Storytellers of any kind survive on feedback. From a toddler, to stand up comedian to journalists – if the audience is a wall, the story being told goes nowhere and the teller, goes home. Even harsh feedback is accepted because it means they elicited an emotion and were at least being listened to.
It amazes me daily how so many writers not only don’t realize the benefit of the good and bad input when soliciting feedback for their stories – but also instantly ignore anything too critical. Be it novel reviews, screenplay coverage or even just queries on the pitch for these – writers are many things but the last thing they will ever be is willing ‘baby killers’. This trait, in my opinion, is one of the key contributors to why everyone with a tale fantasizes about writing that novel, or screenplay and why there is such a glut of bad services seducing them into thinking they’re right in doing so.
Many services charge a ridiculous fee, and some just nickel and dime you death, some do indeed provide a valuable product, this post is not about any of the cottage industry merchandisers, but about the elusive audience: the forums, the peers, and writer’s groups — anyone with an ounce of seriousness about ‘making it’ stumble or walk willingly into as a place to start.
They are valuable, no doubt. I’ve made amazing connections in some of these circles.
Recently, I had someone tell me that my description of my story was completely wrong. He went on to give examples of produced work that this story was like – this was coming from having read a 2-line description and having never read the story. I was familiar with those examples he gave and knew mine was very far removed. I didn’t retort, or defend – I knew better. This person went even further, suggesting my title was way off base – again not understanding a key relevance in the setting of the story. I looked at this person’s other feedback and grew concerned that other writers would radically adjust their material based on uninformed advice.
Opinions they say are like a certain waste producing hole, but when it comes to storytellers’ opinions – even off-base ones can point to a subtle nuance that can make all the difference in letting your baby live a better life or throwing it out with the bath water.
I did re-evaluate those two lines and how I could have conveyed more that would have alleviated the commentary and speak to the commonest of denominators – and I’m happy to say that even though I did not change the title or the story – I did come up with a very concise and tight approach in the description of it and actually tightened the pacing as a result.
Ideally, any writer’s group is comprised of a combination of experience and fledgling inspiration that can help frame constructive criticism and maybe even point out plot holes you didn’t notice. With the proliferation of online feedback groups – perspective has never been more important. Don’t take the bait of comment trolls, but do digest what they have to say and try to use some emotional intelligence.
Remember, most commentators are not vetted for their tact or principles of constructive criticism, and in some situations they are just participating to meet a quota so someone will listen to their story… They would much rather be in a comedy club heckling the act after swallowing their two-drink minimum, or worst putting their toddler in front of the TV so they can get on the phone and talk to anyone that will listen. In these cases, some holes need plugging, not belaboring.
With that, I leave you with some brain pickings’ perspective on the difference between good writing and talented writing…
“Though they have things in common, good writing and talented writing are not the same…
Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic. Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader’s mind — vividly, forcefully — that good writing, which stops with clarity and logic, doesn’t. ”