A reader of my blog, Flogging the Quill, asked a question for my new Monday “FtQ&A” feature that I thought I would explore here and expand there next week. (This Monday it was answers regarding my self-publishing efforts.)
This writer asked, “When faced with differing opinions about how to fix your writing or plot or story or whatever, how do you decide which advice to take?”
First, it depends on the source. I’m sure my questioner meant feedback from other writers or readers of their manuscripts, but even then the source matters.
1. Feedback from a pro such as an agent or editor
I take this seriously. They’ve seen, read, experienced, and sold far more than I. I say follow the feedback and see where it takes you. In this day of computers and “save-as” to create a revised version of a manuscript, you can’t lose anything.
This includes feedback you’ve paid for from an editor such as me. As I’ve reported here before, I wanted my We the Enemy novel to be as good as it could be, and I paid $2500 for a critique from a top editor and publisher. You bet I took his advice, and rewrote massively to create a much better novel. It’s getting some good reader reviews on Amazon.
Question for you published authors: Have you disregarded feedback from your agent or editor?
2. Feedback from a critique partner
Assuming this is a critique partner or partner that you have experience with and value their insight, weigh it carefully. Do a save-as and give it a try. And don’t decide immediately if your first reaction is to disagree. Let it simmer. On one of my novels, coming out soon, a critique group partner, upon reaching the third chapter, said, “Your story starts here.”
I instantly disagreed—what about all that set-up stuff in chapters 1 and 2 that the reader needs? But three months later, when polishing the manuscript, his advice sank in and I did a rewrite that started with chapter 3. Much better.
3. Feedback from a “changer,” no matter what the source
Recently I requested feedback from readers of my blog regarding promotional materials for the upcoming paperback version of my novel Finding Magic. I received many helpful insights and have made revisions accordingly. But one tidbit was from a “changer.” I’m sure you’ve encountered those folks, the ones whose suggestions are really the way they would write it.
In this case, I invented a word to stand for casting an illusion using means that seem magical. I did my research, and there is a word that means that: “glamour.” I had invented a word to mean the same thing: glamére. The critiquer wrote that I should change my made-up word to be the same as the known one. Why, they wondered, change it?
I appreciated the reader’s effort to be helpful, but I felt there were two reasons for doing what I did. While I know that “glamour” can mean a magical deception, I wasn’t sure that an “ordinary” reader wouldn’t instead take the other meaning of the word, the one that has to do with being glamorous, which is the second meaning of “glamour” in my dictionary. More than that, I wanted my word to be one that had evolved from “glamour” over the centuries in its usage by the Hidden Clans in the novel that used that word and others to describe their seemingly magical abilities.
How to decide
We all have our own techniques, but here are mine. When a suggestion clearly just doesn’t fit, as in the one just cited, the answer is quick and sure.
Then there are the suggested rewrites from changers that turn my voice into their voice. If the suggestion doesn’t sound like the way I write a narrative, then I can’t use it, and it really isn’t all that helpful.
The ability to “hear” your voice and that of other writers is, I think, a talent that separates editors from writers. I know that in my editing work a primary goal is to respect the voice of the writer. My task is to help them clarify and strengthen their natural voice, not to change it to mine.
Finally, I think you listen to your gut. Does the feedback resonate with you and your story in a way that fits? That makes you say, yeah, that could work? It’s that inner sense, that “feel” of the words, that is an artist’s final guide to reacting to critical feedback.
At least that’s the way it works for me. How about you? Any stories about “changers” you’ve met?