Critiques and Feedback: Getting the Most From Readers

Sorry this is a late post, I was up much too late attempting (failing is more like it) to write my English assignment of a 1200-word short story. It’s still not done, but an episode earlier in the week regarding a different story is rolling around in my brain so I figured I would share.

When it comes to writing, I think one of the most difficult parts can be critiquing. This goes for critiquing others’ writing, as well as critiquing one’s own writing or receiving feedback. As unpleasant as it sometimes can be, it is one of those necessary tools of the trade. The most important thing to remember when receiving feedback is that readers are all different. You want to make sure you have a wide variety of people reading your books, and not the kind of people who will read it and say it is awesome no matter what the writing is like. You need people who will tell you what they really think. Hopefully they do it in a tactful way, but even if they don’t, make sure you still take their feedback into consideration. I realize that’s a lot easier said than done.  It’s a really good idea to have someone unfamiliar with your genre of writing give you feedback as well, although this can also be frustrating.

I have a friend who reads similar genres, but when it comes to subtle writing, doesn’t exactly “read between the lines” very well. The way the feedback is delivered also typically instigates an immediate, “But” reaction from me because I then feel that I have to explain the story. In most cases, if I received this review from someone else I would say “okay time to change a few things” right away. With this reviewer, I have to explain the story and then listen to the feedback after that. He doesn’t communicate examples or things I would think to be obviously-helpful methods. I then have to read between the lines to figure out what needs fine-tuning in a story. Sometimes it is nothing because the end result is that he doesn’t like the word count. Sometimes I can discern where my story is weak, if that is the cause of his reading frustration. If those reading your genre give conflicting reviews to those who don’t read your genre, chances are you won’t need to change the writing much. You will never make every reader happy. Some people will get it, some won’t.

So why bother to have this other person read my stories at all? Well, simple, because he doesn’t read this genre he notices things about the writing that others don’t since they naturally pick up intent from the subtle nuances. If I can eventually pinpoint valid concerns out of his feedback, I have a way to tighten up the writing, even if those who are familiar with the style fully understand everything. At the end of the day, I want my writing to be better. Luckily, I received great feedback from quite a few others for the same story with no valid recommendations to change anything. The only complaint was that they (the reader) had never attended a graduation ceremony where people sat in chairs. Apparently, they had a REALLY small graduating class or a REALLY large one so they all had to stand for however long it took to walk across the stage and receive diplomas. This is a minor detail and not the point of my story so I choose to keep the graduation scene as it is. The reader understood the purpose of the “scene” itself, which was the point so I didn’t really care if they thought a graduation ceremony was the same for every school, everywhere. Irrelevant.

Best way to get proper feedback is to literally give them a sheet of questions to fill out. Ask about pacing, if there were scenes that confused them, if characters acted differently without enough explanation, and you can still have a spot for “overall reaction”. I’d recommend having a general suggestions section as well, and really you could put whatever you want in there, but asking questions about the story in a more specific manner gives the reader permission to criticizes but also guides them to give feedback in a more productive way so that you don’t get that initial “but” reaction which will make is a lot easier to believably thank them for the feedback later.  If you see the same types of comments (related to flow, or character development, etc.) on a lot of the papers, you know it’s time to try and tighten it up. Just a few tweaks can improve a piece drastically. If a majority of the people believe the story elements are valid and well-written don’t worry about one review that bashes your story. They may just not like the genre or understand your style. Critiquing is the perfect place to implement the “majority rules” idea. If you have a lot of people giving you feedback, it will probably be an adequate representation of your entire readership’s thoughts on your piece percentage-wise. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a lot of different people read your piece, including ones who don’t typically read the genre. Perhaps I’ll make an actual list to give to my feedback participants to make sure that I get decent feedback. If I come up with a list of questions that works well for my critiquing circle, I’ll try to remember to post it on my site so you guys can use the “forms” too if you want.

2 comments

  1. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your blog, I appreciate it! I’m less than 200 words away from reaching my assignment word goal, so I’m just doing my freelance work and hopefully I’ll feel rejuvenated enough to finish my assignment! 🙂 Thanks again, and have a great day!

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