Too many times, I’ve seen it happen: a person who can’t dance criticizes a dancer at a competition, saying “Even I could do better than her! She’s awful!” Or somebody snickers at a singer on The Voice or American Idol, calling the person “terrible” even though they themselves have never taken any formal voice lessons. These kind of people irritate me no end–I call them “armchair critics,” because they make negative judgments without knowing the least little bit of what they’re criticizing.
These days, however, I’m seeing another type of armchair critic–the fiction armchair critics, lobbing fireballs of negativity at both book and author, despite never having attempted writing any kind of fiction themselves. Much of the criticism surrounding books like the Twilight series and the 50 Shades series seems to fall into this category, at least for me.
As a budding novelist and holder of a Bachelor’s degree in English, I am accustomed to criticizing literature in an academic sense; I freely admit that neither of these mentioned book series are exactly the heights of literature. But let’s set aside opinions about books of this type for a second and think about the principle behind negative, biased, non-academic criticism. How much sense does it make to criticize someone else for doing something you’ve never attempted and therefore know nothing about?
To me, it makes no sense at all. It’s almost as if the armchair critics believe that their criticism will make a quality book magically appear–they toss their criticism far and wide on the Internet, decrying the books they dislike as “wastes of paper,” etc., yet I don’t see them writing any “quality” literature for us to read instead.
Thoughtful Criticism: More Than Just Opinions
I believe that if we are to offer the best and most thoughtful criticism of anything, we must first have an understanding of the effort and processes behind whatever we’re criticizing. Thus, for criticizing successful fiction, we must first have tried to write successful fiction–we must have grappled with creating a relatable, believable character, must have worked to choose exactly the right words to paint a scene, etc.
Doing so will not only make us more knowledgeable about the work of writing, but more understanding about the struggles of an author. Then, and only then, will we be able to offer an in-depth and HELPFUL critique of an author’s work. That’s part of what criticism is for, anyway–to help someone else better their work.
My Solution: Armchair Critics, Go and Write!
So, here is my solution for all the fiction armchair critics out there: if you think you can write a better book series than Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, etc., then do so. Start crafting an original idea in your head; create your characters, give them life on the blank page. Mold that storyline so that it conveys the overarching meaning you’re trying to communicate to the audience. Shape those themes, sculpt that imagery–really dig your proverbial fingers in and do the work that you have criticized others for doing so poorly. Experience what it is like to be an author. It’s not as easy as it looks!
If all the people who criticize Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey try out this solution, for instance, then the modern literary world should soon be inundated with a wealth of successful, quality fiction, if the critics’ opinions of themselves are to be believed. (And even if they aren’t successful, at least they will know more about what they’re criticizing!)