I don’t know if you knew this, but for a writer, stories are far more than words. Especially if the story is finished and is in the hands of another. We invest a lot into our characters; they become part of us. When we design a location in our heads, some of it is probably from memory and some of it from imagination. It takes a energy to do that.
The investment writers make into their stories means that we often struggle when we receive feedback, whether good or bad. Someone else gives their opinion of what we just poured our life into, it’s bound to leave an impression. This motivates us but it can also destroy us.
A sharp criticism, thoughtlessly given may just be the thing that kills a story. Because we wrap ourselves with words, words mean more to us than to non-writers. I have known some very sensitive souls who were not writers, so I’m not saying we’re a more sensitive breed of person. I do want to convey though that when someone’s craft is wrapped up in words, how someone chooses to communicate with us makes a difference.
If you don’t like my writing, that’s ok. You don’t have to. And if you have constructive feedback, please share. But consider what you say first. Heaven help the person who thoughtlessly utters a rebuke and ends up being characterized as the villain in some author’s next book. (Don’t worry, I try very hard not to do that, but as writers, we do use the behavior of others as the model for how we write.)
So if you do want to tell a writer a way they can improve their writing, might I recommend starting with something positive, ending with something positive, and putting the criticism in the middle. Or prefacing your criticism with, “I love being able to read what you have written. In this work, I noticed this _____. Have you thought about doing this ______.” Not necessarily in those words, but frame it in a way that says: I care a lot about you as a writer and I want to help you become great.
And a word to us as writers: people will have feedback. Some will be considerate. Some will be helpful. Some will be rude. Don’t lash out. Don’t stop writing because someone didn’t like it. You are never going to please everyone. Take the feedback of those who love you, who read your genre, who are helping you get your work out there. And even take note of the sharp comments. Figure out what those comments say outside of the roughness. It may be that they have helpful information for you that is hard to see because of their demeanor. If comments are vague and generic, these especially let slide off your back. Someone hates your story and doesn’t tell you more than that, well, you can’t adapt to what they like if you don’t know what they like. Maybe they hate it because it has a point that hits too close to home. But if your plot moves too slowly, your protagonist is too hidden in the background, you used passive voice far too often, then work on those things. Those things drive your story and help you go from good to great.