Has something crazy ever happened to you, and you want to tell someone, but you need to figure out the best way to present the story to them? This is what being a writer can feel like, more often than not. We have a great story idea, all the elements, and an outline, but we’re not sure how to best communicate the story.
Let’s talk about it.
While most stories have a beginning, middle, and end, the way each story travels that path varies based on how the events are presented. As you develop your story, decide if you want to communicate the storyline linearly, jumping back and forth in time or using flashbacks as a story device.
Whose POV are we getting the story from? This character will be the conduit through which the reader is given information about the events in the story. Are we getting one character’s POV or several POVs? How does each character’s POV give the reader new insight into the story?
Decide the best way to convey the story and its elements. Does the story have enough material to be novel, or is it a novella or short story? Could it be a screenplay or a play? Each of these requires a different type of communicative style that uniquely delivers information to the reader.
How have others handled stories similar to yours? What genre would it fit into? How have those authors effectively communicated their stories to readers? How can you apply that information to your story to communicate it better?
Put It Out There
If you’ve written out an outline or a draft, give it to someone to read. Let them ask questions. Find ways to communicate the story that keeps them wanting more. Are there points where they lost interest or were confused? Ask them why? Then you can work on fine-tuning those areas to make them stronger and more effective.
Learn From Others
We’ve all seen at least one movie or read a novel where the idea is there, but how it’s communicated and presented fails to capture our interest. Why did this happen? By learning from others, we can strengthen our work by avoiding mistakes.
We often talk about the basics of writing: who, what, where, when, and why. But the final element, how, is just as important when you set out to communicate your story effectively. Deciding the best way to present the narrative can help strengthen your story and give it a greater impact.
Last time, we talked about how self-awareness can help you edit your manuscript and get it to the best version possible. Today, we’ll explore how to use self-awareness when receiving feedback from others on your work.
Let’s get started.
Feedback: Self-Aware, Not Self-Absorbed
Everyone needs feedback on their writing. It doesn’t matter what it is; if you intend to publish it, you’ll want to take the time to have another person – or other people – read it and get their honest feedback about the work.
Being a self-aware writer is knowing that there are areas of the writing process that are your strengths. Still, others are weaknesses that you need to improve upon. Getting feedback from others can help you pinpoint these weak areas so you can improve them before you send the manuscript out to the next reader.
These initial readers should be people you know and trust who will be honest with you about any problems they find. This is where being a self-aware writer comes in handy. You want to make it clear to the reader that you want them to be truthful with you about anything they find that needs work. You can’t make it better if all they do is shower you with false praise.
You’ve given them the manuscript for a reason, and you want to make sure that what you need from them is what you get.
Feedback: Know What You Want
Two words: BE SPECIFIC. “Let me know if you like it or not” is not a good way to get strong feedback. Before you send your manuscript off to anyone, think of aspects you want them to focus on and look for. This will ensure they stay engaged since you’ve given them a task related to the book.
Some questions you could pose to your reader include:
Is the main character’s story arc strong enough?
Does the story keep them engaged?
Is there any place during the story where the energy dies or the pacing slows?
Were there any parts that were confusing or hard to understand?
Did any of the subplots cause you to lose interest?
Was the villain’s motivation strong enough?
Did the conflict keep you invested?
Then, when you meet with them after they’re done, they have clear and specific answers that will help you improve the manuscript going forward.
Feedback: Know What You Don’t Want
This is where picking the right people to read for you is key. You should ask people who will actually READ the manuscript and provide you with the feedback you need. There’s nothing more frustrating than asking someone to read your manuscript only to have them say they haven’t even started it a month after you sent it to them.
You also want to do all you can to get detailed information from your reader. “It was good,” “I didn’t like it,” or “It wasn’t my type of book” are not helpful feedback statements. This is why giving your readers clear direction can make a huge difference as you work to make changes and improvements to the next draft.
The feedback was good, and it allowed you to make changes to your manuscript that have made it even stronger than it was before. You’re feeling confident…maybe even a little cocky about yourself as a writer. But will that inflated ego hurt you in the long run?
Welcome back. Now your manuscript is looking good. You’re happy with what you have; you’ve worked out all the problems, did an exhaustive grammar and spelling check, and made sure that continuity is solid throughout the story.
Now, it’s time to let someone else read your work. I know, I know. This can cause a lot of anxiety for many writers. How will my work be perceived by outside eyes? Can I trust their opinions? Can I trust their judgment? Who do I ask?
Let’s talk about it.
7a. Finding the Right Feedback Partner
I believe a feedback partner is an essential part of the writing process. If you’re in a writing class, it can be easier to find someone willing to read your work in exchange for reading theirs. But if you’re flying solo, it’s time to look at your circle of friends and see if any of them might be willing to read your work.
I highly recommend not using family members for this process. With family, it can go one of two ways: heaps of praise that don’t help you strengthen the work; or criticism that leads to a rift in the relationship. Best to avoid both scenarios and let them read the work once it’s 100% complete.
Do you have a friend who has taken an interest in your writing? Is there someone you know who has asked about what you’re working on? Maybe you know someone who has read something you’ve written in the past, and their feedback helped improve the work? This is definitely a person to ask.
If they say yes, pay them for their time. Trust me, it’s worth it. Now, they have a reason to sit down and read the manuscript: money is coming! How much? It depends on your budget, but start low and then if you like their feedback, pay them more the next time they read it.
7b. Tell Them Exactly What You’re Looking For
Once you find your feedback partner and offer them payment, tell them what you want them to do. Be specific. “Here, read this” won’t be helpful to you, and it won’t help them focus on what you are looking for.
You can be general – “Does the story work from start to finish?” or “Did the story hook you and keep you reading?” – or, you can be specific – “When you’re reading, can you see if my main character’s arc is strong enough?” or “Can you tell me if there are any moments that don’t work, and explain why you think they don’t?” By giving your feedback partner goals, they now have things to look for and can provide direct answers to items you may have questions about.
Once you’ve set the parameters, give them a reasonable deadline (2 to 4 weeks), then leave them alone. This can be tough. You want to know where they are, what they’re thinking, and what they think, but butting in can ruin their reading flow and also break their concentration if they are reading when you contact them. If they contact you and give you a general comment (I really like the opening chapters), don’t interrogate them. A brief response is fine, but that’s it.
Your goal once they have the manuscript is to keep them reading.
7c. They’re Done and Ready to Give Feedback. Now What?
I FaceTime with my feedback partner, but you can do a Zoom call, Skype, or a regular phone call. I prefer this to receiving pages of notes from them (unless you specifically ask for that). Schedule 30 minutes for a meeting, and then let them talk first. They will likely give their overall impressions of the work and deliver positive feedback at the outset.
All good things.
Now, you can dig deeper. Have the initial questions you wanted them to answer ready, and have them delve into those. I like the phone/video chat discussions because you can discuss any issues or problems they had with the story. Staring it pages of notes is impersonal and one-sided. Take the time to have the dialogue.
This is also the time to take off your creative hat and put on your editor hat. You need to listen to what they have to say, answer their questions, and not get upset or offended if they didn’t like some aspect of the story or didn’t understand something. This is your opportunity to ask them for specifics about why they didn’t like something, why they feel they didn’t understand something, or why it didn’t work for them.
Listen. Clarify. Move on.
If you agree with their view on the specific item, change it. If you don’t, keep it the way it is. But I’ve learned that if you allow your feedback partner to be honest, so they don’t just tell you what you want to hear, they are pretty spot-on with finding issues that need fixing, clarity, or plot holes.
And that only helps strengthen your story even more.
Answer all their questions. If they wonder about something, or a character, or a moment that isn’t clear, write it down to look at later.
Once the session is over, pay them immediately if you are using PayPal, Venmo, or another payment app, process what you’ve heard, then get back to your manuscript the next day.
7d. Putting the Feedback to Good Use
If you liked their feedback, ask them if they want to be your feedback partner. If they yes, that’s great. If not, you have their feedback and can use that to make the next draft stronger. Take the time to go through their comments and see where they can be applied to make the story, characters, other aspects better.
I suggest giving all their feedback strong consideration. Sometimes there’s something in the story we’re holding onto that we really think works, but it falls flat to a reader or takes them out of the story. Be mindful of these comments. If your feedback partner makes it a point to say that something in the story took them out of the story, definitely consider cutting it. It could save your story in the long run.
7e. Back for Round Two, Three, Four…
Once you have made the changes – and probably made more on your own as you went through – send it back to your feedback partner with new questions for them to answer. Repeat the process as many times as you, your feedback partner, and your budget allows.
BLOGGER’S NOTE: There are editing/feedback services available online that you are free to use if you don’t want to ask a friend. As a self-publishing author with a tight budget, these services can often get a bit pricey, so doing a little DIY for your first few books can be a less expensive way to get the job done. But, if you want to use these services, I encourage you to do so, just do some research to find one that fits your budget and will do a professional job.
8. The Final Edit/Polish
At some point, your manuscript will be done…or done enough. It’s tempting to always want to tinker with a line of dialogue, a description, or other minutiae, but you have to tell yourself that it’s ready to publish at some point.
The way I know is when I stop thinking/obsessing over the story. My mind moves on to other projects, and this manuscript is no longer at the forefront. That’s when I’m pretty sure I’ve done all I can to make this story the best it can be at this time.
It’s time to let go and let others enjoy what you’ve created.
I hope you found these posts helpful. If you are a writer who has any advice to add, please leave a comment.
You can read about my self-publishing experience with The Field by clicking here.