Friday, October 22, 2010

Where is 'snark's' place in writing?

Though this isn't a "trending" topic, it seems to always lurk around the internet world.

There are sites where snark prevails and is expected and cherished for the no bull criticism it offers.

AW Query Letter Hell - where posters willing place their queries on the chopping block in hopes of making it better.
So what if it's no longer there. Miss Snark herself has some of the best blogs with the most pertinent information out there.
And of course, who could ever mention the word (lovingly, of course) snark without Janet Reid's Hyde side. 

Then you have the other face of the writing world - the ones who offer mostly honest yet toned down advice that boosts confidence and keeps writers writing.

The mysterious Authoress' amazing blog of all things helpful and amazing.
Kristin Nelson's and Nathan Bransford's blogs of all things query and pre-publishing.
And most writing sites like Scriblerati, and tons and tons of others.

Now, the question is, which is more effective? 

Without running the risk of sounding passive - neither. Personally, I'm usually all for the snark, because I feel that it's honest and I can trust it. But even when we subject ourselves to the brutality - there always seems to be that ONE person who crosses the line. If it was a party scene it would go like this:

Lady: "Yeah, so I totally feel like this dress makes me look fat."
General murmur: Niceties including "No it doesn't, I promise!"
Helpful person: "You look fine, but maybe if you crunched it around your stomach a little it'd look even better. I mean you look great, but that might make you more comfortable. Your call."
Overhelpful: "Don't you have something else you can change into? I mean, yeah, that doesn't look good at all."

Then the general murmur falls into a shocked silence, followed by some tool-bag saying "Ah man, over the line."

I think the goal is to fall somewhere around the "helpful person" character. When writing reviews or informative things to people I tend to use the following formula.

Step 1: Say something nice. 

Option A: Compliment the work. 
Option B: When it really is horrible, at least let them know you're on their side. 

Step 2: Give HONEST critique

You don't have to hold their hand, and you don't have to tell them "I wouldn't change a thing!" Because you would change a thing or two, because our human nature and compulsive need to be right won't let us say it's perfect. If human nature wasn't this way, there would be no such thing as interior designers. Or writers. 

Don't take away their voice. Just because they phrase something a way you wouldn't, doesn't mean they're wrong. Stick to grammar, pointing out awkward sentences, plot holes or general misunderstandings. Leave the voice to the writer. 

Step 3: Say something helpful

Something as simple as - "You're on the right track, take my suggestions with a grain of salt!" Will give writers back the power. Reading "suggestions", especially when there are quite a few of them, can be overwhelming. We've all been there. Just a single closing line that puts the emphasis back on the writer a good way to move forward. 

So, readers. Weigh in. How do you like your feedback? Sugar coated? Snarky? Sugar coated snark? Snark flavored sugar? 


  1. I prefer a balance of both but if I have to go with one I want honesty, even if it's brutal.

  2. I'll go with some sugar coated snark please, thank you.

    Fun post, Bethany!

  3. Heather: I completely agree. I like the honesty, as long as it's delivered with class. I think that's the difference between good snark and being cruel.

    J.M.: Thanks! :)