3 things that I’ve learned as a writer from reviews and feedback
In today’s post I will highlight the main lessons I’ve learned as a writer from reviews and feedback on my work. For those who may have missed it, my previous post examined how book reviews influence us as readers.
First of all, what do I mean when I say a review? I am talking about a written expression, usually one or several paragraphs long, of someone’s honest opinion on a novel. For me a review is valuable only if the reviewer has read the entire book and is able to clearly express his or her view, such as by providing examples to illustrate points.
Personally, I ask my proofreaders to comment on the novel line by line within the word document, fill out a questionnaire after completion of the novel, and give their overall opinion of the story. While the first two focus more on particulars, the last piece allows me to get an overall feeling of whether the novel was a satisfactory reading experience, and if not, what was missing.
Below are the 3 key lessons I’ve learned as a writer from reviews
Is the universe my novel takes place in believable and logical?
Since I write a series in the fantasy genre, this one is particularly important for me. It took me a long time to decide on the rules of the universe and chisel out the details. It is of uttermost importance to understand the rules, the exemptions, grey areas and how the rules can be broken in your novel.
Based on feedback that I’ve received I’ve rewritten and tossed out scenes that I’ve believed to be good, simply because they didn’t work with the laws/physics in my universe.
Lesson: be clear on your rules and be aware of them each time you write a scene in your novel. No matter how great a scene is, if it breaks the rules of your universe, it has to go.
Has a concept been explained well enough, without boring the reader?
It is a fine line that the writer walks between an info dump and confusing the reader. Too much information at once, especially when given up front, or giving information without any action taking place will bore the reader. Yet, if you don’t explain enough about how your universe works, how your characters know each other, why your characters behave in certain ways, and etc. the reader will be left confused.
A confused reader is likely to get annoyed, lose interest and move on to a book that is written in a more ‘clear’ way.
Lesson: Always ask yourself: Does the reader need to know this particular information at this particular time to understand the story? Would the reader understand what is happening in a given scene based on the knowledge received from the book so far?
Are your insinuations placed strategically throughout the novel and explained later on?
Insinuations come in many forms. They are used for foreshadowing, as cliffhangers, or to hint at the backstory of a character. While insinuations help build up the intrigue, it is important, as with your other writing tools, to not overuse them.
As the author you must also ensure that later on you do answer the questions that you have planted into the reader’s mind.
For example, if you constantly have a character refer to a past event that has impacted his or her life, you need to ensure that each time a bit more information is revealed. By the end of the story your reader should have a thorough understanding of this pre-event. Do not insinuate something that you are unable or unwilling to explain. If you are unclear on the past of your character or a concept, think about it until you know exactly what has happened in the past or why something works in a certain way, before you include it in your book.
Insinuations if used strategically will keep your reader turning the pages until the end. But make no mistake, if a concept or past event is not explained in a satisfactory fashion then by the end of your novel, your reader is likely to get annoyed and not pick up your next book.
Lesson: If you promise something, make sure you deliver. Do NOT dangle a fake carrot in front of the rabbit.