Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 14, 2010

Conflicting Feedback

First readers and beta readers are awesome; let’s just get that out there right away. Having readers whose opinion you respect, and who have a sharp eye/ear/nose for writing is a boon to any writer. No writer can do without such people, and I, for one, relish their feedback.

 

That said, readers can also make you crazy.

 

There are occasions when two readers’ opinions clash. For example, two of my readers for The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas, gave me the following feedback:

 

1 – “Gram is thoroughly one-dimensional…and is utterly unsympathetic.”

 

2 – “Gram was unpredictable, and I liked her a lot.”

 

Hmmm. What’s a writer to do?

 

The easy thing, of course, would be to go with the opinion that you like best—the one that means you don’t have to go back and revise Gram’s character. However, a good writer needs to be honest, to go back and look at the character and see if there is validity to the first statement. Gritting your teeth and reading with an open mind is always necessary when you get conflicting feedback. After all, the reason you want others to read the story is precisely because they will see things you don’t – things you are too close to see. Dismissing their opinions when they are unfavorable is counterproductive to making your novel the best it can be.

 

This example also shows another truth that all writers must deal with—you cannot please everyone. Readers bring their own baggage, their own prism to the page every time they read. They will read things into the story that you did not intend. Their minds fill in the chinks with what they know, what they have lived, and what they have experienced. That is the magic of reading—the same book will be a unique experience for each reader.

 

Knowing this, writers cannot write to satisfy everybody. In the end, writers must be true to the story, to the character, and to their own vision. Feedback helps hone this vision and to open dimensions of the story you didn’t see yourself. But the bottom line is your gut, telling you what is right for your book.

 

So, what am I going to do about Gram? I have to read the manuscript and see, but I suspect there will be some “rounding” to be done for her character.

 

Thanks to all my readers for their valuable feedback! 

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Responses

  1. feedback on feedback
    I guess you can’t please all the people all the time. I would rather try to please my target audience most of the time. Even that is a lofty goal! But you can’t change your writing style every time you get a negative comment from someone. Just imagine your millions of readers, and this is only one, or two. Be affected by constructive criticism, if it makes sense, but don’t let one or two comments knock you back and forth.

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  2. weighing in from the coffeehouse crowd
    Hm. Interesting post. You’ve got me thinking about the difference between “unpredictable” and “not predictable.” I suspect that “not predictable” means non-formulaic, defying stereotypes, etc. – all good things. While “unpredictable” might mean “you haven’t given me enough information about this character to make what they choose to do make sense.”
    Re: conflicting reader input – different readers need different things. I tend to like to leave something unresolved or ambiguously resolved in my work; readers who like tidy endings sometimes have a problem with that. Some people like more romance, some want less, or more or less violence, or whatever. “Needs more cowbell,” as they say. In a lot of cases, all that is just matters of taste, and can be filed under “things to think about when addressing certain markets.”
    Places where the reader is left wondering why a character did X or didn’t do Y often means that either one is pushing the character to do things to fit a requirement of the plot that they wouldn’t otherwise do, or that there’s something in character development, many pages earlier, that one failed to accomplish.

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  3. You’re right: you must be true to the character! Which, of course, entails knowing your character …

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    • Sometimes I think that it is precisely because we know our characters so well that we get into trouble. They are so real and alive in our heads, that we don’t notice when that fullness doesn’t get passed on to the page. We can’t believe that the readers don’t see them as we do! Which is exactly why having readers is so important – they don’t tell us what we THINK we put on the page, but what we DID put on the page.

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  4. Cool article! You touched on an area that I haven’t seen a lot of writing blogs address. Thanks for posting it!
    Rob Walford
    http://rwalfordtheimaginationshop.blogspot.com/

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