Recently, I’ve been working on two manuscripts. Two novel length entries that I feel have some potential. I’m editing one of them, but the other, a middle-grade fantasy story, I sent to a few of my friends to beta read. All of them are creative types whose opinions I value.
But the interesting thing is this: I’m receiving contradictory feedback.
The thing with contradictory feedback in writing is this: how do you take it all in? If one of your readers tells you “Hey, Character A is awesome,” while another says “I don’t understand Character A at all,” it is tempting to just shrug off the negative feedback, and look to the positive. It’s also tempting to bend to negative criticism immediately, and just fix whatever you think is broken.
But there are a few key things to consider with contradictory feedback.
Blind Praise and Blind Hate
First, acknowledge that you can’t please everyone. Your writing will never appeal to everyone. Some people hate Shakespeare, and many acknowledge him as among the greatest writers ever. Doesn’t matter how good you are. You will never make everyone happy.
So don’t stress yourself out hearing all the feedback. It’s possible your story just didn’t work for that particular reader.
But that isn’t to say “ignore negative feedback.” What I mean is this: consider if the negative or positive feedback is simply “I like this kind of story” or “I don’t like this kind of story.” If one beta reader is disturbed by the intense violence in a story, maybe that reader isn’t a part of your target audience. On the other hand, if a reader is blindly saying “Oh, yes, I love this romance! It’s so cute!” then there’s a possibility that they’re way too biased in favor of your story due to their preexisting love for romance.
Either way, filter out the blind praise or hate.
Good news! Grammar criticism is easy to deal with. Grammar is a system of rules. There can only be proper and improper grammar. If a reader points out a grammatical mistake, fix it.
A lot of writers don’t prioritize grammatical style. They may feel that writing a good story takes priority over running a spell check. But it’s more than that. Improper sentence structure, word choice mistakes, and noun-verb agreement often goes unnoticed by spell check. If your readers points out that your grammar sucks, LISTEN TO THEM.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve beta read for someone, and noticed simple grammatical mistakes that take me out of the story, even for writers I know are really talented. Everyone makes mistakes. Be grateful that people are noticing them.
Seems pretty black and white so far, right?
What comes next, though, is trickier.
When it comes to issues with the mechanics of your story, always take this into account. The subject matter of your story can decide your audience, but sloppy writing can leave that audience confused or emotionally unaffected.
Criticism pertaining to characterization, plotting, sequential events, or anything about how the story is told must be prioritized.
But what if the advice is contradictory? One reader might like how you pull off this one scene, while another may hate it.
Well…you need to make the call.
Now that you know someone doesn’t like how this one scene plays out, are you gonna change it? If not, why? If so, why?
I’m gonna use a pop culture example right now. Remember that movie Man of Steel? Hard to forget one of the most controversial superhero films ever, but remember how it ends? How Superman defeats Zod? Many hate that scene, while others love it. If you were the writer, how would you have dealt with that scene? Would you have changed it? Kept it the same? Either way, why?
I’m not saying your writing will be that controversial, but you need to consider your creative decisions, and why you wrote a scene the way you did. Now that you see that people are criticizing your writing for whatever mechanical issues you created, ask yourself this: why did you write the scene that way, and can you, in any way, change it to strengthen the writing?
These are tough questions, but they are questions you need to ask yourself.