I resent it when people claim they give concrit when in fact all they do is criticise. Criticism is easy because the only thing you're doing is pointing out flaws and faults, and the goal of criticism is ultimately selfish - I expect it makes people feel better to criticise someone else, because the "critic" gets the feeling that he/she is somehow "better" than the other person and/or their writing is somehow "better" than the other person's just because the critic was able to spot the writer's mistakes (and the writer wasn't, which by extension makes them stupid and somehow less adequate, of course). The goal of criticism is to say "here's what you did wrong, asshole". That, as you may have noticed, is not constructive. If you sit down to critique a story and you find yourself feeling particularly gleeful every time you spot a blatant error, please, do yourself and the writer a favour and reexamine your motivation.
I've done my share of criticism, constructive criticism and outright sporking. What really made me realise the difference between criticism and concrit was when I sat down to MST my own novel-length fic (and yes, the MSTing of chapter 2 is progressing nicely, thank you for asking >.>). Basically, I'm doing it for two reasons - for a laugh and to take a slightly different approach to editing (since I'm trying to revise the fic to tighten it up). When I was MSTing chapter 1, I was not focused on the fact that "this is my fic and I'm trying to make it better", I was focused on "okay, what's wrong with this piece of crap?" The result was highly educational. Not only did I find many weaknesses that I can now deal with, but I also realised that it's really quite easy to sit back and fling mud at any story and what matters in the end -- what makes the difference between "crit" and "concrit" -- is your intent in criticising it.
The goal to constructive criticism, ideally, is to benefit the person who is being critiqued. Constructive criticism comes from an inner "How can I help this person?" - emphasis very intentional. Concrit on a story is given with an intent to help an author improve it. If you're feeling gleeful at spotting an error, you're criticising, not giving concrit. If you spot an error and are feeling gleeful because you know just what to suggest in order to fix it, you're giving concrit. Not that every person giving concrit is expected to tell the author how to fix their mistakes, but if you're actively trying to think of ways to fix mistakes in a piece of fiction, that's the first sign of being engaged in concrit rather than plain old criticism.
Let's face it, everyone's a critic. I've been an editor at the Open Directory Project for almost four years and back when I was just a baby editor, I was given the category of Arts/Movies/Reviews to clean up. It's one of the bigger categories under the Arts/Movies tree and you wouldn't believe the number of site submissions that arrive there -- there are quite literally hundreds of sites where individuals with no formal training whatsoever critique and review movies. It's very easy but in the end it sort of strikes me as a bit self-defeating because - well, let's just say that there were some days when I'd go through 50 different submitted "Movie Review" sites and read highly disparate reviews of the same movie on those sites. As I've been haranguing a lot lately, there's no accounting for taste.
I'm not trying to say that people should not criticise other people's stories and I'm not trying to start a movement of "proper" concrit or any rot like that. I'm just frustrated that people criticise unconstructively and call it concrit - it can scare authors who aren't prepared to deal with negative feedback and from what I've been reading, it's giving concrit a bad rap. Which makes the baby f cry, because concrit is a wonderful thing - it can lead to amazing reader/author dialogue and it only benefits both parties in the long run. I've made friends with people who left concrit on my stories and with authors for whom I'd left concrit - after all, talking about writing is supposed to be fun and interesting.
We don't all have the same tolerance levels when it comes to crit. While it would be easy for me to say "well tough shit - if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen", I can't very well say that, because the reason we're all in fandom is to have fun, not to "take heat". I'm among the first to say that people shouldn't get upset when they receive negative feedback because really, it's not difficult to put 2 and 2 together, is it? You put your work out there on the Internet, there's going to be someone who doesn't like it. This does not mean your work sucks. It means that universal popularity is impossible and if you're holding out for that, you're dreaming.
If you read a story and you just can't like it, and you feel compelled to explain to the author why you didn't like it, more power to you - if the author can handle harsher crit, they'll be grateful for it. But please don't pretend you're being constructive, because it's not constructive in itself to tell a person "I don't like your fic and here's why". Concrit's supposed to be objective and "I don't like your fic" is subjective on all levels. I don't like quite a few of the widely recced H/D fics and I have very valid reasons for not liking them in each case - sometimes the prose is dry or purple, sometimes the characterisations are directly at odds with canon, sometimes the writing is painfully pretentious. This doesn't mean the stories need to be changed, it just means they're not my cup of tea, and if I were to leave feedback and explain why I didn't like them, even if I was very nice about it, it would do nothing but let the author know that one reader out of thousands didn't enjoy their story. And if I do leave crit that is not constructive, I won't call it constructive, I'll call it what it is - crit.
That said, there's nothing wrong with criticism. There's nothing wrong with being vocal about what kinds of things a person likes or dislikes in fan fiction, pro fiction, movies, TV shows, etc ad nauseam. It is wrong to criticise unconstructively and when an author gets upset about it, to try and hide behind "I was giving concrit, omg ur so weak and unworthy!11". No, you weren't giving concrit so please don't try to act like you were. Of course, some people are so sensitive that they'll get their back up about "true" concrit as well, even if it's phrased most nicely and with lots of suggestions for improvement - well, I never said that all critics were asshats and all authors were unique little snowflakes. Some authors are self-absorbed asshats who think they're the bees knees and their writing is the best ever because all their friends told them so. I'm not talking about them here because they're in the minority, in my experience.
Criticism that's unconstructive is harder to deal with than flames -- flames can be easily dismissed because clearly the reviewer is just being a fuckstick, but unconstructive criticism (unconcrit?) is usually intelligent and at least makes the appearance of being objective (even though it almost never is, when broken down). "Unconcrit" can be toxic to a beginning author, much more toxic than any amount of flames, because it does nothing but tell the author that according to one person, their fic sucks. That can be very discouraging and in my experience it never produces anything worthwhile -- either the author gets so upset that they stop writing or they get so defensive that they completely ignore the crit and become even more adamant about the things that the person who left the crit said they didn't like.
To conclude, I suppose I should provide an example to demonstrate what I'm talking about and since I don't want to single out some unsuspecting author, I'll try to demonstrate using a paragraph from my own H/D crackfic:
They'd both been extremely frustrated when they'd arrived in Hungary. And no, you perverts, not sexually. The blasted language was impossible to learn. Sure, many people here spoke English but one couldn't really get anywhere without speaking Hungarian. Draco thought it linguistic snobbery at best, patriotic nonsense at worst, but there it was. Sometimes, however, having a Ravenclaw on your side had benefits. They had good ideas. Li was full of ideas; Draco was full of workable plans for their implementation.
Criticism: I find it highly distasteful when an author attempts to engage the reader in fake dialogue. YMMV, of course, but I really didn't like the fact that I was suddenly being addressed through the story. It totally threw me out.
Concrit: I think the "And no, you perverts, not sexually" line could be changed - first of all, it's not a good idea to start off sentences with conjunctions (though it can sometimes be effective). It jarred me out of the story, to be honest - the story is told through a third-person limited POV and then suddenly there seems to be a narrator popping in; I realise this is supposed to be crackfic and not very serious but if you could somehow work that "sexual frustration" (which is what's supposed to be funny, I guess?) in another way, as part of Draco's little trip to the department of backstory, it would tighten this paragraph a lot.
Flame: OMG HOW DARE U CALL ME A PERVERT i didnt even think about anything sexual! This stori suks and yuo suk! Bye-bye! Ill tell al my frenz to come and flame yuo1!
Um, guess which of the three is likely to garner a positive reaction from an author? >.> I personally will take crit any way I can get it - concrit, plain old crit, tough crit, it doesn't make a difference to me as I have a thick skin and hate most of my writing anyway. Not everyone's like that, though, and I tend to try and keep this in mind.
...and that's all she wrote.
Oh, and of course a comm pimp: hp_concrit is a place (run by darkasphodel and kaalee) where you can get concrit from people who genuinely want to help you improve. I'm one of the readers there. Who'da thunk it? ;D
Thoughts? Opinions? Concrit? :P