That Story Needs Reading!

16 Aug

Reading – that’s what stories are for. However, I’m not talking about the need for you to actually put your stories (and, indeed, poems and articles, as well) out there for people to read, although they surely deserve to be released from your desk drawer. No, I’m talking about having someone read your work before submitting, getting some feedback and having it checked for errors.

I am lucky enough to have a very capable friend who will kindly take the time to look over some of my work before I hand it over to the tender mercies of an editor (at this point, a word of thanks to David Leverton for his effort on my behalf), and this is something I can highly recommend. As the author, you know what your story is supposed to be about, you know how it should proceed and you know what you meant to say. Thus, unless you make a hideously obvious error, mistakes and lack of clarity are likely to sneak past your gaze, glossed by your knowledge of what you should be seeing. Having someone else read your work ‘blind’ (by which I mean without you providing any explanation prior to their reading it) will flag up things you would never have noticed.

Whether it is a plot hole, a vague description of action, contradictions, unclear turns of phrase, mixed or muddled metaphors, or just plain old-fashioned spelling and grammar errors, an independent pair of eyes can greatly help improve your submission.

The best thing, of course, is to find someone who has a general liking of the sort of writing you have produced, who has a general understanding of it, and who has a pretty good grasp of the English language. Of course, you could let anyone read your story, but asking someone who just doesn’t ‘get’ fantasy to read your mythic quest, or who, worse still, actively dislikes fantasy, is not going to get you any useful feedback – they won’t like it and they won’t understand it, but you will have no way of assessing whether their comments have any merit beyond their bias. But, should you ask someone you know enjoys fantasy and is fairly knowledgeable of both the general conventions and the cliches, you can be fairly certain that their response is worth listening to.

Although there is nothing wrong with allowing friends and family to read your writing and feedback, you need to be certain that they are comfortable with giving you their honest assessment of it and that they will not take offence if you do not heed their suggestions. At best, you will be told that what you have written is good because they don’t want to upset you by being negative; at worst, you risk having a falling out over their suggestions and your response to them. The reason that I felt comfortable asking David to help me out was that having published his reviews and letters of comment in my magazines, I knew that he was not only capable of providing me with the kind of feedback I required, but could clearly explain the logic behind his ideas, which is obviously very important – you need to know why your reader thinks what they do about your writing, after all, if you want to apply their ideas. Having developed a mutual respect for one another through various discussions, I knew that he would be comfortable giving me his honest opinion about my writing and that I would be comfortable hearing what he had to say, even if, sometimes, it might prove more accurate than one might sometimes wish in pinpointing my failings!

The most important thing to remember, however, is that no matter what is suggested, you are the final arbiter for your writing. You can choose to ignore whatever suggestions you wish, although you must always temper your decisions with careful consideration (which is why finding a reader who is good at articulating their views is so important in order to allow proper assessment). Sometimes you will decide that your reader is ‘wrong’ (subjectively speaking), sometimes you will take on board some of what they say but not all, and sometimes you will realise that you made a complete mess of something and  be forever grateful that they saved you from embarassment! Quite often, I have found that David will flag things that I was having doubts about myself, showing that I was right to be concerned. Sometimes, he will highlight something that, because I, as author know what is intended, would never have thought of as a problem. It can be an eye-opening experience that allows you to reassess your writing far beyond anything you could do alone, and often leads to interesting discussions that leave us both that bit more enlightened than when we started (most often involving the nuances of grammar!).

Even if you produce about as pefect a piece of writing as is possible and your reader gives you an unqualified thumbs up, knowing that another pair of eyes has gone over it and spotted those silly typos that can so easily slip by unnoticed, is a great comfort and a pleasant reduction in the workload heaped upon the backs of editors and proofreaders should your story be accepted.

So, if you don’t yet allow your writing the opportunity to be examined prior to submission, I would strongly suggest that you find someone willing to cast an eye over it and examine its strengths and weaknesses!

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One Response to “That Story Needs Reading!”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Helping Hand « atlanteanpublishing - September 20, 2012

    […] a great example of how finding a helping hand can do wonders for your writing career. (Just as, previously, I’ve mentioned the importance of a second pair of […]

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