A friend of mine once auditioned for American Idol. A professionally trained Broadway singer, she didn't make it on the show, but she did learn a lot about its inner-workings. See, before you ever meet J.Lo, Steven, and Randy (or, in my friend's day, Paula, Simon, and Randy), you go through several rounds of judging with non-famous professional judges. They sort the wheat from the chaff so the celebrity judges don't have to.
Have you ever wondered how those completely tone-deaf fools make it on camera, only to reveal that they are terrible singers? Well, I always assumed they were just actors willing to poke fun at themselves, and that may be the case for some of them. But, according to my friend (who was kindly informed by a judge that though she sang well, she was by no means pop-material), it's because the really bad singers are complimented by those initial judges.
They may be sorting the wheat from the chaff, but they're also saving the chaffiest chaff for national humiliation at a later date.
So after several rounds of, "Wow, you're so unique!" and "I think we could really use a voice like yours!" these poor shmucks wind up on television, completely convinced of their own skills, and utterly shattered when they find out how wrong they were.
There's a strange phenomenon in the writing community that says you can only say something critical about someone's writing if you start out with what you liked first, and then ending by soothing over the criticism with more compliments. The compliment sandwich, if you will, where you tell someone what they want to hear, the truth, and then some more of what they want to hear.
Writers are such delicate flowers, I suppose, that you can't just tell someone, "Wow, this is all over the place and should be re-written" without adding, "But you've really mastered the semi-colon!"
And yet readers, agents, and critics the world over are going to obviously dismiss things for reasons as simple and varied as, "I didn't like it," "I found it disjointed," "Characters and situations are unbelievable." So why is a person critiquing an unpublished writer forbidden from simply saying these things?
Of course, no one wants to engage in destructive criticism, in which you tear someone down without any advice about how to build back up. But while you may not want to do that, if you think there really is nothing redeeming in a piece of work, and you stand by that opinion, why would you let someone waste their time?
Sure, there are trolls out there who will rip on you for the sake of ripping. But assuming you are not a troll, what are you to do when you genuinely don't like the story, character, or voice? Should you really hang your hat on, "Well, sentence structure is top-drawer"?
Don't dance around the subject just because you want to be considered "nice." If it turns out you are a troll and you just don't know it, no matter. The person on the receiving end of your vitriol better have thick skin, because you won't be the last hater he or she encounters.
I've heard quite a few people in the bloggersphere and twitterverse claim that unless you have a suggestion on how something should be fixed, keep it to yourself. I couldn't disagree more. While ideally you will have a suggestion, your gut impressions matter, too. Because if you think a character is a creepy sexist stalker, do you really have to add, "I think you should make him less of a creepy sexist stalker"? Can't it just go without saying?
If you wouldn't let your best friend go on a date looking like a hot mess, why would you let a writer submit a project full of stilted dialogue? Or historical inaccuracies? Or typos--for crying out loud, you have to tell them about the typos.
When someone is critiquing my writing, I want to know if their compliments are genuine, or just the patronizing preface to the real problems. I don't care if the cons outweigh the pros and I definitely don't care whether you arranged your comments in smiley face-frowny face-winky face order.
At 28, I'm old enough and confident enough to decide for myself if I consider criticism valid or not, if it's a helpful suggestion or just so much hot air. Yes, I'll probably be sad or offended, because that's human nature. But grown up nature is to keep hurt feelings to yourself and focus on fixing problems, and I don't think you should ask someone to waste their time helping you unless you can say you're a grown up.
So just lay it on me. I'll do the same.