Tuesday, 23 March 2010

5 Characteristics: Feedback

When you're writing you have a very clear idea of what the characters are like, from their attitudes and motives to what they look like. You can see quite clearly the places they visit, the roads they drive down. This one is charming, that one is self-deprecating, the other is witty. What a shock it is to discover that readers find the charmer a pain in the neck, the diffident one aloof and stuck up and the witty one a complete pillock. No, no, no, you cry. That's not what I meant at all.

It happens a lot in class, particularly with people who are new to the workshopping process. They like to explain what they meant by their writing. This is fine for class, but it won't work when they send their writing out. Afterall, they can't tag along, making sure the reader gets that that comment was meant to be ironic, not taken seriously, or explain the reason they suddenly turned left - it was the complicated one-way system.

More experienced workshoppers listen quietly making notes. They know what they meant by their words; they want to make sure that the readers understood that. Recently someone wrote something so subtly that everyone was baffled by what had actually happened. All it needed was a few extra words and all became clear.

Feedback gives you access to what readers get from your work, and the chance to make sure it tallies with what you want them to get. No one need ever know if you take feedback on board, there is no obligation to make changes, but you should at least listen to what people say. I'm a big fan of feedback and don't think I'd be published without it.


Minnie said...

Excellent and, personally, v timely as someone sent me a copy of his work which I didn't like/understand. He's sure this is my fault, while I am equally certain he's guilty of wilful obscurity ;-)!
A possible tip: I have always read my material aloud. Amazing how this pinpoints anything that doesn't ring true.

Sarah Duncan said...

And you could of course both be right!

I think reading aloud is an essential part of the process, although I know from running workshops that people sometimes say what they'd like to have written, not what is actually on the page. Adding all the contractions is common (ie I had to I'd) and it makes such a difference to the tone.

Minnie said...

1) Very likely (not that we'd dream of saying so!)!
2) Years at copywriting/journo coalface make me a bit more detached from my words, so reading aloud works for me (I hear things that clang). I love editing (allows me to get in touch with inner mad axeperson). Otherwise, yes, that's a very good point.

Sarah Duncan said...

LOL at the inner axe person!

I love the whole rewriting process, though line editing is my least favourite part of it - think my inner axeperson is too close to the surface for my blood pressure.