Of Dragons and Personal Opinion

The comments on my story for last month’s StoryTime Blog Hop have me thinking about the difference between objective criticism and personal opinion.

Wanna get more specific?

There is too much baby-eating in this story.

–Roughly half the people who read the story.

There is exactly the right amount of baby-eating in this story.

–The other half.

(For the record, it was tasteful and understated baby eating. Not a grand guignol extravaganza.)

Now, despite the fact that I agree with the half that agrees with me, that’s still personal opinion. While there are many options here, there’s no one right way. A little more infantophagy, and you have a horror story. A little less, and it’s practically a children’s book. (The characters did–technically–live happily ever after.)

Personal opinion shifts who your readers will be. It doesn’t change the quality of your work. It’s not the same thing as forgetting to take out all the places where your cat sat on your keyboard, or accidentally changing the species of your main character’s pet (no… no reason…) somewhere in chapter thirty one.

Everybody has an opinion, and most of them won’t do that much for you. Why? Because those are usually the things you’ve already decided.

Do the main characters fall in love? Do they win the basketball game? Just how alien-y is alien-y enough? Or more specifically, do your aliens have wings or extra eyeballs or anything to let people know they’re aliens? Is it a cozy mystery or a gruesome thriller? All personal opinion.

And if we’re talking about your story, your personal opinion matters more than theirs. I’m not going to make changes in the dragon story because I like it the way it is, but you wouldn’t be wrong, if your dragons came home and ate a nice mixed-greens salad.

Objective criticism tends to focus on the things you’ve missed or gotten wrong. “So… uhm… how did they get their spaceship back after it was stolen?” or “You left out the part where…” Or “Your main character’s grandmother dies twice. Once in chapter twenty two and again in chapter twenty nine.” “The Duke of Wellington did not fight in the American Civil War.”

Those are things I would change. The main character needs to figure out how to get their spaceship back. People probably miss that part where the love interest is supposed to kiss somebody. And the Duke of Wellington? Well, that’s still classified, so I’d probably better change it.

Do you have a good story about personal opinion vs. objective criticism? Let me know! I love to hear from you.

4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Possibly I’m only agreeing because you agree with me (LOL) but yes. This, exactly. Opinions by their very nature are individual and subjective. I can take those with a grain of salt. But objective criticism is something I need to pay attention to, even though it’s ouchy.

  2. Loni Townsend

    Reply

    This. So much this. I’ve definitely encountered the sam e opinion conflict. Latest example: I handed off a couple of chapters to my critique group with a description of “action-adventure fantasy with humorous undertones and cattlepunk themes”. One guy said “I’d say overtones, not undertones,” while a gal said, ” leave out humorous because it isn’t funny. I didn’t laugh at all.” And I’m all, “what about the story…”

  3. Reply

    I really struggle with how to act on critiques, and your post has given me a good way to frame some of them. Some of the comments I get are clearly rooted in personal opinion. They can be helpful, especially if I get the same feedback from multiple people. Some, though, have more to do with things like story structure and characterization, yet these often vary quite a bit from one person to the other. Someone says, you didn’t make this character’s motivation clear–why is she acting that way? Another disagrees. Someone else says a piece of dialogue doesn’t ring true. Another thinks it does. I try to consider all of it and act on what seems right to me, but sometimes it’s really confusing.

    • Reply

      I’m so glad it was useful to you! I was lucky to have a writers’ group early on where people would flat out tell you, “this is personal opinion.” Which was really nice, when you weren’t sure about it for whatever reason, and especially if you’re in a group of people writing in genres with very different expectations.

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