Incorporating Critique

A #Balticon55 panel. While I was all over the place at the convention, since this panel was marked as ‘not recorded’, I made sure to take careful notes.

While descriptions of a panel are often more notional than reality, this one was more accurate than most.

Someone’s read your work in progress… and they have feedback. How do you know what should be worked in, and how can you do it so that changes feel consistent with what you’ve written? How can you deal with conflicting suggestions? What’s the difference between constructive feedback and a reader’s personal preference?

The panelists were: Doc Coleman as moderator, Mark L. Van Name, Devin Randall, D.A. Xiaolin Spires, and C. L. Polk.

Who To Ask For Critique

While, I usually prefer a mix of readers and writers, especially for a first beta-pass, with no more than five beta readers in a single round, I was curious to hear what the panelists suggested.

  1. Trusted friends
  2. Writers
  3. Readers
  4. Editors

The more books one has published, typically, the fewer readers most prefer. Mark L. Van Name, at this stage, only takes critique from his editor. Devin Randall writes more for performance arts, so early showings of his plays are critical to his revision process (often called “workshopping” a play).

What To Ask A Critiquer

If you’ve been here for a while, you already know my mantra — the best way to get the sort of feedback you want is to ask for it. While I have an extensive checklist, most of the pros keep it simple.

  1. Experts to weigh in on the [science/whatever expertise you don’t have]
  2. Watching for inconsistencies
  3. Where the reader is confused
  4. What their immediate reaction is [did you like, dislike, would recommend the story]
  5. To fill in the blank of “This story is about [BLANK]

Devin Randall quoted the Liz Lerman performance level checklist he employs:

  1. What pops? In otherwords, what excites you, what hits you in the feels.
  2. Any specific story issue you have, ask them
  3. Have the reader ask any questions they have
  4. Then, accept feedback.

By starting with the positives, and then questioning on parts that you, as a writer are concerned about, you start off high, and keep the focus where you wanted it. By then opening up to their questions and their feedback, you get an honest response, that should be a mix of the good and the bad.

What Feedback To Use

Completely validating my approach, the panelists as a whole agreed — feedback tells you what may need fixing, it does not tell you how to fix it. While readers — or even professional editors — may make suggestions, you are the owner of the story, of the characters, of the world. Make fixes or make sure the things you cannot change are set up properly, but do them in the way that rings to for you, the writer.

It was refreshing to hear that I’m not the only writer that takes the low hanging fruit — the typos and wording suggestions — and makes those changes first. We know the chapter might get cut, but we need to see the shape of it first, and makes those who work like I do feel like we’re making progress. A positive momentum is always a good thing after the gut-punch a good critique usually brings.

What To Do When You Have Conflicting Feedback

It’s your story. Not all readers are right for every story. Whether the feedback conflicts with what another beta-reader says or conflicts with what you feel is right for the story, you never have to take it.

Look at the advice, sit on it and contemplate how it would change your story, and then, it’s up to you. Is this the story you wanted to tell? Will this feedback take it in a wrong direction (for you)? Or will this feedback turn the story into something better than you’d ever planned?


You can see many Balticon55 panels at Youtube.com/BaltimoreSciFi.

Do you agree with the panelists (and me)? Or do you have a totally different way to handle feedback?

4 Comments

  1. People who only take feedback from editors have professional feedback. A good editor will help you make the story better.

    When it’s your non-professional beta readers, the thing to watch out for is when they start telling you how something should go. Consider it… but remember, it’s YOUR story, not theirs. Feel free to say it doesn’t work for you, or it won’t work for the story you’re telling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But yes, that’s exactly the point about beta readers and suggestions that I thought I had clearly reiterated both as my own opinion, and as the panelists. Thank you for helping me reiterate it once more.

      Like

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