Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Helpful Writing Feedback

 Today, I'm going to discuss feedback again -  helpful and honest feedback.

Here are some examples of good feedback:
I felt a bit lost in the first four paragraphs because I can’t tell the killer is in a car, can’t figure out if he actually just killed someone, and don’t get much visual on Lorna. Is she his ‘kindred spirit’? I have absolutely no idea, and while the vagueness might stir me to read on later in the story, opening so ambiguously, without grounding me in a real scene, leaves me restless.
Why is it good feedback? It's because as a reader, they explained what they didn't understand. What didn't make sense to them. 'Vagueness' and 'ambiguous' are things you want to change in your novel.

Here's another:
‘A friend recommended this book to me,’ - I thought it odd she explained it this way, given the text in the books would be the same, wouldn't they? Maybe if she came up with something on the fly that distinguished that particular copy from the others, it would be less apt to garner attention from the library worker. She is going through such a series of events to get to the appropriate copy, I'd expect her to cover better.
Why is this helpful feedback? If a character does something out of character and your readers pick up on it, that's wonderful. You don't want the people who buy your book to make the same complaint because it will cost you money and readers when it counts most.

How can we give good feedback?

1.) Explain what you liked about the piece. Be specific. ("I liked the monologue on page three," "I liked the way the main character handled the situation," etc.)
2.) What elements of the story did you like and would like to see more of? In other words, what parts can be expanded for your enjoyment and/or understanding? ("I think the mother's dark sense of humor is really intriguing, and I would like to see more of that," "The relationship between the father and son has some good conflict, and I would like to see more of that," etc.)
3.) What confused you or what didn't you understand about the piece? ("I'm confused about when this story is supposed to take place," "I don’t understand why he walked back in the room when he said that he wasn't," etc.) This includes perceived technical/logistical problems. ("The war that your main character is referring to was in 1812, not 1813," "One of your characters looks out at the sun and comments on it, but earlier in the piece someone says it's midnight," etc.)
These are some of the things important for the writer to hear so that they can improve.

Source:  How to Give Feedback to Writers

Sidenote: Right now Harley D. Palmer from Labotomy of a Writer has been doing a series on Characters. She has had some really interesting posts.
1) Epic Character Questionnaire - A 253-question interview you can ask your character. It's extremely in depth.
2) Character Development Before and After - How your character has changed over the course of the novel.
3) Character Details - showing little things about your character.


Talli Roland said...

Great points. Sometime it's hard to give constructive feedback; you just know something's not working but you're not sure. This is really helpful to frame your feedback in a useful way.

Carol Kilgore said...

Good post. Some writers give great feedback, others not so much. I'm fortunate to have three outstanding critique partners I couldn't do without.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Good feedback is such a gift. Does this mean you're also going to post the mean-spirited feedback that made you feel like crawling into a cave with a pound of Nestle chocolate chips?

Anonymous said...

Ann - Thanks so much for this good set of feedback ideas! It's easy for someone to say s/he liked or didn't like a section/chapter/book, etc., but much, much harder to be clear about what is(n't) working. When I write, I learn much more from that kind of specific and helpful feedback than I do from more global or vague remarks. That's what I love about my two beta readers. They always give very helpful feedback!

Kimberly Franklin said...

All great pointers. I will have to keep them in mind when I give my feedback. I tend to ramble a lot when critiquing. I'm sure my partners just LOVE that. LOL :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Really good tips, I'll definitely keep those in mind when I'm critiquing :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

We do need to know what confuses the reader. That's why test readers are so important.

Jaydee Morgan said...

It's wonderful that you got such useful feedback. Hopefully we all can give (and receive) the same.

Laura S. said...

Great post! One of the problems in my college creative writing workshops was not many of the students knew how to give constructive criticism. Your checklist is great for giving helpful feedback!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Here is some good feedback on your post. It is a very helpful check list. I am keeping this one at my fingertips.

I love feedback that tells me what's missing or how to do something better. I am suspicious of those who just flatter me.

Anastasia V. Pergakis said...

This is a great post Ann. While I do love getting what I call "fluff reviews" - ya know the ones that say my work is so great - I really love helpful and suggestion filled ones more! This has some great tips for giving good reviews!

Thanks SO much for the plug! It means a lot to me!

Ann Elle Altman said...

Talli, yeah. I'm not always the best at giving constructive feedback. Sometimes I get so frustrated at the writer because I'm trying to get something across that they don't want to hear.

Carol, it's great to have partners like that.

Karen, yes, I will post the bad too.

Margot, you're right. It's sometimes easy to be vague but to hone in on the true weak spot is hard.

Kimberley, sometimes rambling can help you figure out what you want to say...

Jemi, glad you liked it.

LD Wolfe, yes, that's why they're important.

Jaydee,yes. I hope you find them. I found mine on The Next Big Writer.

Laura, glad you liked it.

JW, I will talk about the flattering ones tomorrow. The most irritating.


Ann Elle Altman said...

Harley, I'm happy to give your blog a plug. You wrote some great posts and deserve it.


Fran Hill said...

I think the cats have it right. Nothing like saying it as it is!

Terry Odell said...

Good post. I'm judging a contest now and am trying to be helpful. I have to remind myself these entrants aren't crit partners who have dealt with my critique style for years. I tend to take the "good" for granted, and have to remember to point it out.

Patricia Stoltey said...

A good critique group is worth its weight in gold -- the members know how to be supportive and kind while being honest and helpful. I love my own group -- We help each other grow as writers and cheer each other on as we enter contests, submit, and recover from those awful rejections.