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.