When a person is browsing for a book in a bookstore or when he or she is reading a novel — they are the critic. It doesn’t matter if they don’t know what ‘good’ writing is, if they know nothing about writing theory, or the history of Literature, they make their own judgement and, qualified or unqualified, it’s their opinion that matters.
But, the chances are — even though most people people might not realise it themselves — they bring to any story critical judgements. They don’t want to read a story that bores or offends them, or something that confuses them and doesn’t make any sense. They want to feel entertained and maybe enlightened, challenged or just have a fun read.
Even a non-expert reader who isn’t ‘informed’ about the craft of storytelling intuitively knows if something is or isn’t working for them. They know if a story feels tense or not, if they’re rooting for a character to win, or they’re uninvolved. They know if they feel bored. Boredom is the biggest and most likely reason why a reader never starts, or quickly gives up on a story.
You, me, anyone who reads a book, or watches a film, is the critic. Our opinion counts. Outside of a classroom, we don’t need to justify why we like one thing and dislike another. A lot of personal preferences are not rigorously thought out as part of an intellectual exercise — they work intuitively, mostly on a semi-conscious level. They are whims and fleeting feelings.
What does this mean for the writer? It means, think like an ordinary reader — appreciate how they’re likely to judge your story. Sometimes over-thinking a problem is as dangerous as under-thinking it. And, whatever you do, don’t be boring.