Hello, Mythcreants! I’m a subscriber and your site has been very helpful in honing my writing/storytelling abilities. Anyway, I have a question about how to critique something that’s commonly thought of as good in my culture. What can I do to simultaneously be polite and scathing?
Hey Evan, thanks for writing in!
How to critique things depends a lot on the context of what you are critiquing. If it’s simply a popular story without any other considerations, like Star Wars or Marvel, I keep a few basic guidelines in mind.
Keep it about the work.
- I’m critiquing the story, not the author, actors, director, etc.
- I try to avoid making guesses about the author’s state of mind, and I especially avoid directing anger their way.
Remember that it’s a story.
- Stories are important, but a bad story doesn’t “ruin my childhood” or anything like that.
- Getting really upset about a story’s technical failings is likely to seem unprofessional.
Don’t qualify your opinions.
- If I think a popular story has problems, or is just bad, I say it. People will either respond or they won’t.
- Fan ragers will fan rage, and they won’t be mollified by you constantly qualifying your views by saying that this is just your opinion.
- It’s automatically your opinion because you said it.
Of course, there can be other factors to keep in mind. If a story is important to a marginalized group of people, then it might not be my place to critique it, especially if I can find another example that doesn’t have those complications. For example, when I’m looking to critique the Marvel films, I generally default to movies other than Black Panther or Captain Marvel. Whatever problems those movies have, it’s usually pretty easy to find another MCU film with a similar issue that isn’t really important for onscreen superhero diversity.
I also consider the context of how other people are critiquing the story. If there’s been a lot of toxic hatred directed at a story, I usually try to find something else to talk about, because I don’t want to support toxic behavior even a little. That’s why I haven’t said much about The Last Jedi, even though it has a lot of problems as a film. Any critiques I make could be interpreted as siding with the bigots who hate TLJ for having an Asian woman in it.
Hope that answers your question!