The best feedback propels you and your story forward in positive ways. The worst feedback is like pulling on the emergency break while racing down the freeway.
The Worst Feedback
1. No Feedback
Honestly, the worst feedback is no feedback at all. I’d rather a friend just said I did not like this or I did not like that than make excuses about time. That’s just plain depressing.
2. Imbalanced Feedback Exchange
I meet a talented writer at the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference. We agreed to exchange feedback, which we did. Problem was that the guy was much more interested in getting feedback from me than taking the time to give feedback. Now, I must say that he did give some feedback, but the whole exchange didn’t really work out because it was an imbalanced feedback exchange. This ranks at the top of my most disappointing feedback exchanges because I liked the guy quite a bit and I could see how he was using my feedback to improve his writing, which was exciting.
My response to this experience is not what you might have guessed. I was angry and frustrated for quite awhile, but now I am much more open to the idea of just giving someone feedback and not expecting something back. Sounds strange, but reality is that most people don’t have enough time to make their own projects work. If I like someone’s work and I like them, I would actually consider providing feedback and expecting nothing back.
With that said, a part of me still hopes that karma might kick in and someone, possibly someone else, might do me a favor sometime in the future. Believe it or not that kind of thing does happen. There are good people in the world and I’ve been lucky enough to have benefited from their generosity.
The Best Feedback
People have given me feedback via email and in person. I’ve even been lucky enough to have a handful of published authors give me feedback. I am tempted to search through the records to bring forth the actual words they used that were so wonderful and helpful. But, memory is a natural filter. We remember what is important. So, I will paraphrase some of the helpful words. I think that I will also insert some of my responses because what makes feedback useful is that you can use it. Sounds obvious, but not all feedback results in actual change.
There are two kinds of changes that I’ve noticed feedback can result in: Change in details (small stuff) and change in plot or the direction a scene goes (big stuff). So, I will break it down by small stuff and big stuff.
Best Feedback on the Small Stuff (Details)
1. Where did the glasses come from?
There is a scene in my story where a character lands on the edge of a cliff and his glasses slip off and fall down into the abyss. I just laughed my head off when my reader asked where the glasses came from. I knew then that I had to go back to the opening scene and include the glasses in the early descriptions.
That was a quick and easy change.
2. The raccoons aren’t all called Raccoon are they? Sounds too much like a fable.
Here again, I had to laugh. The reader made me see what was obvious. I have one Fate Changer raccoon who is active in the story, but he is, or was, a member of a brotherhood of raccoons. It simply did not make sense that they would all go around calling each other Raccoon. They must each have a distinct name.
Now, I am sure many of you are thinking no duh, but I like myths and fairy tales where characters are simply called by their animal name: Raven, Eagle, Turtle, … So, it seemed just fine to do the same.
Well, my fantasy novel is not a fairy tale and readers don’t approach it that way. So, once I found a name for the character it made him feel much more human, which is a good thing for an animal character.
Best Feedback on the Big Stuff (Plot/Scene Direction)
1. I don’t believe they would do that. It’s just too dangerous, given their culture.
In my novel, two women need to help a foreigner save a girl who may soon be killed or transformed into something not at all human. Problem is that these too women will be punished severely if they are caught.
My reader’s comment about the danger and the culture they are a part of sparked a change in my perception. I immediately saw that one of the characters, who highly values tradition, would not risk everything to save the girl. I really did need to make a change when it came to her. But, the other woman, who has long suppressed her rebellious side, would risk everything. This “I don’t buy it” feedback was great because these two women, who took the same name because they mated with the same man, needed something to help distinguish their characters. The reader’s comment helped me create a turning point; it helped me create a new conflict within a scene that more clearly defined the characters and upped the stakes. Also, rewriting the scene allowed me to help the reader understand why one of the women felt absolutely compelled to risk everything.
The new conflict created a new direction and a new momentum that carried through the rest of the story, all the way to the end.
2. Like the intro, but it needs more urgency.
The very start, the first words of a story, are the most challenging. So many things need to happen: setting, character development, imagery, conflict, tension, urgency.
This simple comment helped me to revise with a purpose. I didn’t want to eliminate too much of the imagery, but I could cut to the chase and get to the points of urgency (which I had already created) sooner.
By the way, this insightful reader had pointed out where I had created urgency. She just wanted that kind of thing sooner. It’s nice to have feedback that both points out things that work and things that need to be worked on.
This last point (urgency) is still on my mind and I am actually considering putting what is now chapter one second because that may make it so that the reader has even more of a sense of urgency. It would be built in big time before they even read word one of what would become the second chapter. I ran this by my latest reader and will find out what he thinks today.
I’d love to put more examples in, especially the flattering stuff, but it’s time to wrap things up.
The bottom line is that bad feedback puts on the emotional and creative breaks, but good feedback propels you forward with a purpose.
There are so many more good and bad examples that I could have included, but I bet everybody else has great examples too. What’s the best and/or worst feedback you have received?