is consumed by the flame war, and that you spend so much time writing flames that you have no time to write anything else. This is perfectly natural. The goal is to re-create the situation that existed on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 online forums in late 1993. If you manage get permanently banned from FictionPress, you win. Kudos.
There is a third kind of review, one that is insidious, vulgar, and fortunately (oh, so fortunately) very rare. This type of criticism is characterized by honesty, tact, specificity, helpfulness, and a certain extra something that sets the heart to trembling joyfully and inspires new zeniths in artistic expression. The proper response to this kind of criticism, is no response at all. Do not take the critic's suggestions to heart, do not revise your work, never indicate any sort of appreciation, and never, under any circumstances, ask "why." If you really must respond, do so according to the rules for bad writers, described above.
At this point, you may experience feelings of disillusionment and nausea toward the entire process. There must be something horribly wrong with you. Before you do anything rash (for example, bluntly expressing your concerns in a sarcastic, satirical essay), ask yourself: Is the act of surrendering your artistic integrity to the will of a largely ignorant and often pernicious herd, really such a bad thing?
The preceding was a work of satire. Several actual writers were harmed in the making of this essay.