Hearing What Other People Have to Say About Your Work
I recently wrote a progress update about how I finally shared my story with a friend. In that post I mostly focused on the emotional side of letting someone else see my work. In this blog post I’d like to explore the more technical side of feedback. For example, how do I decide which aspects of the feedback I should take on board?
Also, as I move further in the journey of Becoming an Author and getting my book hopefully published one day, I’d like to chronicle the different approaches each group of readers take when reading a book. In the future this will hopefully include feedback from technical experts, professional beta readers, and book-buying readers at the very least. It could also include literary agents and publishers, depending on what happens.
But for now: the friend.
My Friend’s Book Background
My friend is a decent reader, they enjoy reading a lot, but due to being parent to twins, doesn’t get as much time as they’d like to read. In terms of genre preference, I know they like fantasy fiction (which my novel isn’t really), but to be honest I’m not sure what else they like to read. But they have shared some suggestions with me, most of which I’ve really enjoyed, so based on that I know we have fairly similar tastes in terms of writing.
That’s a good thing (I think) as there’s little point, in my opinion of sharing a story with someone who’s just not going to enjoy it at its core. Especially at this stage, and even when I share my work with people in the biz, I’d hope to share it with people who ‘get it’ otherwise I’m pretty much guaranteed to get a string of rejection letters of heavy criticism (which would crush my spirit and prevent me from ever writing again, probably).
The Feedback – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
It took my friend just three days to read my book and provide me with some pretty comprehensive notes. I’m taking that as a good thing. I’m sure part of it was their desire to help me out (which I appreciate), but they did message me the very night I sent it saying that they loved the intro. This was followed up the second day with ‘I can’t put it down!’ So I’m going to assume they did mostly enjoy reading it.
This is further backed up by the initial feedback – ‘really enjoyed the plot, and how fast paced it was’.
And then came the more in depth feedback. Most of which I do agree with, so that’s a good start. And I’m fortunate in that mostly it’s not criticism, but genuine suggestions for improvement, and it’s written in a way where that message comes through loud and clear, so while my ego had a bit of a wobble reading it, my rational brain, and the part of me that really wants to develop as an author, could see how much value there was in these ideas.
As I still haven’t shared to plot with you, or even a general concept I won’t bore you with a blow by blow of my friend’s comments. But I do want to share some themes, because while there are some things I knew I’d overlooked, some came as a bit of a surprise, and it might be useful to hear some ‘real life’ feedback, like it was for me. Of course, this is just one person’s opinion, and it’s their opinion of my story, even so I think there are probably some things that many new and aspiring writers are guilty of. (Or it’s just me, either way it’s useful for me to go through this process).
The main focus of my friend’s feedback was that I need to expand the world more – include more characters and points of view, include more details about the context and background of main characters, and the world in general. Also because my novel is set in the not-too-distant-future, they recommended making some greater distinctions between now and then, to create a more immersive experience and make it more clear we’re operating in the future. All points I totally agree with, many of which I actually thought about as I wrote the book, but couldn’t quite work out how to address, so instead of stepping into the challenges, I just kind of ignored them and hoped they wouldn’t be a big deal. My friend definitely noticed them, so I need to go back in and work on these points.
Top takeaway: if you feel a niggle that something isn’t right, or needs fleshing out, I’d suggest sorting it out in the moment if you can. Because I ignored this and tried to make it go away with ignorance, I now need to do a fair bit or retconning which will be a lot more hassle than had I just dealt with it at the time!
Because I wrote this novel over quite a long period I lost track of a few key points, including characters’ names! By the end of the novel several people have completely different names or titles. An easy fix, but one I thought I’d addressed during my recent read-through, so it was helpful to have someone else point this out.
Top takeaway: proofread stuff! Then proofread again. Also make note of key ideas/characters/locations as you go (note: I don’t actually do this, but it sounds like a sensible plan so I might try it out next time).
My friend commented to say they liked the development of the main character, but the main secondary character was a bit samey, so they recommend a bit of diversity in terms of personality and perspective. Totally agree with this. They also suggested I make a bit more of some of the other characters in the book, with one suggestion I really like and now have to make happen somehow – but that’s a future-me problem. As with the other feedback I agree with this wholeheartedly, and know that characters are not my strongest suit.
I’ll admit that being an introvert I don’t have a huge pool of friends, and those I do have are very similar to me, so in terms of diverse characters I don’t have masses of personal experience to draw on. But that shouldn’t be an excuse, and now I know this could be an issue for readers, I need to work out a way to deal with it.
Top takeaway: characters matter, and it’s worth spending more time developing them than I currently do.
I am aware that I am not great at endings. I often know how I want a book to end before I even know how it’s going to start, so I admit that I have a tendency to rush towards the end. I get so excited about the finale that I forget to put in the legwork to make it feel like a worthwhile payoff. My problem, and the reason many of the above issues exist is that I am massively worried about wasting people’s time with unnecessary content, I want them to be swept up in the driving plot of the story, not reading about what colour the curtains in the bathroom are.
I want to get them to the exciting bit as fast as possible, and this leads me to overlook some pretty key areas. Now, I know there is a mid-point between rushing through and staring at curtains, but I think this is definitely an area I need to work on quite a lot, because right now I don’t know what that mid-point is.
Top takeaway: spend more time developing the build-up.
So that’s a quick overview of the feedback on my first attempt at writing a novel. Does any of that sound familiar?
What feedback have you been given on your stories? And if you’ve overcome any of the themes I talk about above, please comment below and let me know what you did – how do you build a fulfilling and enriched world without boring people with too much detail?
How do you create vibrant and realistic characters that aren’t just carbon copies of yourself or people you know?
And how do you create a satisfying ending for your readers? Your own experience or great examples from other authors that you admire would be very welcome!