I Found the Problem — Facepalm

For months I have been try­ing to fig­ure out what was wrong with a par­tic­u­lar story of mine. This story received Hon­our­able Men­tion in Writers of the Future, which is fab­ulous, but clearly there is still room for some improve­ment. What improve­ment did it need, though? That was the ques­tion. I had a couple of writer friends give it a read, and they made some com­ments on it. Then came the tricky part: fig­ur­ing out what their com­ments actu­ally meant. 

See, what often hap­pens is that what the read­er has noticed is not the actu­al prob­lem, but some­thing that arises as a res­ult of the prob­lem. Both read­ers said the flash­back sec­tion did­n’t work for them. To my mind, the flash­back sec­tion was the whole point of the story because that is where my prot­ag­on­ist car­ries out her plan, and it should be an Aha! moment for the read­er. 

So I knew that the solu­tion to the story was not to tell the story chro­no­lo­gic­ally, as was sug­ges­ted. As I read through the story work­ing on oth­er tweaks, I noticed that I gave a pretty obvi­ous clue about what my prot­ag­on­ist’s plan was. Uh oh! Why was that in there? As I con­tin­ued through the story, I found anoth­er clue. Drat! How silly of me to have left that in there! Then… What the hell?? Ok, so I real­ised that the reas­on the flash­back did­n’t work was because I had already told the read­er what the plan was! Ugh. How dumb. I removed all the clues, and lo and behold! The flash­back is sud­denly an Aha! moment, and the story is so much more excit­ing.

This illus­trates to me the import­ance of listen­ing to the com­ments of my read­ers, while also recog­niz­ing what I intend for the story. What is so fas­cin­at­ing is that the prob­lem the read­ers identi­fy is most usu­ally a mani­fest­a­tion of a dif­fer­ent prob­lem alto­geth­er. 

It’s some­times help­ful for a read­er to sug­gest a solu­tion to a prob­lem they per­ceive, because their sug­ges­tion often helps me pin­point the actu­al prob­lem.

I always listen to my read­ers’ com­ments, and give each one due con­sid­er­a­tion. Some­times I dis­agree with the com­ment, in which case I am grate­ful for it to have been poin­ted out because now I know I made that choice con­sciously. Some­times I agree with a com­ment, in which case I think hard about the integ­rity of my story before decid­ing how to fix it. It’s all part of this sat­is­fy­ing pro­cess of edit­ing.