Feedback from a Non-Writer to a Writer
So, this is the post to send to all the non-writer friends and family who read your writing. You want useful feedback but it’s actually hard to get unless they know what you want. Because—
They are readers
You remember the continuous dream. It is the state you want to put readers in. They sink into the world you’ve created and live happily in it. If you’ve done it well, your readers are reacting as if they’re living the story with your characters.
Great for the reader. Bad for the writer. In fact, the more successful you are at creating this dream, the less successful your readers are likely to be in giving the kind of feedback you need.
Your non-writer friend has kindly read your magnum opus.
You: How did you like it?
Reader: Oh, it was great.
You: Thanks, but what did you like about it specifically?
Reader: Well, uh…well, I liked Jillian—I really felt for her.
You: But what about Jillian made you feel for her?
The reader is focused on how he feels about the story. The writer is focused on how to create the feelings the reader experiences. To give you the most useful feedback, the reader must break out of the continuous dream to notice why you made him feel the way he did and how you did it.
It’s a tough ask.
And not really the reader’s job.
But without this kind of feedback, the most you get are general statements of what the reader liked and didn’t like. Sometimes helpful but often not.
You need more specific instructions.
Note to your non-writer reader
I really appreciate that you’re taking the time to read my writing. Naturally, I’m very interested in knowing what you think of the story and the characters. But in addition, could I ask you to do a couple of things?
- Track your reading. That is, record the page where you put the book down every time you stop.
- At what page did you flip to the end to see how many pages were left?
- Were there any points where you just kept reading even though you had other things to do? If so, where were they?
Thanks so much. The answers to these questions will help me improve the story.
Analysis of the feedback
Tracking the reading
Where people put the book down can be, but isn’t always, where the interest might be waning. Look at the few pages prior to the stop to see if there is anything which could be improved. Too much description? Lots of talk, no action? A lot of inner dialogue? You might get clues where to tighten up, rewrite, or dump.
Flipping to the end
This often happens around the middle of the book. Knowing exactly where can help you determine if you can move the plot along faster or otherwise help people to get over the hump of the middle.
Had to keep reading
So, your reward. Where this reader couldn’t put the novel down. Take a look at these spots. Do a little basking but then give them a careful read. What made them work? Could you apply this learning to other chunks in the novel to ummph them up?
This isn’t a foolproof way to get the feedback you need but signaling what you want to the non-writer can be useful. I’ve talked more about getting the most from readers’ opinions in another post.