Often, when a writer asks for feedback on a work in progress, they will ask for the reader to pay attention to things like story, character, pace, and to not bother too much with spelling or grammar or other nit-picky elements at this stage.
The reason for this is pretty obvious. It’s early in the development of the story and most of those minor errors will be taken care of during the polishing and fine-tuning stages which will happen once the story is more or less completed.
Right now, all the writer wants is an overview of how things are taking shape and whether the premise seems interesting and engaging.
Which is fair enough. But there is a slight problem.
Those small nit-picky errors are distracting. They can make it hard to get into the flow of the story. Is your attention wandering because of them or because the story isn’t holding together?
However, I can see the benefit of getting some feedback on the general engagement level of the story early on, so I try to ignore most of the minor errors in favour of getting a feel for the characters (do I like spending time reading about their adventures?)and the premise (do I care what happens next?).
In order to do this, I have to concentrate quite hard. As a writer, I’ve trained myself to pay special attention to the little errors. Now I’m trying to disregard them.
But a strange thing happens when I do that. Not only do I overlook all the questionable grammatical issues and the typos and the run on sentences, I also stop worrying about dialogue and description and setting.
In fact, when you focus that hard, the things that stand out are: Why is the character doing this? What’s the point? Why now? Who cares?
Is this how a reader would read the story? Probably not. But then few readers would get the manuscript in this rough and ready manner.
Once you strip away the incidental stuff, the good and the bad, you can see the story much more clearly. And you really don’t need someone else to do that for you. Simply go through your draft and write down, chapter by chapter, who does what in a chapter, what the reaction is, what they decide to do next and why.
If you do that, it will become very easy to spot when characters do things for no good reason. Jane visits Mike on a whim. Dave cleans his car because he’s bored. Amy joins the army because she lost her job at the Post Office. Whenever someone acts without purpose, a real reader reading the published book will stumble or yawn or start daydreaming.
If you want to know if the story definitely works, a lot of that is down to personal taste and the kind of story you want to write—it’s a difficult thing to know for certain. If you want to know if the story definitely doesn’t work, that’s a lot easier to spot.
Although occasionally I point things out to writers and their response is, Oh, yeah, I know. I’m going to sort that out later. Which makes me wonder what was the point of showing it to me in the first place?If you found this post useful, please give it a retweet. Cheers
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