for writers and readers….
In November the great American writer George Saunders was speaking in Santa Cruz and was asked by a member of the audience how she could become a better, more sophisticated reader – how she could improve her ability to decide whether a story was good.
I’ve often had the same question from students who are intimidated by the thought of giving feedback on someone else’s work. They don’t feel qualified and aren’t sure if they are a good enough reader.
The day after the Santa Cruz meeting Saunders wrote to members of Story Club with George Saunders and expanded on the answer he had given.
…assuming we’ve made a good faith effort to read enough stories to be in the ballpark, we should then take comfort in the fact that we’re lived – we’ve loved, loved and lost, enjoyed, aspired, been crushed, been betrayed, rebounded, caved in, enjoyed, been lost, got found, all of it. That is, we know some things about this world. And so we can evaluate a story on that basis: does it square with your sense of how things are?
Does it speak to the deepest part of you? Does it do anything for you? Not all stories will, even really good ones. And that’s for you and only you to say.
Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu
I agree. a good faith comment is always valuable to the writer. I write on fanfiction as well as for publishing, and I post my draft wips on a blog where my readers can comment. A stray remark can set off whole new trains of thought and turn a mediocre plot arc into a good one, or clarify something which readers found obscure. And yes, there are those reviewers who do not review in good faith, which an open forum with pseudonyms like FF brings home, there are trolls, flamers, and at times the downright creepy, but FF also has a report and a delete button. I always take on board the reviews, good and bad. In fact a good faith comment with constructive criticism is more useful than the ‘great story, loved it.’
Thank you Sarah, that’s a vivid way of describing the many, many benefits of feedback and also the dangers of online forums.
Sometimes the simplest comments can be the most helpful such as I got confused when…or my mind wandered during the scene about…
“Love it” is NOT useful. (Nor is “not my kind of thing”.)