Saturday, October 17, 2020

Criticism: Friend or Foe? ~ by Ember Dante

Hello again, everyone! I want to thank Kristine for having me on her show and giving me the opportunity to pop in and share more of myself with you.

I stumbled a bit over what to write, and then a flash of inspiration hit when I least expected it. Isn’t that always the way it works?



I’m a huge fan of Sex and the City, which ran from 1998-2004 on HBO, and spawned two movies (the first was definitely better than the second, in my opinion). I watched it every Sunday when it aired, dying of anticipation to see what the four best friends would do that week.

I can’t remember ever being disappointed.

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my daily Google news feed and spotted an article about my favorite show. The headline was along the lines of, “Carrie Bradshaw ignored a lot of red flags about Jack Berger.”

I was intrigued.

If you’ve never watched the show, Carrie writes a sex column (titled Sex and the City) in which she makes pithy and entertaining observations about sex and relationships. The dating exploits of her three best friends--as well as her own--were the inspiration behind many of the topics she covered.

During the six seasons the show aired, Carrie herself had several boyfriends as well as casual hookups (as did the other ladies). Some of these men, like in real life, were better suited for her than others. A few I liked, others not so much.

One in particular, introduced in Season 5, was Jack Berger, a fellow writer. We soon learned that he was a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Carrie had just been signed with the same publisher to release a collection of her favorite articles from the many she’d written for her weekly column.

It appeared that they would be a good match.

However, as the “Red Flag” article mentioned, there were problems with his character: he appeared shady at first, he was still hung up on his ex-girlfriend, and when he ultimately broke up with Carrie, he did it with a Post-It note. I don’t disagree there were several things not to like about him (though I liked the actor playing the role).

While reading all the reasons Jack Berger was a bad person, there was one “fault” mentioned that I felt was way off base. I had even felt that way while watching the show.

He was supposedly unable to accept criticism.

In the short time I’ve been an author, I’ve learned it’s important to grow a thick skin. For the most part, I think I’ve succeeded, but how I take criticism depends on how it’s delivered.

Back to Jack Berger.

Jack had written one novel and had another on option with his publisher. He gave Carrie a copy of his published work after they’d been dating a while (a fairly thick hardback that would rival Stephen King).

She devoured it, going on and on in the voice over narration about how brilliant it was and what a genius Jack was for having written it. Jack arrived at her apartment, and she gushed. He was very pleased that she liked it.

And then…

She rather gleefully pointed out what she considered to be an error. Comments like, “No New Yorker would do this,” and “You are so lucky I came along when I did to save you from making this kind of mistake again,” etcetera.

She did that while laughing the entire time, as if he was supposed to roll with it and thank her.

As one would imagine, he didn’t take it well and got rather upset. He shut down, explaining that he was finished talking about the book. At one point, he made a comment along the lines of, “How ‘bout I jump into my time machine and go back to change that before it’s published?”

From that point on, she went overboard extolling the virtues of the book, pointing out all the things she enjoyed.

In my opinion, that was too little, too late. Jack felt the same.

Personally, I didn’t feel that was an over-the-top reaction on his part. There I was, watching a fictional TV show, and I was outraged on his behalf. Not over his inability to take criticism, but over her delivery of it.

I hold no illusions that everyone will love my writing. We all have different tastes and opinions. In fact, I’ve received one and two-star reviews. That’s fine. There’s also a difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. (I’d also rather someone have the guts to tell me what they didn’t like, rather than just leave a star rating. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Of course, the show’s writers had a reason to move the plot as they did, but I feel it’s unfair to count that as a red flag (against anyone, not just a fictional character), when she approached him that way. My reaction would have been much the same.

It also made me wonder if the person who wrote the article has ever been on the receiving end of that type of criticism.

Novels, short stories, poems--any written product by an author--is like a child, nurtured with love, blood, sweat, and tears. That creation will go through many peoples’ hands--editors, proofreaders, beta readers, ARC reviewers, etc--and along the way, criticism will be given. It’s expected, even.

The right criticism can make someone a better author. The wrong criticism--or poorly delivered criticism--has the potential to do grave damage.

In Carrie and Jack Berger’s case, it ultimately led to their break up. That’s a bit extreme, but I believe many people forget that their words have power. Once said, they can never be taken back. 


Listen to Ember Dante's podcast episode here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.