Getting and using feedback: An actual example

Last week I posted the first chapter of a story I wrote.  You can read it here.

I got great feedback, and I thought it would be interesting to show you how I interpreted it.

Generally, here’s the rules I follow:

  1. If one person says it, it’s subjective.  If two people say it, it’s fact.
  2. A person’s reaction to the story is always 100% accurate.  A person can’t lie about how the story makes them feel.  For example, if it made them feel bored, they’re telling the truth.
  3. I’m butchering the quote, but basically “the reader is always right about what’s not working, but always wrong about how to fix it”.

So, on to the feedback and what I took away from it.

User b20f08 said:

  • Not a fan of the character
  • Sounds too familiar and trite in thought and deed
  • The ending was odd. Why would this character need money and yet can see people’s lives (as smoke) when they die? It doesn’t endear the character any further; makes him out to be a vulture if anything.
  • The piece needs tightening up as in pare it down more

User Patti Moore Wilson said:

  • It certainly drew me in and left me wanting to know more
  • I can’t say I liked the character much: was appalled and saddened when he took the money

User Alex Page said:

  • I like the concept and the dingy noir tone
  • It does need tightening and trimming – the conversation especially feels too long and a bit expository
  • On stealing the money: it certainly doesn’t make Shannon endearing

An anonymous user said:

  • I liked this . . . and would definitely have read more – had there been more

 

This is a great amount of feedback.  It’s wonderful!  Let’s figure out together what to do with it.

Feedback #1: It’s too slow

A number of readers said the story was slow / needed tightening.  This is a great example of rule #1 and #3.  Two people said it, so it’s true.  The story drags.  This is not debatable feedback.

What can I do to fix this?

Both readers suggested trimming, but that’s only one of several ways I could fix it.  I could also punch up the dialogue.  I could add some urgency to some of the paragraphs.  I could try to add more excitement to what’s already there.

The point isn’t to disagree with the feedback, the point is to get underneath what the feedback is telling me.  Two people have said, essentially, the story struggles to get to the point.  That’s great feedback and there’s a lot I can do with this.

Feedback #2: The Main Character is unlikable

Two readers said they didn’t like the main character.  This is pretty tricky.  If I was trying to write an anti-hero I’d be okay with this, but that wasn’t my intention.  So having two people not like the character is for sure a problem.  But, it’s great I figured this out in chapter 1 and not chapter 20.

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For example, some people have had slight success writing anti-heroes

What can I do to fix this?

The main character doesn’t no much in the story.  I don’t have a real handle on the character and that makes it easier for people to project on to him.  I think if I got into his head more and spent less time on the “facts” of the story, I could make him more relateable.

Feedback #3: The story is trite and familiar

This is a great example of feedback that is 100% true (if reader b20f08 found the story familiar, who am I to argue?), but I might ignore it.  Only one person said it, so I’d put more in the subjective category.  I’m not really debating the point, the concept of helping people die is pretty well-worn stuff.  The challenge for me is how do I make it new and fresh?

Interestingly, other readers said they liked the concept and would read more.

What can I do to fix this?

This falls into that category of feedback that’s helpful (I should really think about how to differentiate myself from other stories) but something I might leave on the table.

Feedback #4: Everyone hated the ending.

For people who didn’t read the story, at the end, the main character steals money.  Man oh man, did that ever get a reaction.  Everyone hated it.

Now if this was intentional, I’d be happy with the result.  But, it was completely unintentional.  I included it as a throwaway paragraph that meant nothing to me.

What can I do to fix this?

The fact that 90% of the feedback was about this scene – a scene I had no connection to and really has nothing to do with the story – leaves me with two options.

  1. This point obviously hit a nerve with people.  Lean into it harder.
  2. Scrap the paragraph entirely.

I’m tilting towards #2, but this is a great example of how your writing can take on a life of its own with readers, once you let it out into the world.


Overall, this was a great round of feedback and all very helpful.  My takeaway to work on is pacing / where the story starts.  On the one hand, I was trying to convey a certain atheistic with the writing.  On the other hand, I apparently wandered and didn’t get to the meat of the story.

I think this is my biggest weakness (I think this is every new writers biggest weakness).  A lot of “early draft” writing is warming up.  It’s analogous to doing scales before playing a song on the piano.  And it’s so hard to balance between establishing setting and moving the story along.   Obviously with this one, it was too much setting and not enough story.

It’s great to get tangible advice to work with, so thank you to everyone who commented.



Categories: How to write

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3 replies

  1. I am impressed that you could be so forthright about – and open to – others’ critiques: most people find that an extremely difficult thing to do. I know almost nothing of the publishing world but I would guess that this would be a good characteristic to have when working with an editor?? Can’t tell you how much I enjoy your posts. I know I am learning from you and hopefully honing my craft…

  2. Thank you so much for your nice comment. The truth is I’m sort of terrible at taking feedback, I’m very protective and defensive of my work. However, there’s a trick.

    Most of what I post on this site are pieces I’m not that emotionally attached to. They’re things I’ve written for a laugh, or to try out a new technique, or in the case of the one I posted that got all this feedback – it’s a piece I lost interest in. So it makes it easier to take criticism because I don’t love the work in the first place.

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