So you have a new review on your latest project. If you're anything like me, you're bouncing off the walls when you get that notification email. "A new review? Somebody actually cares that I exist! Somebody actually likes me! I have a future!" And so forth. But what happens when you click on that review and it says something like this?

So I thought you did a really nice job with the flow of your language, and your grammar is pristine, but I really don't understand the characters. Why would Christine just up and leave her job like that? She even liked her job! You didn't really give any explanation or motivation for that - in fact, it seemed pretty out of character for her. Also, I don't think Jedediah would really be that nice, you know? He's a seriously screwed up kid. And now all of a sudden he's acting like the sweetest guy on the planet? I don't get it. I think you need to step back a bit and look at the bigger picture for your characters. This chapter doesn't seem to fit.

Insert appropriate swear word. Dang it! You worked hard on that chapter! But now you have this critical review. What are you going to do about it? You could...

1) blow it off. After all, what's one bad review? Picasso got made fun of all the time, and look at him! This is your piece of artwork, and artists never compromise to please their readers.

2) discount the reviewer. "This guy just doesn't get it. If there's anyone who's not looking at the bigger picture, it's him. He should get over himself." I mean, you know your story better than anyone else. So he doesn't get it. That's his problem!

3) get super depressed and quit. "He's right! I don't know what I'm doing here! I'm so bad at writing! It's so hard... It takes so much work... I can't do this anymore. What do I know about characters? Who do I think I am for assuming that people would actually want to read this pile of urine?"

4) let your face turn red and steam blow out your ears (you know, like in cartoons). Usually, this involves writing a really nasty response. "Hey, I may not be perfect, but you don't have to go and be so cruel about it! Get a hold on yourself. You're not so perfect either, Mr. Smarty-Pants. I looked at your work. Your characters are even more pathetic than mine! You know nothing about characterization! FictionPress is a place to be encouraging, not to rip someones brain out of their heads and smash it around. Good golly."

5) ...or, you could be mature about it. None of the above responses will make you a better writer, and that's your goal, isn't it? Dealing with a critical review can be hard. It's human nature to react in one of the ways I just mentioned, but you have to suppress that. Here are some tips on how to handle a critical review more maturely than your average Fiction-Presser.

Realize that not every critical review is a "flame." A "flame," for those newer to the site, is basically just a really bad review that attacks the writer more than the story. I've seen very few real flames. I have a whole separate essay on flames (Flames for the Taking), so I won't go into it much. Just realize that there's a difference between a nasty old flame and a genuine critique.

Also realize that a reviewer who leaves a critical review only wants to help you - it just may not initially feel like help. I am often one to leave critiques along with praises in my reviews, and the only reason I do that is because I want to communicate the (non-comprehensive) knowledge I have about writing with others who will appreciate it and can use it. Nobody's work is perfect, and sometimes we're too close to our own work to see some easily fixable errors. Generally, critical reviewers are really just trying to be nice.

Evaluate the reviewer. Visit their profile. Read a chapter or two of their work. It's up to you to make the judgment, but naturally, the better writer is the better reviewer. This is NOT an excuse to ignore reviews from newer writers, or just writers who you don't think are very good yet. However, I usually put more weight in the reviews that come from writers who I can look up to.

Evaluate the review. What a reviewer says may not always be what a reviewer really means. For example, when I was 14 I tried my hand at writing a romantic relationship (a very non-romantic person myself, it was interesting). I had a writer friend review and critique it. She, also 14 and inexperienced in the world of boys, basically said that I made Lucas (the guy) too respectful of Jil (the girl); that boys are lustful and why wouldn't Lucas be lustful? Well... I took the advice literally and wrote myself into a terrible corner where Lucas was a straight up jerk, and I didn't like him anymore, even though he was a main character. I abandoned the story, unsure how to fix it.

Just recently, as I considered it, I realized that my friend was pointing to a symptom of a bigger problem. Lucas was too perfect. He was just a boring old Mary-Sue. I could have made him less perfect in any number of ways, and things would have been just fine, but instead I took her advice literally, and I'm sorry writer-friend, but it turned out to be a disaster. Moral of the story? Analyze the intent behind the review, and don't always take everything at face value.

And, of course, it is ultimately your decision whether you take this advice to heart. Because after all, option Number 1 wasn't all false. But before you decide either way what you're going to do with a critique, it's important to evaluate both the review and the reviewer. You don't have to feel obligated to change your story. But do you want my advice? Do it anyway. Do it in some form. Like as not, it will make your story better.