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Personally, for me, I have ADHD and mild autism, so at times I don't have the same views as the majority. For example, I like the ending/plot of this one book/show/movie, only for me to find out that half of the audience don't like this or that. What I find in an "unsatisfactory" work for me could be explained by connecting some dots and making my own explanation/conclusion on why that happened.

People could be like "this is so out of character. ___ would never do this!", "it doesn't make sense for the plot to go to this instead", "I think it would be better and more realistic if this character/plot went to ___", "There's a very much large plothole they didn't cover at all!", "The writers are just lazy to explore more of __"

Yes, there may be at times I myself don't like how this certain sequence goes, but in my brain I just filled in the rest of the explanation of why that is. Let's say there's this side character that didn't get their story more explained or explored. Like people hating the ending of a badass, cold and apathetic warrior that has turned into a parent/mentor now and would be deemed "out of character" for them to act so domestic. But in my own explanation/opinion, it perfectly makes sense, because a character like that could have the arc of being softer, because they have a life of hardships and have learned to let loose a little.

Personally, I find that if there are "inconsistencies", the author meant it as such and just that a writer have a different views, emotions, mindset, interpretation on their work they gave out vs how an audience would perceived and analyze it.

How do I recognize someone's constructive criticism of my work when in my mind there's a deeper or other meaning they just don't understand? Like they're only commenting now because they weren't satisfied or that their concerns would actually be further explained if they read further into it.

Like what's good criticism to mull over and apply and what's just bad criticism that seems to only be a matter of opinion on what they like and what should actually happen?

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  • Can we be clear whether this is about recognizing or taking constructive criticism as such, or about ADHD, autism and neuro-diversity in general? The Question is valid either way but to the extent it's more about neuro-diversity does it not need very different and much more sensitive responses, which have little to do with Writing? Nov 28, 2023 at 19:33

2 Answers 2

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There are stories that aren't written for the majority of people but for a small(er) subset of them. Not everyone likes steampunk, for example, and there are niches beside the larger mainstream genres that are even smaller.

If you have Autism and ADHD, your experience of the world and your thinking will likely differ significantly from those of the majority of people. Maybe your writing differs from mainstream writing significantly also, but would be just right for people similar to you. If that is so — and your writing isn't just bad — you need to find beta readers that enjoy your niche and get feedback from them instead of random people who may have preferences different from your own.

The danger with writing for a niche is that it might be so small as to become unprofitable. This means that large publishers won't publish it and there will be no or little money in it for you.

No matter if you write for a small niche or the mainstream, though, you have to be able to gracefully accept the criticism your beta readers provide. There are a few helpful ideas that should guide all authors:

  1. Find beta readers that are part of your target audience.

    Do not request criticism for a science fiction story from readers who don't read or do not like science fiction! The more your beta readers correspond to your target audience, the more relevant their feedback can be.

  2. The reader is always right!

    If someone finds your story inconsistent, then for them it is inconsistent and no amount of arguing on your part will change that reading experience. The reader may be stupid or inattentive or impatient, but that is how readers are and your writing must compensate for that.

    Of course not everyone likes every kind of story (so, again, get beta readers from your target audience!), and if only a single beta reader criticizes some aspect of your story it might come down to personal preference and taste, but:

  3. If more than one reader gives you the same feedback, then you definitely have made a mistake and you must rectify it.

    The great danger I see in your question is that you may as yet be unable to understand that your readers don't know your mind! You know your characters, you know their backstory, and you know the plot. But the readers don't know any of that. All they have is what you have written and what at each point during their reading they have read. When you argue with your beta readers that they are reading in the wrong way, you fail to understand that you obviously haven't been successful in putting your knowledge of your story into your writing in a way that your readers can retrieve it. If information is upcoming, you need to foreshadow it, to counter the impatience of your readers, for example.

    The danger is that you know the story that you want to write and therefore wrongly assume that you have actually succeeded in writing it. It is a more beneficial and professional attitude to assume that you might not yet have fully succeeded and take every chance you are given to learn where you might be able to improve both your story and your skill.

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    @Divizna As I said, your beta readers need to be representative of your target audience. If you write for an audience that likes to read gay love stories, do not choose beta readers that don't want to read that. And if you write for an audience that doesn't like gay love stories (e.g. in a competition where the judges are your audience), then don't write a gay love story. Trying to sell a hard boiled detective story to readers who want to read a historic romance is not a mistake of the readers.
    – Ben
    Nov 23, 2023 at 9:58
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    Well. The fantasy community - i. e. the actual audience that would buy the collection in which the first ten or so stories would be published - is a) generally completely welcoming to LGBT people, and b) includes quite a lot of slash fans. (If anything, they might be disappointed there was nothing more than a chaste kiss.) I didn't know at the time that the judges of the only fantasy-dedicated contest in the whole country weren't representative of their audience and would go a visceral "ew, homos". Guess that was a mistake, but not a mistake with writing in the story.
    – Divizna
    Nov 23, 2023 at 14:15
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    What's more, they weren't disinterested. They were disgusted. Homophobia is not a personal genre preference. (And it wasn't a gay love story, it was a story about having a difficult but ultimately caring parent, in contrast to abusive.) Nor is homophobia valid criticism of quality. Saying that bigoted reader feedback = you're doing it wrong and need to write in line with the bigotry is something that no writer ever should be told.
    – Divizna
    Nov 23, 2023 at 14:54
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    Another thing you're wrong about: A judge doesn't get to choose what topics or genres they do and don't want to read if it fits the contest's propositions. When I was a judge, I wouldn't dream of saying I don't wanna read a postapo with dogs for heroes and citing it as a reason why I scored that story low (I actually scored it quite high; it was very well done and my dislike for both postapo and dogs is not valid criticism). Would I ever read that on my own accord? Hell no. But I wasn't a hobby reader there - I was a judge, and I had to be fair.
    – Divizna
    Nov 23, 2023 at 18:58
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    For someone who hasn't formed any opinion, you sure argue adamantly.
    – Divizna
    Nov 23, 2023 at 23:17
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I think you don't understand the author's job.

The author of a story imagines the situation, the scenes, the characters, and their personalities, and does the engineering to turn this into a coherent story, with justified character arcs that to a large extent follows the three-act structure.

The writing job is for the writer to help the reader recreate, in their mind, the imaginary "movie" the author sees playing in their mind.

That's the deal. The reader's imagination is guided, and all the work is done for them by the author that crafts the story. All the justifications are shown, the personalities are shown, and creative writing makes this all entertaining.

This is not a "choose your own adventure" or "write your own story" kind of entertainment. Customers expect novels and movies to stand on their own, to seem plausible, with no weird or out-of-character things happening without good explanation.

The illogical or out-of-character gaps you are talking about, for neurotypical people, are disappointing showstoppers. They look like lazy writing, like flawed writing.

Most people that are fans of fiction (in any form) expect the author(s) to come up with a seamless story, no deus ex machina moments, and every action (even if surprising) justified previously by the character's personality or special abilities already shown previously.

Like a Sherlock Holmes story; if we go back and read it a second time, there should be no flaws. Sherlock's reasoning has to be rock solid, with no plausible alternatives, or it's a bad Sherlock story. And for the modern writers of detective stories, they go over their stories many times to ensure the progression of logic for their super-detectives is bulletproof, and adjust it if they find a flaw.

Readers should never have to do any inventing with their own imagination to justify character actions or plot twists. The writing is just to guide the imagination of the readers to help them see the same movie, in their head, as the author, with all the kinks already worked out.

Or in the case of a screenplay, the director imagines the settings and characters within some basic guidelines the plot requires, but the director will not fix the story logic for the author. Holes in the story logic is one of the major reasons for rejection, both for novels and screenplays—it is the author's responsibility to write a story with no holes in the plot or justifications in any character's actions.

So, how can you take constructive criticism? Recognize that you failed to justify whatever is being criticized, and it was indeed your fault as the author. And be grateful that somebody pointed out the flaw, so you can correct it.

Not all criticism is constructive however. Some criticism is just a matter of personal taste; a reader doesn't like that I wrote a promiscuous female hero, for example. But her promiscuity was a necessary plot point, so I kept it.

Criticism that finds holes in your plot logic, or identifies actions by characters that seem out of character, or outright contradictions in the story, are valuable. Treat them as such. None of us are infallible. Be glad someone pointed them out for you, and thank them.

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    "customers"? "neuronormal"? "should never have to do any inventing with their own imagination"? What a dispiriting world is painted in this answer!
    – Stef
    Nov 23, 2023 at 19:47
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    @Stef Correct, when reading a story, you should not have to invent any plot or justification for any character's actions. If you have to do that, the author hasn't done their job. Why does John McClane in Die Hard keep getting up after he's been slammed, dragged, shot and cut? Because he loves his wife and child, that was made clear in the first 5 minutes; he cannot quit and get over it; he'd rather die than give up. By the end of the story no reader should ever have to wonder why somebody did something. On a second read, it should all make perfect sense. otherwise is is just bad writing.
    – Amadeus
    Nov 23, 2023 at 19:54

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