Concrit

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Synonyms: Constructive Criticism
See also: flame, feedback, LoC, review, DVD Commentary
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Also see Feedback.

Concrit is a short-form for constructive criticism, which is an analysis of a fanwork that points out mistakes or errors as well as the things that worked well. It is intended to help the creator improve their skills.

An example of concrit would be, "I enjoyed the plot, but I think your characters are a little bit out of character when they do X, and you had some grammar and spelling mistakes in these excerpts that I've quoted."

While most of the beta process could be described as concrit, most fans use the term to apply to feedback received after a work is posted publicly. The term is sometimes applied to reviews of work posted separately, but is more often reserved for direct responses. Most fans do not consider flames or sporking to be concrit.

The place of concrit is controversial in many fandoms. Some fans go looking for it, posting their works to public communities like Concrit My Fic, or asking their friends to offer advice. Other fans post notices in their headers welcoming concrit, but some will expressly ask for no concrit or positive comments only.

The idea that concrit is always or mostly negative comments is common. Comments that delve deeply into what a reader or viewer thought worked well in a work are rarely seen as concrit, especially in meta discussions on the topic.

Podfic creators face challenges trying to get constructive feedback on their work. Podfic tends to get very little feedback of any kind, so trying to get concrit is even harder outside the beta process. For writers, there are plenty of fans who are familiar with the forms and practices of literary criticism, many fans are academics in that field, or have experience in writing workshops or with professional editors. Some fans are professional editors. The chances of fans having experience in voice acting, audio production or editing are much lower. To try to generate some concrit flowing in the community, Paraka hosted the Podfic Critical Feedback Exchange in 2010.

Gift or Work?

Many fans that see fandom as a gift economy focus more on the social value of their works. They may not be primarily interested in skill development as a writer or an artist, but rather in the shared enjoyment of trading stories or art with fellow fans.

Other fans are more focused on their writing or art as a personal expression and these fans often lament the lack of concrit they get.

Historical Debates

Zine Era

From a letter in Implosion #6 (1977), Connie Faddis described the scene of the then-current state of conrit:
Fandom is full of old dinosaur writers now, and most of them came into Trek fandom in what I'd call our 'era of innocence.' (maybe 1969-74 or so). Then, there weren't so many zines, and fen were into a broader spectrum of themes, and editors and readers were delighted to read any but the most inept or simple-minded stories. Criticism, when it was given, was minimal, and praise was given a little more freely, I think. Now in our 'age of discontent' ('75 to date), we are hypercritical. We are also in to some highly controversial themes. A writer entering the fanfic field now must contend with pressures to deal with the specialized themes, and the impatience of current readers, who demand considerable writing experience from inexperienced writers. Experience is what comes after writing and publishing stories and getting feedback... When I came into Trekdom, it was enormously important to me to have my writing recognized. It was pretty bad when I started out, but editors like Ruth Berman took the time to and acre to offer advice and encouragement. And as importantly, the reviews I got were mostly positive, gentle and encouraging. If I were a new, inexperienced writer starting out now, I'd be terrified of reviews... I can't emphasize enough how important it is to a just-hatched writer to get public recognition, or how sensitive a new writer is to harsh or unsubstantiated criticism. If I were starting out now with the writing capabilities I had five years ago, I'd probably shrivel with intimidation, and shortly give up writing for publication. And the tragedy is that this is happening to new writers. Some are being driven out by criticism before they really have a chance to develop good skills, and others won't even try for fear of public flaying. The fandom desperately NEEDS new writers!! The old dinosaurs are tending to to where out the same old themes... And here we have a handful of fen who routinely write reviews, and who, whether they're smart enough to be aware of it or not, have the potential to shape opinion of some (many?) in fandom.
Boldly Writing tells of an early bit of controversy in 1975 regarding the place and form of criticism.
[A LoC by Paula Smith ] sharply criticized a story in the previous issue of Warped Space because it was a Mary Sue story, which brings up the whole issue of fan criticism. Paula Smith (and I [Joan Verba], plus other fans, mostly from the science fiction tradition), asserted that fan stories should be criticized by the literary standards applied to professional stories and novels. Other fans claimed that because fan fiction was an amateur effort, and 'just for fun,' it should not be criticized at all. Clashes occurred when the 'literary' fans wrote reviews of fanzines edited by the 'no-criticism-is-acceptable' fans. As these fans grew in number, 'literary' criticism of fanzines fell into decline. Later, in some fanzines, editors stated bluntly they would tolerate only favorable comments about their work. Warped Space, on the other hand, welcomed all comments and printed Paula's criticisms for all to read.

In 1982, Paula Smith herself was the recipient of some very pointed criticism in the Starsky and Hutch letterzine S and H #37 regarding her ill-received story "Surrender" in the zine Strokes, illustrating that sharp opinions didn't just go one way. The zine has an enormous amount of discussion regarding reviews and concrit, some of which is summarized in the early issues. Many of the points brought up in this publication are still being hashed out today. Issue #6 of S and H is a good place to start.

In the early/mid 1980s a letterzine called With Malice Aforethought was proposed by an anonymous fan frustrated by a perceived inability to comment critically on zine fic: "The entire purpose of this zine is to allow fen to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth -- no out-right libel or slander, please -- concerning the quality of fiction or art without fear of losing your friends, your reputation, or your life." This zine was never actually published.

Livejournal Concrit Debate of 2008

In 2008, one of many iterations of a sweeping concrit debate sprang up on Livejournal. It was mostly confined to SGA fandom, but spread, as these things often do, to other fans in other fandoms. The post that began the debate on July 18, 2008 argued that fandom should be a supportive, positive environment and argued that criticism and feedback are governed by social rules:
Because despite the shared interest and love of a TV show, despite the fact we’re all shuffling around this office together, and bump into one another at the water cooler, despite the illusion of “friendship” perpetuated by this tool we use to communicate with one another, we all interact with people in fandom on varying levels, and most of them are superficial. Most of us are virtual strangers, pun intended. And in the end, we have to wonder if a lot of the unsolicited "constructive criticism" out there is going to help much of anything, or if it is in fact going to have the exact opposite effect. Some of us have a rhinoceros hide when it comes to concrit, and some of us are going to hide under a blanket and never come out again. Most of us, when it's from someone we don't know, will simply ignore it.[1]
One of the major sources of contention in the comments was the question of reviews vs. direct feedback and whether those two things fell under the same set of "rules". Many fans felt that the post was directly speaking to kyuuketsukirui, who had expressed dissatisfaction in general with that year's McShep Match and was about to post reviews of the stories in his own journal. The other main issue revolved around the idea that one set of social standards could ever fit everyone even inside one fandom.

The subsequent debate in the comments and then in other posts covered every aspect of feedback and the fannish cultures around it. The combination of discussions about concrit, comments, commentary, recs and reviews all in one big hypertextual discussion was part of the reason tempers sometimes frayed and feelings got hurt. People were often speaking at cross-purposes.

Many fans who were primarily social about their fanworks expressed high levels of emotional reaction to what they perceived as negative criticism of fanworks. Other fans, more interested in analysis for its own sake were frustrated that one of the things they enjoyed most about fandom was considered an attack by others. This part of the discussion was often framed as a dispute between the "Cult of Nice" vs. "Cult of Mean"[2]

The discussion also touched on the kind of status accorded creators of fanworks as opposed to the fans who are consumers that like to create meta about works.

On July 23, synecdochic posted a long meta covering nearly every aspect of the discussion. She offered definitions of the various kinds of feedback and responses and discussed the varying ways fans related to works and the different cultural and social expectations about fandom and other fans.[3]

As the conversation died down, many SGA fans posted sticky posts on their journal with their policy on concrit. Others started including lines in their headers advising readers of their policies.

Recurring themes in discussions

Your place or mine?

For some fans, small issues like typos or html failures are okay in a public comment, but anything more detailed should be left to a private message.

One of the side issues in debates about concrit boils down to appropriate speech in appropriate spaces. Many fans believe their own journal, the space they control, is theirs to use as they wish. They feel that any kind of review or critique is fine and is not meant for the writer. Others think negative reactions should always be made in private. Concrit offered unsolicited and directly to the creator in the creator's space is another question. Some fans like it, both as readers or as writers, and others think it is a breach of the social mores of fandom or general etiquette to take a discussion like that into someone else's space.

These discussions regarding the appropriate space or venue for concrit is also an issue with fans on mailing lists. Some feel that any kind of uninvited concrit should be done in private messages to the writer, not offered up in places other fans can read.

Who should control the place of comment? Readers or writers? A fan in 2000 commented on another fan's assertion that all reviews be done in private:

I can't stand people eviscerating a story cruelly just to show how clever *they* are, and I've written reams about that. However, a reasonable discussion about a piece of fiction whether you like it or not is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, and no writer has the right to curtail that kind of discussion. No writer even has the right to know what people are saying about their fiction. If they find out, great. But that's not in the contract. You write the story, you put it out there, and you hope it hits its mark. Anything else is gravy, not a given.... it's impossible to know what might embarrass someone. I know people who are embarrassed to death over compliments! And there aren't any rules of "fairness" in writing. When you write something and put it out in any public forum, whether it is on a list, on an archive, on a web page, or in a zine, you are asking people to read it. You are asking them to use up their incredibly spare valuable time because you think you have something to say that is so important others must see it. It is one of the largest acts of ego there can be, that anyone would think that something *they've* said is so important others must read it. If you are asking me to use up *my* time (which has a significant monetary and personal value to me) you can't then tell me I have to right to express an opinion about it anywhere I chose. You had the right to post your story in a public forum in an attempt to get me to read it. That's a pretty ballsy act by any measurement (especially when you consider the billions of people who would never dare show anything they've written to anyone else). You can't ask for that invest of my time and put restrictions on how I want to express my feelings on the experience. Once you've published it, it's out of your control. [4]

Special rules for gift exchanges?

Many fic fests are set up as gift exchanges and many fans feel that these stories, posted publicly but as a gift for a specific individual, should be treated as a gift first, and a story second.

One post made on Christmas Day, 2009 on fanficrants drew the direct comparison between fannish fic exchanges and opening Christmas gifts with family. [5] One commenter pointed out:
A lot of writers go out of their way to tailor their fic to their recipient, so it is REALLY hard to tell what concrit might actually end up insulting the receiver. [6] Another stated that the customary period of anonymity in many gift exchanges can make it awkward to deal with concrit: I think a lot of the problem if giving crit during anon gift exchanges is that since no one knows who the author is, the author can't explain or discuss things, or even make any changes. So getting concrit at this juncture is just frustrating and a little humiliating, because you can't say, "I don't really understand why you feel that way, could you explain more and give examples?" or "I totally get that, I think I'll re-work this a little and try to make it better." You just sit there, and everyone feels the need to weigh in on the concrit. [7]

The post and discussion also touched on the type of criticism (spelling and grammar vs. larger criticisms of plot or theme), fandom size, and the anonymous posting period as determiners of the appropriateness of concrit. Many felt that once the story had been posted somewhere besides the gift exchange (an archive, or the author's personal journal), posting concrit would be more acceptable.

Special qualifications?

Fans might hesitate to give concrit, even to people who openly ask (or sometimes beg) for it. A fan might wonder if they have the right to offer concrit in some situations. A kind of who am I to tell you how to write thinking that may be based on the relative status of the creator and the reviewer or on the reviewers' confidence in their own knowledge. Rhoboat talked about this in a vidding context:

"Where I'm going with all this is that there have been occasions where I've definitely noticed some technical issues from vidders who've been doing this a long time, often a lot longer than I. I think it's easier to forgive newbies, especially when I see improvement over time. But sometimes I feel like I'm dancing around eggshells (mixed metaphor, ha!), because I have no idea how to approach certain people or if I even should approach them. Sometimes these problems don't have an easy solution (I think especially when it comes to aspect ratio), and I'd really feel awkward approaching someone if I didn't even have an idea where to start for help."[8]

The often expressed opinion in the comments is that fans are more open to concrit from friends or at least non-strangers.

Concrit often isn't

Constructive that is. Many fans are not convinced that concrit outside the discussions between creator and beta is always valuable. Many fans are unwilling (or unable, if the work has been posted to a site that one cannot edit) to change works once they're posted, and may not feel that critique of one specific work is applicable to their future efforts. poisontaster touched on that idea as well as the question of whether offered concrit might sometimes be more about the critiquer's curiosity than any real interest in the writer's development, saying:

I've considered many times asking the author for a conversation—just between the two of us—not so much to criticize, per se, so much as to try and understand what went into making those (to me, flawed) narrative choices. I wanted the why. I wanted to know if she was aware of dropping those threads, leaving the gun on the table. I wanted to know.

But in the end, the key to that scenario is not the author or doing anything constructive for the author. The key to that scenario was me, and my inability to get what I wanted from the author's story. My nosiness, my curiosity, my lingering sense of dissatisfaction. And while it would please me greatly to be able to have that conversation with the author, on her part, I feel like it would do nothing but create a sense of anxiety and dissatisfaction with a work that she was clearly—clearly!—proud of. And, as reader, I don't think I have any entitlement to do that. [9]

cesare touched on the issue in a post about personal feedback habits, saying:

Unsolicited criticism is not constructive. What's helpful to one writer is harmful to another, so concrit depends on understanding the particular writer's goals and the type of criticism that is useful and encouraging for them. Unless a writer specifically states they're open to criticism from one and all, the constructive thing to do is to ask first before offering criticism. [10]

Meta and Further Reading

Other Sources

There's a lot of overlap with Reviewing and Feedback.

1997

2000

1999

2004

2005

2006

2007

References

  1. lamardeuse, My one and a half cents, 18 July 2008. (accessed December 1, 2010)
  2. zvi: A few Cult of Nice Misapprehensions, 24 July 2008. (accessed December 1, 2010)
  3. synecdochic: "Cult of nice" vs. "cult of mean", round 2847, fight, 23 July 2008. (accessed December 1, 2010)
  4. Flamingo, June 2000, comments at VenicePlace, quoted on Fanlore with permission
  5. xequth in Fanficrants: The Right Answer Is Not Always Concrit, 25 December 2009. (accessed December 1, 2010)
  6. agnes_bean, comment posted on The Right Answer Is Not Always Concrit. Posted Dec 27, 2009. Last accessed Nov 4, 2011.
  7. ashe_frost, comment on The Right Answer Is Not Always Concrit. Posted Dec 26, 2009. Last accessed Nov 4, 2011.
  8. rhoboat: Thoughts on vidding stuff, 22 January 2010 (accessed December 1, 2010)
  9. poisontaster: I Dreamed About Ray Charles Last Night, 30 December 2009. (accessed December 1, 2010)
  10. cesare: feedback, concrit, etc., 15 March 2010. (accessed December 1, 2010)