When Feedback Works

I love sending my work out to people I know, to see what they make of it. I’m a masochist like that. There’s always the “too many cooks” argument, which is perfectly valid, but I’m stubborn enough to resist the feedback I don’t agree with, and always keen to receive some unexpected novel-related musings that I’d never even considered.

The former often means that I haven’t put something across very well, and I therefore go back to see if I need to fix it. The latter, meanwhile, can lead me down interesting new avenues.

A case in point occurred today. I was asked by a friend of mine if I knew the reason behind a very specific feeling (plot-related) that the main character has at the end of the very first chapter of the novel. It’s always been one of those things, in every draft, that’s a bit ambiguous as to exactly how the character knows what he knows. I’ve always reckoned that it’s better left unsaid. Show, don’t tell, and all that.

But when I replied to the email, I came up with an analogy to the situation that I reckon I’m now going to pretty up and give as dialogue to one of the novel’s characters later on in the book. It’s a paragraph that doesn’t explain the issue with any finality, but does give more real-life context to the sense behind the feeling. It was one of those things that I knew immediately would fit, and key to that is my newly-found disbelief that it wasn’t in there from the start. When that happens, it’s like I’ve found a great hidden track on a much-loved album.

Here’s the point – I would never even have thought of writing it without the feedback, but it will now hopefully sit proudly alongside the other new bits of the “texturing up” mission of the rewrite. Extra character stuff. Always illuminating.

So yeah: feedback works. If you send your writing to smart people you trust, good things happen. Discussion brings results. The other bit of awesomeness was that this friend called the novel (the bits he has so far, anyway) “gloriously thrilling”. He knows me. My obvious fear is that he’s therefore biased. Regardless, it still made my day. That kind of thing can’t help but spur me on.

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