Learn From Sense8: Don’t Write for the Critics

It sounds pretty scary to have someone else in your head, but Sense8 makes it look so cool.

I just finished the Netflix original and can’t wait for season 2. I mean, who can? It’s got me pumped up and I’m itching to watch the show again.

Seriously, one of the funniest characters in the show: Lito the Mexican action star
Seriously, one of the funniest characters in the show: Lito the Mexican action star

I’ve read that Rotten Tomatoes gave the show a sad 68%, but the viewers rated it a solid 91%. We all know how critics can make or break a story, a novel, a movie, a show. But are they the reason you write a story?

Whenever I look for a book to read, I don’t pay much attention to “…a critically acclaimed masterpiece!” or “Critics say it’s the next big thing since sliced bread!” (unless if it’s literary fiction or a writing contest ’cause, you know, the critics are the judges); instead, I look up reader reviews.

What do the common people think of the story? The show? When I first looked up whether BBC Merlin was worth my time, I saw many reviews about how the story is simple and the special effects “meh”. But the viewers’ reviews? They were drawn to the characters! They love the story development! They were invested in the world of Camelot. They loved the show (until the end where they – and I – suffered a post-Merlin depression because yes, it was in the Arthurian legends, but we loved the characters so much it was heartbreaking to say goodbye).

merlin crying
Yes, I went through this for a show.

No two readers are alike, no matter how many fandoms they share. So reading different reviews from different perspectives helps me decide which books to read or buy (part of the reason I started a book blog, too).

I’m sure every writer – new or old; traditionally or independently published – wants to produce a book with raving reviews and tears of joy from critics, but even if you don’t get glowing recommendations from the bigwigs, look at your readers’ reactions. Are they genuinely satisfied with your book? Why? Why do they like it? Because even “critically acclaimed” shows like Hannibal get axed, so don’t sweat it.

Did you know that The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (you know, the one that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014) received low reviews (like a one-star, two-star) from outstanding Dutch magazines like De Groene Amsterdammer? You might’ve also heard how many classics were snubbed by critics, only to be loved by millions of readers worldwide (no, I’m not talking about Twilight or Fifty Shades, sorry).

My point is, many writers give up after a few negative reviews. Gauge your work. If it has a lot of low reviews, then ask yourself why. Writing is a skill that can be learned, so if you’ve read that your work has typos and grammatical mistakes, then for God’s sake, get an editor. If the negative reviews you see are from people who go “I’m not fond of this genre, but I thought I’d try it; so-and-so failed to change my mind blah blah”, then don’t let it bother you. People have different tastes (but seriously, if the reviews say you’ve got typos and need to improve your paragraphs – DON’T IGNORE THEM (We’re looking at you Twilight and 50 Shades, among your other transgressions)).

Back to Sense8: it’s not flawless, but there’s no denying that the show has charisma, intrigue, and mystery. The fact that it features 8 different perspectives from around the world makes it more interesting. It’s not boring; the different cultural representations make us think, appreciate, and understand how the characters think and feel. The fact that they are sensates – the fact that different sexes/genders and cultures can share the same thoughts, actions, and eyes further emphasize what empathy means across the globe.

There’s also no denying how badass the characters can be. Have you seen Sense8? Now imagine if they cancelled the show because some critics say it’s too vague, too commercial, too confusing? Damn right, it’ll be a shame.

So, don’t get downhearted. Instead, study your novel, the reaction of your readers, what they liked, what they didn’t like. Don’t do everything they say, but gauge it. Don’t just let publish it and let it flounder.

Like the sensates say, expand your mind. While it’s always heartwarming to receive glowing reviews from critics, don’t let them be the be-all and end-all for your work. Don’t write with them in mind. Although they are experts and they can help you, they are not the reason for your continued existence as a writer.

2 thoughts on “Learn From Sense8: Don’t Write for the Critics

  1. This is so true. I usually snob off tv shows or movies that are rated poorly on imdb but you definitely hit the nail on head on this post. Im not finished with Sens8 yet but the concept is really good. It builds up slow for sure, but the story line is undeniably good. I can't wait to finish it.

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