I received my first feedback from one of my Trusted Readers today. The package with The Script in it sat on my kitchen table for about a half hour before I felt like opening it up. There is a reason why my Trusted Readers are trusted, but I was afraid of the absolute shellacing my manuscript might have received.
As I ripped open the seal, I noticed a note, scrawled in pencil, along the lines of, “Oops, I forgot to mention…” The rest of the note suggested a change that I had already been considering, and the reason given by my Trusted Reader was better than the reason I had given myself. I was considering cutting it solely on the basis of length. The note said I should cut it because ‘it’s a cool story, but it’s not this story.” Outstanding.
As I gave the script a quick flip through to scan the notes scrawled across the pages, I found myself agreeing with a large number of them. Some I thought weren’t accurate because my Trusted Reader ‘didn’t understand,’ but then I realized that if he didn’t understand, it was because I didn’t do a good enough job explaining things.
His not understanding was my fault, not his.
So I have two little gems to throw out, one for the other struggling authors like myself that are out there, and one for their Trusted Readers.
First, for my fellow Authors: Remember that all your Readers have to go by is what is on the page. I purposely didn’t try and pre-sell any of mine on what the story is about. I didn’t include and slug lines or synopsis. I let the story stand on its own. While the story is based on real events, it is sufficiently obscure that I can’t expect most people to know what it is about or how it played out historically. We, as writers, need to be able to explain things in a way that anyone can figure out what is going on in the first few pages by adequately setting the scene and events. This is especially true if we’ve been living with a project, like I have with this one, for a considerable length of time.
For our Trusted Readers: You don’t do us any favors by not letting us know when something isn’t ‘right.’ When you don’t understand something, or things just don’t make any sense to you. Not all of us want to be published, but I think we all want to tell the best story we can, and glossing over the bad doesn’t help us get better. This isn’t to suggest that you need to unleash Hell on your friend that has trusted you with their work, but they do need to hear about the problems and stuff that just doesn’t work. It is ‘possible to impart instruction… in such a manner, and such a tone… so as to inspire a strong desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot help but excite a strong resentment and a desire to disobey’ if I might be allowed to steal liberally from Maj Gen Schofield. Remember, we’ve asked for your help. Please don’t be afraid to give it to us.
PS – I’m already behind on my goal to finish my first draft of The Novel. A long weekend at a Boy Scout event with my son tuckered me out. Physical exhaustion is not conducive to writing. I am trying to catch up. My daily writing goal is now just over 1400 words. Not impossible, but daunting. Another example of why writing every day is usually easier than not writing.