Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Writing Feedback: What to Keep, What to Reject

This post assumes, of course, you're seeking objective feedback from a critique group, beta readers, and even friends and family (presupposing they're understanding you want more than, "Rah! Rah!").

It also assumes that, the more opinions you seek, the more varied the responses will be. So how does a writer implement all the suggestions?

You probably don't. Ah, but what to change?

Well, before you dismiss ALL criticism of your work and bask in the praise, I'll share how I approach any evaluation of my work.

1) If it's part of a novel, and the reader is only receiving an excerpt, some suggestions might already be addressed in other sections. That doesn't mean said suggestions aren't applicable. Take a look the selection; perhaps certain points could be reinforced or toned down.

2) See what resonates strongly. If someone is willing to champion a character, passage, style, it may be effective and could be worth keeping. Conversely, if everyone doesn't like something, or if they're lacking a strong emotional responses where such responses are indicated, the problem could very well be the presentation. Or the plot. Or the character. Set the piece aside and take another look.

3) Keep in mind the genre, style, time-period, character - and stay true to those while realizing that a suggested change to setting or dialogue might be inappropriate. I still wouldn't dismiss it. I'd take another look at my piece and see where the reader missed the point. I may need to rewrite to ensure the point is not missed.

4) The bits with mixed reactions. Carefully apply each reaction to your piece and see where change might be indicated.

Okay now practically speaking.

Last Thursday I read a chapter from Before the Blood told through a viewpoint of an adult character that is opinionated, illiterate, and in denial about many aspects of her life. It's the only chapter in the novel told from this viewpoint.

The suggestions I received for change included eliminating/keeping the dialect, adding more character description, killing/keeping the last line, changing a word in the last line, and strengthening her narrative voice. So over the weekend, I opened up the chapter and held up the suggestions to the prose. This is what I did.

Dialect: I had two strong opposing opinions on this one, plus the added opinion of narrative that didn't quite sound like her voice, at least, in some places. So I'm keeping the dialect, but toning it down in passages where one listener felt it was overdone and ramping it up in others where another listener felt her voice wasn't hers.

Character descripton: Since these are existing characters, and I add reminder descriptions in other chapters, and since so many new characters are introduced several chapters back, I added a few strokes of description here and there, to keep the descriptions and personalities fresh.

And BTW, WriteOn Joliet has one excellent grammar guru. I almost always implement her suggestions.

The last line stays.

And the word change in that line?

The suggested word is too strong, so I'm altering that line to better express my intention.

Does all this seem like a lot of work? Well, it is. But effortless-sounding prose is an enormous amount of frustrating, satisfying work

And so worth it.

Because when you get it right, oh, the joy!

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