Critique groups. sigh. These are hard. Your writing/characters are your babies. Hearing others criticize them can be tough.
More than that. It's the type of the criticism that can hit hard. You can give feedback about prose, long, short, dense sentences, or weak verb usage, sure, but when you criticize the essence of the story or who the protagonist is/represents then that becomes a sore issue.
Lately, I have been dealing with criticism that a character from a story I will dub, P isn't likeable. The protagonist is an ailing woman suffering from an unknown illness who's being given the runaround, and who expresses her frustration with this frequently. I have been told she's not sympathetic. She has demonstrated no BAD behavior, with the exception of snapping at her landlady, a woman who says racially insensitive things--and apparently this makes her not likeable or bitchy.
First, let me say that writing black characters, especially black women, is hard. I don't want to write a *strong black woman, angry black woman, or victim. I also don't want to write a character deemed unworthy of sympathy/love. I have received criticism that this character is one, if not all of these.
I have been quite diplomatic about the criticism, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt about their objectivity, even while pushing to know what exactly about this character makes her unsympathetic and unlikeable.
The responses have been --a) she's snappy with the landlady/bitchy, b) we don't know who she is/she's not relatable, c)she's stupid/incompetent.
Part of me cannot help feel that the repeated criticism that this character isn't likeable has much to do with the difficulty society in general has with sympathizing with black women. That said, I am reluctant to make her a sad victim, since society, and the literary world in particular, thrive on black victimhood. I don't want her to be Patsey from 12 Years A Slave, which I often feel is the only type of black women character deemed sympathetic. I don't want to exploit black trauma.
I mainly write characters put upon by the world they live in (in other words, true to life black people). I write characters who grow into who they are and take what's thrust upon them and turn it into magic and strength.
Another bizarre criticism I received was that I have dehumanized my lead character, making her into a magical non-human--a magic negro. The Magic Negro is a character used in fiction to help alleviate the conflicts and elevate the status of the white protagonist, going so far as to die for the white leads.
This character is set up that way but the moral of the story is that she won't any longer die for anyone's causes. My goal for this particular character is to have her turn her would-be victimhood/magical status into strength and power to help herself. In other words, subvert the plot.