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07 March 2009 @ 03:53 pm
[writing] interesting bits of feedback from a submission  
I submitted a story to an online magazine for consideration and today got back a "no", along with the feedback. What's interesting about the feedback is that they include a short comment from each person who read the story, and their vote.

In this case, all votes were "no" and the feedback boiled down to "The character knows something from the beginning of the story, and if the character instead realized this fact during the story the story would be more dramatic." I have gotten similar feedback on this story before, after a different submission and a "no".

Without going into details on the story, they're exactly right. But, if I changed the story to have the character realize the fact during the story then it would be a different story and not the story I intended to write. I also feel that following this approach makes the story more run-of-the-mill ("oh, this is one of those stories where X happens and we see those all the time").

So, I don't know what to think. Part of me says "Leave it the way it is, the feedback is valid but not relevant to this story." Part of me says "Change it." Part of me says "Write another story along the lines of the feedback."

But I also wonder if, by not changing the story, I'm going along the lines of being a Special Snowflake whose brilliant story is just not being recognized. I'm certainly not going to send the editors any sort of email acting like this ("no, *you* just don't get *my* story"), but is the resistance in my mind good or bad?

Thoughts from other writing folks?
G. Julesgjules on March 8th, 2009 12:52 am (UTC)
If every single piece of feedback is the same, there's probably something going on. However, the fact that they may be right about the story not working doesn't mean you have to take their advice to fix it. Is there a different fix that might solve the problem the readers are having without making it a different story?
jeffsoesbe: bald man thinkingjeffsoesbe on March 10th, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)
That's an interesting question, and one that it tough to go into without giving the details of the story.

Which I might do, in a separate posting which is friend-locked just because it's story discussion.

But it could be that I'm somehow setting up an expectation in the beginning of the story which is dashed when the "big fact" comes out. Which is at the end of the first paragraph.

Maybe I'll do a post on this...
They Didn't Ask Me: May09-Analogdr_phil_physics on March 8th, 2009 01:22 am (UTC)
One of the instructors at Clarion pointed out that if a whole lot of people identify the "same problem", they may not be pointing at the real problem. I.E., if everyone hates the ending, it may be because the middle doesn't set things up right. Here it sounds like they're all pointing out the middle, but maybe your beginning doesn't set up your story the right way. As another person put it once, the squeaky wheel could be an axel or it could be a ball joint -- the people doing the crits are identifying that there is a squeak. Trust people to point out there's a problem, but you don't have to let them write the story for you.

The very first story I sent out into the world was tagged by people as being "not a story", but more of a vignette. Well, yes. A "slice of life" is exactly what I was trying for. Thing of it was, those who read it and weren't interested in a conflict story thought it was really beautiful. I resisted the suggestions to make it a story until someone suggested something which would change the tension -- have the main character know something from the start rather than learning it midway. It's still a vignette, but now there's some tension driving you to the end of the story to see it resolved. And it sold -- and I'm still getting comments from people about how beautiful the story is.

I could've chopped the story, as in "your story really starts on page 12", or I could move the detail, thus making the story "really start on page 1" now. But I resisted the standard short story appeal of making it the protag's "worst day in his/her life".

On the other hand, I knew something had to change, that it was likely to never sell as is.

Does any of this help?

Dr. Phil
jeffsoesbe: bald man thinkingjeffsoesbe on March 10th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
I agree that people are saying that there is a squeak, and I agree with the squeak they identify *if* they're looking for a certain kind of story. So I might be setting up the expectation of it being that kind of story.

Your "slice of life"/"vignette" situation is actually very close to the situation the story might be in, so perhaps setting up a different kind of tension might be the key to resolving the situation.

You've given me much to think about. Thanks!
prusik on March 8th, 2009 02:14 am (UTC)
I'm with gjules and (the two who have chimed in before I started writing my comment). If lots of people say the story has a problem, the story undoubtedly has a problem. That doesn't mean they know what the problem really is, or how to fix it though.

My experience is that feedback tends to be very good at describing the symptoms. It's not always as good at diagnosis or remedy.

This actually makes a lot of sense. They're almost surely not reading the story you had wanted to write. It's next to impossible then for them to suggest anything that would change the text you'd written to the text you'd intended. (This, BTW, is why my critiques tends to be light on what I think they should do unless it's something basic like grammar.)

It might be worth some brainstorming to figure out what reactions the readers might have had that would have led them to the suggestions they made. (e.g., maybe they felt the main character was too static to hold their interest. I don't mean this seriously, of course, since I haven't read the story. It really is just an example.)

jeffsoesbe: bald man thinkingjeffsoesbe on March 10th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)
I think the comment of "they're not reading what I'm writing" is a good one. There's the story in my head, the story on the manuscript, and the story in their heads. Something's probably missing in the translation from my head to the manuscript.

I will do some brainstorming, and reading of the story to try to somehow disassociate the story on the manuscript from the one in my head. Not easy to do, for me...

A large duck: Child of Fireburger_eater on March 8th, 2009 04:18 am (UTC)
I'm pretty much in exactly this place with my second book. So I say: Make your own mistakes. If you're going to fail, fail because you did what you thought best.

Don't be a special snowflake about it, just be the regular kind of snowflake.

Also: write that next story in the way they described, but make your mark on it.

Finally, on the story you don't want to change, mark your calendar for a year from now, maybe longer (or the end of 2009 if you're like me and use paper calendars) prompting yourself to take that story out and read it critically.

jeffsoesbe: bald man thinking capjeffsoesbe on March 10th, 2009 12:40 am (UTC)
Good points, all of them. I will end up leaving the story the way it is. I have another story idea that would work very nicely along the lines of the comments from this story.

I always have a terrible time reading critically because the story in my head is intertwined with the one on the paper. I can't seem to do objective distance on my own stuff, much beyond line-edit-wording.
Terri-Lynne DeFinobogwitch64 on March 8th, 2009 04:56 am (UTC)
Everyone here has made sense; but let's get down to brass tacks here. There is a problem. Clearly. Take their suggestion, write it 'their' way and see if it makes it better. Then see if you can still make it the story YOU set out to write. If you can, they were right. If you can't, they were wrong.

In the end, it's your story. Only you can decide what is right for it.
Dave Thompson: the writer's blockkrylyr on March 9th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
I don't know if I agree that there is clearly a problem. But there is definitely potential for the story to be something different. I think the real question is, does he want the story to be different or is he happy with what he has.
Terri-Lynne DeFinobogwitch64 on March 9th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
I agree and disagree: When that many people have the same problem with a story, the writer HAS to consider that there is indeed a problem.

But I do agree with those things you say below.

Mostly, I agree with what John said. The 'problem' might not be that thing that got picked out, but something either before or after it that didn't get done in a way to make it work.
Dave Thompson: the writer's blockkrylyr on March 9th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
I do think he should consider that there's a problem :) Whether or not he decides there is a problem there is what I'm not sold on. But I hear where you're coming from.
jeffsoesbe: bald man jacketjeffsoesbe on March 10th, 2009 12:43 am (UTC)
I know I don't want the story to be something else, to be the story the feedback is trying to move it towards.

However, there apparently is a problem with this story. Perhaps I'm setting up an expectation for the "other" kind of story, and I don't realize it.

Much to think about here...
They Didn't Ask Me: May09-Analogdr_phil_physics on March 8th, 2009 06:23 am (UTC)
There is no right. There is only write.

Dr. Phil
jeffsoesbe: spiderjerusalem smoke and typejeffsoesbe on March 10th, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)

As folks say - "worried about one story? Write another one and send it out!"

That's the "forever be productive" approach...
Dave Thompson: the writer's blockkrylyr on March 9th, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC)
It's really up to you. You wrote the story you intended to write, and that's key. Whether or not the story is going to sell is the next question (my guess is you can probably find a market for it, but maybe not the market you were hoping for).

And let's be honest: even if you do rewrite it exactly the way the feedback is leading you, I'm not sure you can resubmit it back to those markets that previously rejected it. That said, you can probably sub it to another decent market.

This recently happened to me on a story I adored. I got several rejections from different publications, and some of them kind of overlapped. Eventually, I decided to break the story back down and reworked it a decent bit. I still haven't sold it yet, but it is the same story, and I think it will sell. The whole process took a little while, though.
jeffsoesbe: kevin spacey lex luthorjeffsoesbe on March 10th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
Well, right now I'd be hoping for *any* market :-)

True that it couldn't go back to the old markets that said "no". None of them asked for a rewrite.

The tough part is that writing it to fit with the feedback would make it a different story. Of course, I guess I could re-submit that story, as long as I changed the title :-)