In my opinion, the editor is always right . . . about the existence of a problem. Or at least usually. For the sake of this article, I’m bundling critique partners in with editors, and the more experienced the editor or critique partner, the more often they’re right about there being a problem in the first place. What they’re less often right about IMHO is identifying exactly what the problem is, nor are they always right about what the best solution is, nor is it always a problem that should be fixed. And sometimes, they either haven’t explained the logic of their point-of-view, or their explanation is just plain confusing. If you couldn’t tell, this post is about developing the skill of thinking laterally about feedback.
I let feedback ping around in my head for a day or three, and more often than not, it will land in one of the following seven categories:
- Right problem; right solution: The editor is bang on, and I’m taking her suggestion.
- Right problem; wrong solution: I love when my editor or critique partners workshop fixes for any of my manuscript problems. I sometimes use their solutions verbatim, and other times deviate slightly, or come up with an entirely new fix. Let’s say my editor is worried that my character’s vanity is too unlikable. She suggests toning down the vanity. But maybe I feel a better solution would be to explain (or show) a little more of Mary’s back story, so that readers understand that Mary is vain because growing up, she had an overbearing mother who weighed her daughters daily. My solution keeps Mary as vain as before, but readers now have a reason to empathize with the character.
- Right passage; wrong problem: The editor has identified a passage or character inconsistency or other issue, but their reason doesn’t make sense. I try looking at the issue from different angles to see if there is anything else that could be wrong with the passage/character other than what the editor has identified. For instance, let’s say my editor says there’s a timeline issue with my story. How does Jill make it down the hill before Jack if Jack fell first? I would then realize that this isn’t a timeline issue at all but an error of omission. I forgot to mention in the story that Jill fell down a steeper face of the mountain, which in fact means that she made it to the bottom long before Jack.
- Right passage and right problem; solution achieved by fixing a different passage: For example, perhaps my editor is saying they don’t understand a character’s motivation, why Jennifer—who seems non-violent—would throw a glass at the wall. Maybe the solution comes not from changing the current passage so that Jennifer doesn’t throw the glass, but instead by showing Jennifer’s increasing fury in the events leading up to the glass-breaking incident, so that her reaction is more believable.
- Right problem and right solution if the editor belonged to my target audience: Sometimes you’re trying to accomplish something with your story, but the critique partner that you’re trialing wants you to change something to fit their ideology. If you’re okay with not reaching the audience that critiquer represents, then maybe making a change to the problem they identified isn’t what you want to do. You could consider compromising, but that’s up to you.
- Vague comment that needs editor clarification: When I’m critiquing work, I’ve often found myself in a position where something isn’t ringing right for me, but I’m at a loss for words to explain why. The result is that I’m only able to give a vague comment and hope that the author, who knows their project better than me, can figure out if there really is a problem, and if so, what that problem is. When I receive vague comments that I can’t figure out on my own, I set them off to the side, so I can send my editor or critique partner all my follow-up questions in one shot.
- Valid comment, but I want to get a second opinion: In my first year of working with critique partners, I placed many comments I received into this category. Not so much anymore, and I’m searching for a reason. The best I can come up with is that I try harder to understand comments now than I did before, and I usually can figure out what needs to be done without waiting to see if someone agrees or disagrees with the first opinion. Also, I’ve noticed that different critique partners have different strengths, and just because a second critique partner doesn’t pick up on what the first critique partner did, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.
Do you have any advice on how to interpret feedback? Any stories you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!