Feedback and Constructive Criticism

Writers are no strangers to criticism. Unfortunately, negative criticism is part of the gig. I wish it weren’t. Positive feedback and constructive criticism are, too, but sometimes it feels like those are impossible to find. It’s true that finding a good beta reader is like finding a rare painting at a yard sale. It’s been done, but it’s hard.

So what’s the different between positive feedback and constructive criticism?

Positive feedback is saying something like, “I really enjoyed this part.” “I like Bob’s character.” “The themes are well done.”

Constructive criticism is more like, “Bob’s character felt flat. In chapter four when he’s at the coffee counter, I think that’s a great place to throw in some personality. How does he effect the barista? Does his homeless-looking-self freak her out? Does it bother him?”

Positive feedback is just that – feedback that’s positive. Constructive criticism points out things that the reader doesn’t like and offers suggestions for change and improvement, or explains why it doesn’t work, where, and how come.

I had a beta reader for the opening chapter of Devil’s Blood 2 whose entire response was that there was too much telling that seemed unnecessary. My initial question at the beginning had been whether or not the exposition felt forced. He didn’t tell me where, what lines, when, or anything. Just that it did. I don’t consider that negative, but it wasn’t as constructive as it could have been.

I’ve also been told to “cut it to the bones,” but that’s not my style. Bare bones works for shorter works, but for longer works I like some description and fluff. I had a beta reader tell me once that I needed to cut everything up until chapter 5, which cut out a large portion of the beginning of the story. I didn’t want to do that. I read between what she said – the beginning was boring. The story didn’t feel like it started until chapter 5. So, I reworked and edited and made the beginning feel more like the rest. I did cut things, but not all of it.

Take feedback with a grain of salt.

What’s the weirdest/worst/best feedback you’ve ever gotten?

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