Play Nicely, Kids… Please.

I’m climbing up on my soapbox today, so if you’re looking for funnies you’ll probably want to skip back to Sometimes Words Fail Me.  I’ll return to my regularly scheduled silliness on the 29th.


I just finished reading a blogger’s vitriolic review of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. I don’t know Ms. Meyer and I’m not a Twilight fan, but…

The blogger eviscerated Twilight with razor-like precision. And then she got out her chainsaw and her hobnailed boots and waded into the remains, leaving a bloodbath in her wake. It was brutal and ugly.

It made me sad.

I believe negative reviews are valuable. They help create realistic expectations for our potential readers while steering away the people who aren’t likely to enjoy our work. We learn from criticism and become better writers because of it.

That said, even an objectively-stated negative review rips out little pieces of an author’s guts and cauterizes the wounds with a small, fierce flame. We accept that as the price of admission. We put on our big-kid underwear in the morning, and we go out knowing that getting knocked down is part of the game.

But a blistering, hate-filled attack drains the lifeblood from our hearts and the joy from our souls. And it’s pointless, except maybe to provide some twisted satisfaction for the attacker. Abusive screaming isn’t an effective teaching method.  It doesn’t make us better; it just makes us bleed.

I wonder if this blogger stopped to consider Stephanie Meyer while she was writing her rant. Not ‘Stephanie-Meyer-The-Bestselling-Author’; just Stephanie Meyer, a human being with same desire for respect and acceptance as everyone else.

Imagine what it’s like to be told that the product of your heart and soul; the result of your weeks/months/years of effort and sacrifice and self-doubt and triumph… is worse than garbage. Should never have been allowed to exist. Deserves to be ridiculed and held up as a shameful example.

Ms. Meyer has thousands of glowing reviews to soften the sting, but I can’t help thinking about a debut author receiving that venomous review on the day she lost her ‘real’ job and the car died and her teenager screamed “I hate you!”

Maybe that blogger is a reasonably nice person who got carried away and simply didn’t stop to think about the author (and fans) who might be hurt by her words.

Or maybe she’s a bully making a pathetic and cowardly attempt to elevate herself by trampling another human being beneath her feet.

I hope it’s the former.

I don’t expect to like everything I read, and I don’t expect everyone to like what I write. Poisonous reviews have been a reality since the first caveman daubed some mud on a rock wall and his neighbour yelled, “What the hell is that crap?” (Or maybe it sounded more like ‘Ug poo-poo!’.  I’m guessing here.)

I’m certainly not suggesting we should suppress negative reviews to protect authors’ poor, fragile egos. That would harm both readers and writers.

But it makes me sad when I read such deliberate cruelty.

Why inject more ugliness into the world? Isn’t there enough already?

*Sigh*  😦

30 thoughts on “Play Nicely, Kids… Please.

  1. Very thoughtful post Diane. It’s made me feel a little ashamed of myself because I am not a Twilight fan…at all. The thing is I haven’t read the book, I haven’t even glanced at its book cover..what makes me not like the series is actually the bad acting in the movies..not really the story itself..
    To be honest..I never actually had any problems with the author or the story as such…just the acting…lol


  2. People are so cruel in reviews sometimes. I am convinced that if someone had to tell these things to an author to their face, they’d never do it. The anonymity of the computer allows people to be much nastier, because there’s no retribution and no fear of retaliation. That being said, the only person I might go apeshit on in person is Whats-her-name, the chick who wrote the 50 Shades series. I could easily spew vitriol at her in person. Other than that, why can’t people just be polite and say “I didn’t think it was a great book, because X, Y, and Z” and leave it at that?


    • Exactly.

      I think we all have our flashpoints, though, as you point out. I saw a movie lately that contained such insulting stereotypes I was left sputtering with outrage in between bouts of spewing vile invective. I’m hopelessly Canadian, so I don’t know if I could have actually spewed it to the writer’s face, but… grrr! Don’t get me started.


  3. I’ve never understood vitriolic reviews. I agree with you that negative reviews can be helpful like the one I got from one of my writing instructors a couple of weeks ago. She was right in everything she said but it didn’t mean I liked it. However, it was delivered in person and was a true learning experience.


    • No matter how often we remind ourselves of the value of constructive criticism, it’s always hard to take, especially early in our development as writers. The fact that you’re seeking it out so you can improve shows tremendous courage. And if you’ve done your best, you can always be proud of your writing, regardless of how it’s received. Hang in there – I know you’ll do well! 🙂


    • I think we all have been unkind, at some point in our lives. And you’re right, it’s terribly hard to undo. I wish there was an easy way to fix it, but I guess it’s all just part of being human: trying not to be hurtful in the first place, and being willing to cut others some slack when they hurt us (except for the truly toxic people who are better left behind). Easier said than done.


  4. One of the things I’ve noticed is that people hide behind their avatar or internet identity and turn into slashers of other people. It’s almost as if they become possessed by serial killers in their rhetoric. There is no niceness, no common decency, no manners that exist for them anymore. They all become bullies and that seems to have become the defining characteristic of this day and age.

    I get very involved in political commentaries and I am constantly amazed at how ugly the comments are. Name calling, attacks on peoples verility, nothing seems to be out of bounds. It has become a very sad world in a lot of ways.


    • That’s true, isn’t it? It’s the sense of anonymity that makes the bullies and cowards emerge. I wonder how many of them would say things like that in person.

      But I think another part of the issue is not just the anonymity of the commenter, but also of the person they’re bashing. Commenters depersonalize their targets to the point where their antagonism to the differing opinion gets transferred to the person behind it without differentiating between the whole person and the despised opinion. I don’t know how we could convince these people to remember that there’s another human being behind those words on the screen. Sad indeed.


  5. I tend to be very tender when I have something negative to say, if I say anything at all. I’m just a peeled grape inside. The exception I make is if it really seems like the writer/bloviator/expert needs to be taken down a couple notches. Then I whack at him with my tiny humor hatchet.


    • The world needs more tiny humour hatchets! Or better still, a ‘sense of humour’ supplement that we can put in the drinking water. That would probably fix most of the problems of the world…


  6. I agree with you. I’ve been disheartened to see all the vitriol bloggers are putting out there about Dan Brown’s new book. It seems poking venomous critique of his writing is fair game. I haven’t read the new one; in fact, the only one of his I’ve read is ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and that was years ago. Maybe his writing isn’t the best, and people have a right to offer their opinions, but sometimes I feel that it goes beyond negative reviews to downright viciousness. As I’ve always said, whether you like the writing or not, it’s hard not to give an author his or her due props when they find a niche so many people want to read. More power to them, I say.


    • Agreed. And I think it’s their success that actually makes them targets – it seems there’s a certain type of person/personality that resents the success of others enough to attack them for it. If those resentful people would put all the energy they expend in anger into productive action instead, they could probably achieve similar success. What a sad waste.


  7. I have always been told that if you can’t say anything nice about someone, then don’t say anything at all. I try to live by those words, sometimes I fail. There are ways to give constructive advice and criticism without being rude or hateful. Some people get off by busting someone else’s bubble, just to try to prove that they are better than the person they are performing this on. This world that we live in today is full of “penis envy” people. They just have to show everyone how good they think they are. They don’t care to dress up their comments to save devastating a persons ego. There have probably been a lot of good writers out there that at one time or another have just picked the wrong subject or circumstance to write about and really didn’t do a good job. That doesn’t mean they are awful writers, but again, there are those that shouldn’t write, like myself, but they know it when they write it and it really doesn’t go any further.


    • You’re right, Mike; I don’t understand why some people seem to enjoy hurting others just for “fun”. The ‘If you can’t say anything nice’ rule is a good one to live by. Hard to do all the time since we’re all human, but at least we try. 🙂


  8. Right on Diane, there are much kinder methods of critiquing, something I have discovered after 40 years of teaching! Nothing is always bad there are kernels of genius in most works whether they be plays, books or creative works of art. There is no reason to tear someone down, it is vindictive and for many people this assault on their ego would prevent further efforts which could produce something wonderful. A gentle critique is far more encouraging. Totally agree with Margie there is a lot of garbage out there!


    • Thanks, Lesley! I suppose most of the really vicious critiques don’t have any constructive motive in the first place, but maybe there are some reviewers out there who’ll consider using less confrontational language to get their point across. We can hope…


  9. When I do a negative review, I do my best not to leave a bloodbath behind because such nastiness eventually does border on bully-like behavior, especially if the criticism is no longer aimed at the book but the author.


    • That’s good to hear. We need more reviewers like you – willing to speak your mind on the book without devolving into gratuitous insults or making it personal. Thanks for that! 🙂


  10. What the person needs to eviscerate another’s work or the person goes beyond rational understanding. I might also add these young celebs, growing up, experiencing life, bad elements, that receive such coverage from our blood-sucking media. Sad. These “critics” must live extreme lives of desperation.


      • LOL! Don’t worry – I have the same problem with editing. It’s like realizing you’ve locked your keys in the car seconds after the door clicks shut.

        I always feel for young celebs, too. It’s hard enough being a kid without being singled out for hatred on an apparently random basis.


  11. I sort of have these same ponderings when I hear sports announcers rip on athletes, particularly college athletes. I was a college athlete, thankfully before social media was everywhere, (plus it was soccer so nobody but a few groupies cared,) but the basketball and football players are still students as well as athletes. They’re still brothers and sons and friends, so I hate to read some jerk write about how awful they are because they had a bad game or made a bad play. If I’m reading it, then that kid’s mom or dad or sister probably is too. Oh well, c’est la vie I guess.


    • I agree. It’s hard enough dealing with all the usual young-adult issues without having to navigate clouds of hate because of one bad play. People just seem to lose perspective. It’s not as though the fate of the world hinges on any sports match, let alone college sports.


  12. I guess this is what happens when anyone with a computer and an internet connection can set up shop. The bulk of what is said in blogs, social media and forums would not see the light of day if it was up to an editor of a magazine, book or newspaper.


    • True… and I think there are valid arguments both for and against that. A lot of benefit can come from hearing the opinions of others, but the online mob mentality can be truly frightening. I guess it’s good that those firestorms spark thoughtful discussions about bullying after the fact, but it’s probably little comfort to those caught in the crossfire.


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