Organising Feedback

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I’ve had a few rounds of feedback on Vengeance Will Come and have been mostly diligent in filing responses in a sub folder of the project as soon as I receive it. (If your inbox is anything like mine, things get lost in there like a grain of dirt swept up in a mudslide).

Sadly, that’s about where the organisation of feedback ended. (In my partial defence, I intentionally wasn’t processing the feedback straight away: I wanted a balance of opinions and some time to pass).

Here is what I’m going to do now, and in the future, before starting the revision process.

Compiling the Feedback

Create a Feedback Compilation document, which has the same structure (chapters and scenes etc) as the novel.

Go through each (feedback) document/email:

  • Where it’s a typo, grammar or obvious error (e.g. wrong character name), fix it in the manuscript immediately.
  • Where the feedback is incontestably wrong, ignore it. (If there is any doubt, don’t ignore it).
  • Where the feedback relates to a given chapter/scene place it in that location in the document. If it’s thematic feedback or has broader application than a single section I’ll add it to the top of the document.

    I’ll add three-letter initials of the reviewer in brackets at the end of the comment, just in case I want to know who provided it. Some reviewers opinions should hold more weight than others and it’s always helpful to be able to later clarify comments.

Colour Coding

  • If the tone of the comment is positive, change the font colour to something less stand-out than black. I’m leaving it in the document so I don’t accidentally “edit out” the bits people like. And, inevitably, there’ll be days when I need a motivational boost.
  • Where I disagree with the feedback I’ll add a comment in brackets as to why, and colour the font a grey. (It’s still there, but less important).
  • Where I agree with the comment (or enough reviewers pick up on the same issue) and it’s a major problem, apply bold and red font.

Summarising

  • Once I’ve added all the feedback from all reviews, I’ll group my related dot points (to see the weight of opinions). This might result in grey text I disagree with becoming black text. I might also paraphrase a collection of dot points down into a concise problem statement.
  • If reviewers disagree with each other then I’ll either side with one, or put both opinions in a table with two columns (pros and cons).

After all this work I should have a single document to use as a reference when editing each section of the novel.

If you write, what are your strategies for managing feedback?

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The Eye of the World Review (1)

I’ve decided over a large number of posts to critically examine Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World from an aspiring author’s perspective. My goal will be to analyse the novel to see how Robert Jordan has created this story; what works, and what doesn’t. (This book was one I identified as inspirational).

Firstly, some important caveats:

  1. Robert Jordan was a professional, backed by a team of skillful professionals at Tor. I am an amateur; and all thoughts and opinions should be weighted accordingly.
  2. Our writing styles are different; that doesn’t mean one is better than the other – just different (see point 1).
  3. Our genres are different. Robert Jordan is very much EPIC fantasy (travelogue, heavy on description), whereas I’ve discovered my writing in comparison is more adventure fantasy, if that tag can be applied loosely. My writing has more pace and less depth.
  4. The Eye of the World was first published in 1990. That’s 26 years ago and standards and styles change over time. (e.g. Lord of the Rings beginning)
  5. This will contain vast amounts of spoilers; be warned.
  6. It is my opinion; feel free to agree or disagree. (I’m interested in hear how your opinion might differ).
  7. I’m not sure at what age group this book was initially targeted. By the age of the protagonists, I suspect perhaps Young Adult. I do not squeeze into that demographic by any means of contortion.
  8. I’ve read (most of) this series before (2-3 times). That means my perspective is polluted: I know what is going to happen, which is both good and bad. I will see things a first-time-through reader might miss, but I also can’t evaluate how much of a surprise or plot twist things are because I know they are coming.

Before the Story Begins

Tables of Contents and Chapter Titles
The first thing that I notice is that the novel has a table of contents with a list of titled chapters. Personally, I think for fiction, a table of contents and chapter titles are redundant (especially in an e-book). When reading, I very seldom even looked at them.

One could argue that a good chapter title entices the reader to read-on. However if the content of the story is not achieving that, a chapter title won’t add much impetus. A possible danger is that chapter titles could act as (unintentional) spoilers.

I have been known to add a table of contents and chapter titles while drafting. A title
helps orient me in the storyline, and a table of contents can excite me as the story grows.

Anything which helps inspire or encourage you to write is a good thing. That doesn’t mean readers should ever see it.

Prologue
The Eye of the World, in classic EPIC fantasy style, starts with a prologue. A prologue is a chapter which relates or explains something pre-dating the beginning of the (actual) story.

I’ve read/heard that some publisher’s hate prologues, to the point of throwing a manuscript in the bin at the first sight of a prologue. That’s a bit extreme, and obviously different genres have different standards: write for your genre.

It is vitally important that the first pages are a vicious hook to the reader which traps them – even kicking and screaming – into the novel.

The very first sentence piques my interest,

“The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory, groaned as if it would deny what had happened.”

What is so bad, I wonder, that the earth would deny that it happened?

“The dead lay everywhere, men and women and children, struck down in attempted flight…”

Jordan uses excellent description, where a lesser writer might have spoon-fed their reader with a single word. Jordan shows it is a slaughter – indiscriminate killing of powerless victims – instead of just telling us it is a slaughter.Sometimes, more IS more.

Quickly we learn the perspective we are looking through (on the second paragraph) : Lews Therin Telamon. It is a 3-name character, but notice that it is often shortened to just Lews Therin.

“His eyes caught his own reflection in a mirror.”

Seeing one-self in a mirror might was probably acceptable back when Jordan published, now it has become a cliché to be avoided.

The protagonist Lews Therin is suffering madness (and amnesia). Jordan does a good job displaying this; Lews Therin continually losing his thought, getting distracted or not seeing danger for what it is.

In classic epic fantasy style there are a LOT of unfamiliar names and terms. Personally, for my liking this is excessive, throwing so much unexplained at a reader.I’ll do my best to keep track of these things to see if they are ever explained.

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While only a few characters are introduced, they have many aliases.

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Waffle
Sometimes I could accuse Jordan of waffling, adding extraneous sentences which don’t progress the plot, character arcs or add much value. But what is waffle to me, might be the gravy for another reader. It’s about perspective, and perspective always differs.

Purpose
Jordan’s prologue describes an event that comes to be known as the Breaking of the World. It also magnifies the important aspect of the Wheel of Time – that it is about a continuing battle between good (the Light) and evil (the Shadow), where the hero is reincarnated.

“Ten years! You pitiful fool! This was has not lasted ten yeas, but since the beginning of time. You and I have fought a thousand battles with the turning of the Wheel, a thousand times a thousand, and we will fight until time dies and the Shadow is triumphant!”

So the question is, does the prologue add value? I wrestled with this question. In terms of content no; the subject matter of the prologue could have been “bled” through the remainder of the story. We could have learned about the reincarnation of the Dragon, the One Power and the Breaking in other ways.

However, in terms of overall structure of the story I’d say not only is the prologue good, it is absolutely necessary. I’ll describe why in my next post, but suffice to say the prologue provides a necessary hook to reel the reader in.

(I’ve previously highlighted some of the writing from this section which I appreciated the style in).

Writing Update: The Rebel Queen and Vengeance Will Come

I’m about three chapters away from finishing the first draft of my novelette The Rebel Queen. The end is in sight, but I need a break from it for a day or two because I’m starting to go stir crazy. The story is longer than originally intended (about 50,000 words) and has taken much longer than I thought it would to complete. It is the alpha draft and I know there are aspects of the story development that I am unhappy with. (At least I’ve been more disciplined and have continued on to try and finish it, not go back and endlessly re-write).

I can’t yet gauge if it is a diamond in the rough or nothing more than an “average” story. On one of the writing excuses podcasts they talk about how you will have more ideas than you have time to write, but that part of being a successful writer is being able to pick the quality ideas from among the chaff. I don’t think I’ve mastered selecting the best target yet.

My experience to-date is that I am not good at switching quickly between writing and editing. Writing is the creative process, where I am largely just brain-dumping – feeling the story and going with it. Editing is more structured, more critical and often at arms-length from the creative. After a good stint of editing, it takes me a chunk of time to stop looking at a piece of work like an editor.

Today I will start what I intend on being my final revision of Vengeance Will Come; at least before some form of publication. I am really going to be working on tightening up the prose and incorporating the feedback from my dear alpha readers.

Trial Readers Sought for Vengeance Will Come

I’ve just finished revising the ending of Vengeance Will Come my first novel-length story.

So now I am looking for a few readers who would be kind enough to give me their written constructive criticism.

The Story

It’s a light-fantasy, set among the stars at a future time.

I’m just starting to write my blurb, but here’s a first cut:

Regent Danyel Abudra is unaware of the danger that lurks at his doorstep, or the lengths to which an old enemy will go to get revenge. He’s about to find out that it’s going to be worse than he could ever imagine, and survival is going to take everything he has…

Regent Menas Senay wants revenge at any cost and is willing to accept any offer of help to achieve it, even if that means aligning himself with a shadowy cult…

Both men will soon find out that vengeance has a cost that they must continue to pay…

It is about 476 pages long and 116k words.

What feedback am I after?

The kind of feedback that I am looking for is for your honest responses to the below kind of questions. The more feedback, the better…

Plot

  • What did you enjoy (or not enjoy) about the story?
  • Were there points in the story where you wanted to stop reading, or just had-to-read-one-more-chapter?
  • Were you bored or confused at any points?
  • Was the ending satisfying?
  • Would you be interested in reading the rest of the series?
  • What was the worst / best part of the story, if you had to pick?
  • Would you recommend this story to a friend? Why or why not?

Characters

  • Are the characters’ reactions to what is happening believable to you?
  • How do you feel about the characters? What emotions do they evoke? (love, hate, frustrated, curious).
  • Could you picture the characters in your mind?
  • Do you understand the relationships between the characters?

Setting

  • Could you “see” the setting where the action was taking place?

Style

  • Were there points where you feel I stuffed something up?
  • Any points where my word-choice was distracting?

I am less interested in (but would still gratefully accept) grammar or typing errors, especially if it’s a mistake that I am making repeatedly which is jarring to the reader. Normally as a reader you can’t both do this sentence-level checking and enjoy the story… I’d rather have perspectives on the story as a whole than the nitty-gritty.

I’d be hoping to have the feedback in approximately a month’s time (early-mid November) if possible.

Yep, I’m up for it

Excellent. Just leave a comment below and I’ll be in contact with you.

However, I’m after a range of readers so please let me know:

  1. Your age / gender
  2. How many fiction books would you read in an average year?
  3. Do you normally read fantasy / sci-fi books?
  4. Do you have any experience in writing / editing / publishing?

I’d really appreciate your help, thanks!

Writing Technique: Killing Your Darlings

(These are my notes and thoughts in relation to the second part of WritingExcuses podcast Season 1, episode 3 . I will also disseminate this information to the topical sections of my resource section).

Diagnosis

  • “Killing your darlings” relates to chopping out parts of your novel that you may love, but that still need to go.
  • When you write something and become very attached to it, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be cut out.
  • For the sake of the whole, you have to cut your really good bits.
  • It is not a negotiation process: it has to go. If you as the author leave it in – the editors will get you to cut it.

A plot, a character, or some dialog might be great when you first write them, but by the end of the story they no longer fit well. Think of it like a favourite t-shirt. It’s really comfortable and there’s some great memories associated with that t-shirt… but there really does come a time when you have to stop wearing it out… and then later there’s a time when it is no longer even good enough for ‘just around home’. Let it go with dignity, before it literally falls of your body…

Prognosis

  • Not killing your darlings ruins more first books than a lot of other things.
  • Writers need a million ‘practice words’ to hone their craft: very few people will have a ‘first book’ that is worthy of publication.
  • Feel free to get a second opinion; reading groups can be great for finding darlings.
  • The rewrite process is excellent because it helps you see with hindsight and distance.
  • Recommended watching: See the Deleted Scenes of The Sixth Sense with the alternate ending. The director (apparently) gives a great exposition on why he had to cut it.

I know in the past I have found some darlings, and it has taken me a while to accept that they must be excised like a cancer. When you’ve found a darling you can confirm it: Select the text and listen for the inner-author screams at you “Noooo!” as your finger nears the delete key.

Dealing with Loss

  • You could keep a file of ‘deleted scenes’ and then publish them as ‘extras’ on your blog.
  • Keep a document with your ‘great ideas’ so you can look at them for future projects.
  • Realise that the more books you write, the easier it will become. This is not your masterpiece.
  • Recognise that you are a creator and you can create something new.

The last two points especially spoke to me. In the past I have mistakenly considered word count to be a metric of my writing progress. The only importance of word count as a metric is whether my story is too long or too short for my intended audience, genre and story type.

Other than that, word count can actually be a hindrance to me, especially when it comes to cutting ‘darlings’. If I am influenced by my growing word count, then I will be less likely to embrace cutting a few hundred or thousand words. The true metric should be the quality of the story, not the word count. If making a chapter better means cutting out 30% of the text, then it should be a no-brainer.

I realise now that my first novel will not be my masterpiece. I don’t want to think that it is or I would be horribly disappointed. Each story I write is a step toward my masterpiece. The purpose of the first million words is practice.

Avoiding the Symptoms

  • Get readers to read your ‘darling’ and ‘non-darling’ versions and tell you which they liked better.
  • Practice cutting darlings (what a sadist!)

And a little parting motivation :

  • Writing your second book will make you much better writer than always working on the first.