The Problems With Being Defensive

Um, sorry..I did kinda mean to be a bit defensive due to your posts about impractical attire. I was afraid you’d think I was purposely going for putting characters in nice skirts/dress and fight and it being impractical and respond as you would someone for giving characters boob plate armour or something. So, I was simply reassuring you that no, I’m not trying to use improper fighting attire, just how they’re dressed.

You don’t need to apologize, but it is something you want to be conscious of, and careful about. When you get defensive over your work, you’re letting everyone know that there’s a problem with it, and you’re not confidant about it. It can also mean, you don’t get an answer to the question you’re looking for.

Without going back and reviewing every post we’ve written on impractical attire, I’m pretty sure the general thrust was a condemnation of authors objectifying, and sexing up, their characters. For example: putting fighters in stiletto heels. This can come from someone genuinely not understanding that clothes can impair a character’s ability to fight, or it can be from someone who prioritizes sex appeal over functionality.

The thing is, (hopefully) neither of these apply to you. So, there was no reason to get defensive, though I can certainly understand the anxiety.

There’s two major reasons I caution against this.

First, it is a cue that you’re worried (consciously or not) that there’s a weakness in your material. When you put material out there, you will be attacked. Anything you write, which draws attention, will draw criticism. When you’re dealing with people who simply want to tear you down, that defensiveness is practically a dinner bell.

That’s why I advised you to get ahead of the potential criticism. If you realize you feel defensive about a point, make sure you identify why, and close off those potential attacks.

When you’re writing, and expect to receive push back, it’s a good idea to think about the kinds of arguments you expect. You can actually see that behavior in many of my posts. I’ll frequently take a second to carve out exceptions, or preemptively cut off counter arguments, that I expect someone to raise. In many cases, I am already controlling the kinds of critique I can receive.

For example, if you were worried about being attacked for your characters dressing inappropriately, you could have written:

How would wearing a dress or skirt hinder combat? My characters are attending a formal event when they’re ambushed.

It’s a small difference, but it has a huge effect on how the question is perceived. If you were worried about what I thought of you, then it addresses that fear, and it also explains exactly what you’re looking for, with more detail than the original question offered.

It’s not incredibly important, but a “this/that” structure can also be a nervous tick. It’s probably better to write, “this or that,” or, just commit to a specific term. Slashing can be useful in rare situations, and it’s not something most readers will pick up on (unless you overuse it), but commit to a word. (This may go out the window during drafting, when you’re trying out multiple words and haven’t settled on one. At that point it would be entirely reasonable to write down any alternative you want to play with, before you commit. But, don’t show that to someone else.)

This is the second reason that getting defensive, even preemptively, can be a problem. You’re focusing on one issue, and, that cut off useful information. If you’d said the context of your character being in a dress or skirt was a formal event, I would have focused on how formal attire frequently interferes with movement, how it’s often better to simply abandon high heels, than continue to fight in them, and how, men’s formal attire restricts movement as well. I may have spent some time discussing how fighting in formal garb will probably damage it. Instead I talked about kilts, which probably wasn’t that useful for you.

You will find people who will attack you, and your work. There’s no escaping that. When that happens, it’s important to remember that they have no power over you. Their, “criticism,” doesn’t invalidate your work.

It’s also a good practice to become aware of things you’re sensitive about in your work, as a diagnostic tool. If criticism of something bothers you, there might be a problem there, and you may want to focus on shoring it up (however that works out.) Remember that your goal, as a writer, is to communicate clearly and efficiently; everything after that is style and poetry. There’s no place for, “but, you don’t understand,” make your reader understand the first time.

Have confidence in your work. I know this can be harder than it sounds, but when you believe in it, it shows.

-Starke

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