Thursday, July 22, 2010

Writers vs. Readers

Today I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about a comment I made yesterday. I was speaking to a friend who has a copy of my ms and I said that I was looking for real readers for my ms. The word REAL made her look questioningly at me as if I thought of her as a ghost. I hadn’t meant to insult her, really, she’s awesome. I spit the foot out of my mouth and said, “What I meant to say was, I’m looking for writers to read over my ms. Writers and readers look at things differently.”

I was wrong to use the word real and I apologized because everyone who puts in the time to read something you’ve created is VERY real. Once I explained and dug myself out of the hole I’d fallen into, she understood what I’d meant. (and she doesn’t hate me. Yay!)

Sometimes—not all the time—people who have never written anything, can tell you that they liked or disliked something, but can’t really tell you why it works or doesn’t work. I find this to be the case with one of my best friends. She’s well-read and reads fast, but at the end of reading my ms, she will say, it was good. Or, I liked it. While those are the things you want to hear, as an aspiring writer, you need more. With my first ms, I was so frustrated with all those comments that I nearly shelved it for good. I didn’t know any other writers at the time, so I really had no clue if what I’d written was actually good or sucked sideways.

Turns out, it sucked. The novel was WAY too long—like almost 500 pages—I know, right! The plot was thin. The protagonist was 17 and I had way too much explicit sex in it to cater to the teen market. And the format was insanely wrong. I’d italicized, bolded, and double indented all the dialogue. *hangs head in shame* Yeah, I did that.

So as I try to rinse the flavor of my shoe out of my mouth, I want to know if you all understand what I’m saying. Do you think there’s a difference between readers and writers when it comes to reading your manuscript? The value is there for both, of course. The average person who buys your novel will be a “reader” so you don’t want to discount your primary readers opinions. But writers look at things differently. We appreciate sentence structure, deep characters and solid plots and we know how to tell you how great that is. Or we can spot the flaws in all three and know how to tell you how to fix it.

I’d love to hear your opinions!


A.L. Sonnichsen said...

I agree with you. I enjoy giving my ms to readers. (I only recently started doing that. Before, I stuck to only other writers.) It's a breath of fresh air, to be honest. They are so much more positive (probably because they're my friends - ha ha!), but that's not a bad thing, necessarily. It's definitely encouraging that they're willing to read it, you know? Still, I need the beef of people who are in the industry, because they're much more detailed and nitpicky. Nitpicky is good! What I'm struggling with lately is finding a writer critique partner in my specific genre. I think that would be ideal. If you know any contemporary YA writers, let me know! ;)

Great post, Karen!

Tere Kirkland said...

I think when a manuscript is in the earliest stages, critiques by trusted writer friends/acquaintances are more useful for figuring out where the novel needs work.

It's when the ms is polished that readers who don't write will make the most difference. They'll be able to tell you exactly what's not working because they won't be overwhelmed by all the other little mistakes or missteps that a crit from a writer might help you smooth over.

Great post!

Karen Denise said...

A.L. it really is fun to give your ms to friends and hear nothing but gushing praise-lol. And you're right, the nitpicking can be a gift that helps your ms go from good to great.

Tere, I never thought of it like that, but you've got a good point--give the ms to readers after you've been nitpicked by writers and industry people. I'll remember that with my next novel!

Jennifer Hillier said...

Absolutely, I do think there's a difference and I think you nailed it as to why. With non-writers (like my husband), they know what they don't like and what they do like, but they can't necessarily articulate it. However, their opinions are so, so important because I believe at the end of day, we're mainly writing for readers. Not writers.

But, having writers give feedback on the work is critical in order to understand WHY something isn't working. I've dug myself into holes that only my fellow writer-friends have been able to help me get out of.

The key is to know when to show the manuscript to which group of people. Me, I usually show it to non-writers first. Then, once I have their feedback, I show it to writers so they can help me figure out how to fix it.

Great post, Karen!

Karen Denise said...

Jennifer, it's interesting to see that you and Tere had the oposite views on when to give the ms to which group. I see the merit in both. Maybe I'll try it both ways with my next two novels and see which way I like it.

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elfarmy17 said...

Well, my best friends are also writers. So that's difficult to say. I've had a few non-writers read a few things of mine, though, and it was just sort of "mhm. Yeah. That's good." and not much more than that. My mom's the same way.
I'm waiting for my writing club to finish reading my novel before I let it out to readers.