Tuesday, September 6, 2016

You Shouldn't Have To Explain

I recently acted as a beta-reader for a friend’s novel, and although I did my best, the story confused me.  The characters acted inconsistently, and the overall story was vague.  When I presented this insight to my friend, this person got defensive, as we are wont to do when we feel like someone is attacking our precious babies, and started explaining to me why I failed to get what was being said.

I smiled and nodded along, understanding that regardless of my intention, I’d just shit all over their heart and soul.  However, two things were running through my mind the whole time:
1.  I was doing a favor by acting as a beta-reader.
2.  You shouldn’t have to explain to me what your story was about.

First, since I don’t pay my beta-readers, I always keep in mind that they’re doing me a favor.  They could’ve easily told me to get bent, or just ignored my request for such readership altogether(as has happened more often than not).  However, they took time from their lives to give me feedback on my work, so attacking them isn’t the best way to acknowledge their help.  I feel that, at this stage, I should listen to what the beta-reader has to say and file it away for later analysis.  This isn’t the time for a pissing match.

Second, if I have to explain what I was trying to say, maybe my writing was the problem.  It’s important to get several different beta-readers to see if there is a trend in your writing.  It’s possible that someone doesn’t get what you’re trying to say while others get it completely.  But if several people have the same issue, then you need to look at what you put on paper.

It’s the writer’s job to convey the story in a way the audience understands, not the job of the audience to sift through the author’s prose and discern the meaning.  Once it has been published, you can’t sit down with every single person who reads your stuff and explain to them what you really meant.  They need to get it without you around.  Go back and look at your work and figure out if it’s clear enough.  If it’s not, then it’s not the readers’ problem for not comprehending your brilliance, but rather your problem for not being clear enough.  That may sting, but would you rather sting and sell, or would you be a misunderstood arteest who no one buys?

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