Welcome to my new series of posts Musing by Moonlight, where I take the opportunity to get off my chest anything and everything to do with books.
Or maybe not.
Depends how I feel.
Be Careful With Your Critique
This is going to be an unpopular post today but as usual I need to rant. Today I’m talking about people who aren’t careful with their critiques and without meaning to actually report something incorrect about a book in a review without backing it up.
I don’t mean to say that reviewers reporting that no vampires show up in Twilight (because they’re sparkling fairies who live in the woods) or that Fifty Shades of Grey is a great romance are wrong, because that’s their opinion (which they are entitled to and which I will defend to the death). What I want to talk about is people needing to choose their critiques more carefully rather than flinging phrases about because it sounds cool, pretentious, or like they know what they’re talking about.
The three things that bother me the most in reviews are careless remarks in the following form:
- Nothing happens.
- The character is a Mary Sue.
- The author does too much telling/showing.
I’ll explain why these drive me nuts. More often than not these phrases are knocked around when the reviewer simply can’t elucidate what the actual problem is:
- ‘Nothing happens’ is code for ‘I’m bored/the pacing is slow.’
- Accusing a character of being a Mary Sue is actually code for ‘I don’t like this character’ (even when she passes the Litmus test).
- Saying an author does too much or telling or showing is code for ‘I can’t tell the difference and feel like everything is telling or showing.’
That’s not to say that these three things don’t happen at all. I know they do. But I am seeing these three critiques crop up more and more frequently in book reviews where they simply do not belong.
- Often something does happen in the first 100 pages of a book, even if it’s just building a romance.
- Mary Sues actually have to pass a test, not just be a character that’s good at stuff or you don’t like. Also, you don’t have to hate her just because she’s a Sue.
- Kat Zhang writes a lovely blog post about the difference between telling and showing and when it’s appropriate. Telling/showing authors are often accused of this writing technique when they’ve skilfully blended the two together because the reader just can’t tell the difference.
Rather than falling back on industry jargon, I want reviewers to please learn to clarify in reviews. I’d love it if reviewers learned to:
- Not claim ‘nothing happens’ if the blurb-promised action has not started but you’re swooning/raging about the romance, sub-plot, or otherwise action that is not mentioned in the blurb.
- Not claim a character is a Mary Sue if she’s actually not (hint: Katniss and Hermione are not, Bella is) or you don’t like the character (hint: Twilight and Harry Potter are still some of the most popular books around. Having a Mary Sue/Gary Stu character does not automatically make it a ‘bad’ book).
- Not throw around critique terms you haven’t wrapped your head around.
I fully expect that this post will anger some people, but I’m not trying to tell people how to review, only to watch their words. If you report something in a book I’m going to take it at face value and trust you.