Last week, I posted about my lack of motivation to make changes to my work-in-progress The Big Smoke based on my beta readers’ feedback. I’m pleased to report that I spent quite a number of hours on the weekend reading through all of the feedback and deciding what to take on board.
I received feedback from seven beta readers and overall the comments were amazingly positive and encouraging. But one of the most fascinating things about the feedback was the huge variance in readers’ opinions. Each person enjoyed a different aspect of the plot, preferred different characters, and took something different from the story overall.
Here’s some of the feedback to show what you mean.
About Ceara’s story line
“There’s a lot going on in her story but you’ve set it all up well so it’s very believable and not at all difficult to follow.”
“Right now there are a lot of underlying plot threads, and I’m not sure how they contribute to the overall character arc.”
“It seemed like you took a little while to settle comfortably into Seb. His first scene at the dam felt a little clunky and forced.”
“I really enjoyed the scene with Seb and his dad at the dam because it was so well described and well written. The reader gets a really good understanding of their relationship. Love it.”
“I enjoyed EVERY MOMENT of Seb’s narration. You did an amazing job narrating as Seb. He was witty, and very realistic.”
Who is your favourite character so far and why?
“I love Seb. He just seems so… tortured. Trying to be adult, but kind of sucking at it.”
“I like Ceara because I can relate to her.”
“Seb. He’s a bit of alright and I’m female so I should like the hero. He is a bit of an underdog and I’ll always barrack for an underdog.”
“This might surprise you, but Ceara by far.”
About a passage comparing two girls
“Wow, this is really good. Such an imaginatively descriptive passage.”
“Love this comparison.”
“I would cut this, it’s a little too insulting.”
Is there anything you would cut from what you’ve read so far?
“Not at all”
“No, keep it all as it is.”
“I feel like some subplots need to be cut, and others expanded.”
As you can see, there’s a LOT of varying opinions there. Originally, I found this really confusing. I mean, how was I supposed to know what changes to make if all of the feedback I got was conflicting? GAH!
But then I realized something: I was looking at it entirely the wrong way. The fact that everybody took something different from my story demonstrates that it’s complex and multi-layered (which I want it to be), and also shows that each person brought their individual perspective to the reading experience. And really, isn’t that one of the coolest parts about reading? i.e. finishing a book then discussing it – maybe even arguing about it – with friends who’ve read it too? That’s the beauty of the reading experience: the beauty of subjectivity. If everyone had the same taste and opinions, there wouldn’t be such an amazing variety of genres and plot lines out there for us to choose from. So really, if I only wanted one opinion, I should’ve only asked one person, and that wouldn’t have been nearly as enlightening in the long run.
And on another note, as I sifted through the feedback, I realised there was very little about the story that more than one reader didn’t like. Meaning, while most readers provided feedback about parts of the novel that didn’t totally blow them away, their criticisms didn’t overlap much (with one notable exception – corresponding dreams, anyone? ;)). So, looking at that from a positive angle, I think it means there’s very little about the story that completely doesn’t work – and that’s got to be a good thing, right?
While my beta readers may not have provided me with definitive solutions about what changes I need to make, they’ve definitely helped me see the novel in new ways and given me a multitude of suggestions to mull over.
So how will I decide what to take on board? Good old fashioned instinct. I’m going back to what I set out to achieve with this novel – if a suggestion helps me take it in that direction, then I’ll adopt it. If not, I’ll respectfully put the suggestion aside. I know I won’t please everyone with my final version, but what book does? And, really, as if we’d want that. Because that would take away the beauty of the individual reading experience: the beauty of subjectivity.
Have you received contradictory feedback from beta readers? Or, have you read a book and had a completely different take on it than a friend? Please, regale me with your experiences! 🙂