I’ve been participating in a recent discussion about excessively harsh and mean-spirited feedback where, in some cases, the remarks were so nasty that tears were shed and all writing stopped. On occasion, within that harsh crit, there’s a gold nugget of wisdom that might be helpful in rethinking our stories. But it’s hard to find that nugget when it’s buried in vitriol and in the ego of the beta reader/writer who thinks he or she knows it all.
I stopped submitting my work to the Novels-List on IWW in part because I felt that feedback was too disparate and at times nasty. I kept whittling down my beta readers and until I found a rapport with two writers I met in an online class.
As I wrote in Don’t Do This, my last submission was torn to pieces. Not in a nasty way, but enough to leave me discouraged that I haven’t written a word in two months. But what bothered me was that my beta readers offered suggestions they thought would make the story more compelling–not realizing that it becomes the story they want to read (and maybe write) and not one I want to write.
In the Yahoo Group I belong to and where this discussion started, one writer commented about a beta reader who is negative, but not harsh. Unlike most critters, she doesn’t offer suggestions, but questions why the writer went in a certain direction. This made me think of my own style of giving feedback, and I realized my tendency is to look at the WIP more as a finished book and provide a review, which isn’t valuable because the story is going through numerous revisions.
I like the idea of questioning the writer because it forces us to examine and analyze our character’s motivations, the overall premise, the main conflict, the flow of one scene to the next, the final climax, the resolution, and places where the story meanders away from the main plot. And although I might be questioning all these factors myself, sometimes if the question is framed differently it might lead to an “aha” moment and take me down in a very unexpected, but more satisfying path for both the writer and, ultimately, the reader.