Feedback Defensiveness

defensiveness

defensiveness

Feedback Defensiveness

You have asked a good friend, Marina, to read your manuscript. Here’s how defensiveness can steer a feedback session wrong:

Marina:
Sorry to take so long to get back to you. It’s been crazy at work and I wanted to do your novel justice.
You:
That’s okay. Thanks for taking the time.
Marina:
I liked the premise a lot—a young woman who inherits a company and has to learn how to run it.
You:
Yeah, I thought it introduces a young character into an interesting situation.
[Marina will likely tell you other things that she liked. But eventually, she will move on.]
Marina:
There were just a couple of things—I mean, they’re just my opinion.
You:
I’d be interested in hearing them.
Marina:
Your main character—I started disliking her—she was so ruthless.
You:
But she had to be in the situation.
Marina:
Yeah, but that dirty trick on her old boss—that seemed pretty mean.
You:
No, you read that wrong—it wasn’t dirty; it was justice.
Marina:
Well, that’s not the way I saw it.
You:
I don’t think you got the intent. She has to take every opportunity to succeed.
Marina:
Maybe, but it’s how it struck me.
[Marina makes other suggestions but YOU don’t find merit in any of them.]
You:
Well, thanks for reading it.
Marina:
I guess I wasn’t much help.
You:
Of course you were but I think I’ll ask Bernice to read it, too.

 
   

Conversation aftermath

You end the conversation dissatisfied. Marina just didn’t get it. It was a waste of time. But in fact, the problem wasn’t with Marina but with your defensiveness. Here’s how:

  • You commented on the good feedback. Yes, you need to acknowledge the positives but not give the impression that she got the correct answer as you sort of did.
  • You justified your view of the character. You discarded the feedback even though it’s important information about how some readers see the character. Might not be everyone but she might represent enough of a minority to worry about. But you were justifying more than listening.
  • You decided her opinion was incorrect. In fiction, it’s hard for anybody’s opinion of a character to be wrong. You may not feel the same way and that’s okay, but she’s still entitled to her opinion.
  • You decided she didn’t get your intent. Doesn’t matter what you intended—what’s on the page is the only thing Marina has access to. If she didn’t get it, you need to pay attention.
  • You probably burned a friend who was willing to give you feedback. By dismissing everything Marina said, you signal that you didn’t value the time and effort she put in. You don’t have to agree with the feedback but you need to make it clear you value her contribution if only so that sh will be willing to do it for the next manuscript.

So, how do you avoid defensiveness in feedback sessions and still keep your vision, whether it be fiction or memoir? In the next post, let’s discuss that.

Categorizing Reader Opinion

opinion

Categorizing Reader Opinion

In the last post, I suggested you decide on your own how to treat reader opinion of a piece of your writing or memoir. That leaves the question open, of course on how to decide which to keep. Here’s my not-very-rocket-science way of doing it.

The obvious

This one is, well, obvious. Spelling mistakes, seasons of the year out of whack, missing one place where you changed the character’s name from Wendy to Sue. These are no brainers but are nevertheless valuable as you need to fix them at some point.

This category you change immediately.

The doubtful opinion

Sometimes you’re not sure whether the feedback is applicable. Here are some examples:

The opinion

Why you’re doubtful

The historical period you’re writing about doesn’t seem real or credible

 

If you know the period well, you might be unsure that this is a piece of feedback worth taking. Follow-on question might be: Were there particular points which didn’t seem credible to you?

The premise of two cats talking is not particularly funny

 

Well, you think it’s funny. The definition of funny is wide so you should try it out on others. Follow-on question: Can you point out where you didn’t think the humor worked?

The main character’s constant malapropism is annoying

 

You think it gives the character an eccentric appeal—at least that’s what you were going for. Follow-on question: Is it the quirk itself that is annoying or its frequency of use?

The subordinate characters take the spotlight off the main protagonist.

 

This surprises you as you know whom you intended to be the key character. Follow-on question: Where (i.e. what scenes) did you feel that the subordinate characters dominated the main one?

In all these cases, feedback from other readers would be helpful to allow you decide whether or not you agree with the initial feedback.

The rejected

Okay, so you’ve gotten a range of feedback and the consensus seems to be that the cats really aren’t funny.

Generally speaking, it probably makes sense to look at your piece to see if it is salvageable or whether it is destined for the trash heap.

The only exception is if, all the feedback notwithstanding, you still believe in the potential of the piece. You might take some of the minor suggestions but fundamentally, you feel it works.

While I think this category should be used sparingly (i.e. not like Fred), it should be used. You need to think hard on it before you reject the reader reaction (especially consensus) but if you feel strongly about a point, do it. After all, whose writing is it anyway?