I’ve gotten back feedback for my novel from the few people to whom I’d sent it. I can’t thank them enough for how helpful they’ve been!
They gave me such useful comments, big picture and little picture. They told me what worked for them and what didn’t work.
I’ll try to summarize the feedback, especially when the same comments were given by more than one reader.
The biggest thing that was not clear to the readers was: whose story is this? The character, Holly, who I want to be the protagonist is not yet carrying the story. That feedback makes so much sense to me because of the way that I wrote the book. I didn’t start off with any plan in mind—I just wrote. Sometimes I’d sketch out one character, and then I’d move on to another, not necessarily related, character. It wasn’t until a few drafts in, that I even understood how the characters were related. In fact, it wasn’t until the most recent version that I understood who the protagonist would be. At that point, it still felt like an ensemble piece, and not a story with a lead character and supporting characters. I had attempted to fix it by cutting certain scenes starring minor characters. I liked those scenes and those characters, but I had given those characters too much time, so they had to go. You can listen to one such scene, which I broadcast on the radio, here. But despite that, what I’ve learned from my readers is that I’m still not there yet. My protagonist, Holly, is not yet the spine of the story. And that’s valuable to know, because I couldn’t judge that accurately by myself.
The second point that my readers made, was that it was difficult, at first, to sort through and get a fix on all the characters. It takes too much time to understand who they are and what their role in the story is. In addition, I need to introduce the major conflict, which should drive the book, much earlier on.
Readers also caught all kinds of logical mistakes in the time line and elsewhere. Those are also difficult to catch on my own. And several readers mentioned, too, that they thought that I could add more visual elements in setting a scene.
But the other wonderful thing that they did, was to tell me what they liked. That was really important for me, too. I don’t expect that everyone will like everything that I’ve written; I know that people’s tastes vary too much. But I do want to feel that for the people who are my “ideal readers,” that certain key moments worked for them. I sent this out to these particular readers because I had a feeling that we had some shared literary sensibility. So it was exciting when they liked certain scenes, or were amused by certain lines, because I was writing those scenes and lines, in some sense, just for them. That they responded positively tells me that I’m heading in the right direction.
This has been a very happy experience for me. I feel like I can go back to the novel and work. I know what I need to do. Whether I have the skill to do it is another question.
I feel an obligation. But the obligation—is this strange?—is not to myself, or even to the book, but to the characters. I can’t let them down. They want their story told. I have to see this through to the end, for them.