Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Grains of Salt

Having a good group of people to provide you with a meaningful critique is essential to your success as a writer.  Such people help you step back from your work and understand how it's seen through the eyes of others.  They can spot holes you missed, find unresolved plot lines, and tell you which characters they cared about(good or bad) versus whether or not the folks on the page bored them.

It's hard to be subjective about your own stuff.  Let's face it - we've poured our heart and soul into a story and sometimes get crushed when not everyone proclaims their undying allegiance to it or they make remarks about what could make it better.  There are even times that our blind allegiance to our work won't let us see the obvious flaws others point out.
(I'm telling you - it's NOT dark outside!)
This is why it's important to be able to take advice.  Since we can be blinded by our own brilliance, a good beta-reader holds up our work, points out the flaws, and let's us improve on our work.  However, there's one thing to remember during this process:

You're the one telling the story.

Not everyone's advice will be good.  Some people would rather read something different, so they'll couch their advice in the story they'd prefer to read instead of than the one you produced.  This can be helpful if it gives you ideas for a future tale, but it does nothing for you if there are specific points of feedback you wanted.

If more than one person makes the same comment - something along the lines of, "The protagonist was inconsistent in dealing with the villain." - that's information you can use.  However, you'll often get conflicting comments.  One person may say, "I thought it got really slow in the middle," while another might say, "Are you kidding?  The transition gave me room to breathe and prepped me for the next chase scene."  These are bits of advice that cancel each other out, so you have to go with your gut feel on which one, if either, to take.

I've talked before about how a lot of people believe themselves to be aspiring writers, and offering advice to your work is their way of writing a book without having to go through the messy process of actually having to, you know, write one.  Hopefully you realize who these people are before you give them your work, which will allow you to understand the context of their comments, but you don't always know.  Still, once they start to pipe up, you should be able to tell who is being constructive and who thinks they could have written it better themselves(even if they didn't).
(A lot of people are just blowing smoke)
As the author, you need to remember that you don't have to take every piece of advice you're given.  If, after you evaluate the validity of the criticism, you decide to either modify in a different way or to not modify at all, you should have no trouble telling people that.  A good friend or beta-reader will understand that and be okay.  Some hoity-toity asshole will carry on about how you're a hack and that you'll never make it because you wrote them off.

This is a fine line to walk, and it takes skill to be able to step back enough and know which advice is helpful and which is crap.  But in the end, it's your story - you know where it's going and what you want to accomplish with it, so it's your ultimate responsibility to create.  Some of what you get will be good, but some will be full of cracks.  You don't have to please everyone who reads your work, so figure out how to not just ask for advice, but how to evaluate it.  In the end, that'll make you a better writer, as well as better able to incorporate those tips that are good to put in or modify.

Again, never forget that it's your story and your responsibility.  Always take that into account when considering advice.
(Sometimes advice has cracks...know what to look for)

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