I received some initial feedback from one of my friends on Saturday on the first section of my novel – That which is left is lost. She’s only managed to get through the first 10,000 words or so because she’s using her lunch break at work to read it. [That’s what true friends are made of.]
I know that conventional advice can often warn you from asking one of your friends (or family) to read your initial draft of a novel because they will often tell you how fantastic it is just so they don’t hurt your feelings. However, Tinkerbell (*surprisingly not her real name!) has been my best friend for over ten years and there are a few reasons I asked her to give my novel a look over at this stage.
Firstly, she has a degree in English and has studied a lot of texts as a results. She also works in a job that involves writing marketing spiel and has a good eye for correct grammar and clear, precise prose as a result. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, she is who I had in mind as an ‘ideal reader’ when I wrote my second draft.
For those not familiar with the concept of an ‘ideal reader’, this is just someone you believe would be the perfect person to market and read your book. It takes into account their lifestyle, age, gender, occupation and hobbies – one of which is often reading. You answer questions about your ideal reader such as what books they like to read, how often they make time for reading and the types of character they call their favourites. This not only helps you define the audience for your novel but can help in marketing it down the line – where does your ideal reader find out about new books; recommendations, magazines, social media, amazon, or just browsing their local bookstore?
Therefore, the feedback that Tinkerbell provides me on the current version of That which is left is lost is very important to me. I don’t expect a full breakdown of story structure, character motivation or scene conflict. What I want from her are the things that bother her, take her out of the story or make her question the wrong things. I also asked her if she could let me know of things that she thought were intriguing or encouraged her to read on – these are the elements I need to ensure I keep and reproduce.
So far, here are a few of the things she’s said about it:
My protagonist – Dr Christopher Whalley – should not have a moustache, or at least if he does I need to introduce it as a feature well before I already do.
- Apparently I don’t drop this little incidental fact about my character until my reader has already formed a mental picture of Chris, so the added detail throws a reader who doesn’t already incorporate this into their imagination.
The letter I introduce in the second chapter hooked her interest and made her jump to the same (incorrect) conclusions as my protagonist.
- This is vital for the twist that comes in the first third of the book, so it’s good to know that it doesn’t automatically scream the solution. When you as a writer already know what’s coming it can be challenging to write something that hints at an alternative without giving the game away.
I need to define my setting earlier in the novel as Tinkerbell thought it was based in America to begin with!
- This is an area I already have flagged up to work on, although not for that specific reason. I know that I need to address the location of my novel’s events and provide some narrative clues as to where this is. All I currently know is that it’s northern England – possibly Sheffield – but I haven’t yet stated that anywhere in the manuscript.
The break in narrator is done well and is defined clearly enough that is doesn’t break the flow of the story so far.
Something I was worried about was having multiple stories told from the 1st person woven into the 3rd person narrative. According to Tinkerbell, who’s just encountered the first of these, it works well and doesn’t jar her out of the story – rather, she said it encouraged her to read on to find out more.
All in all, I’m very happy with these comments. They are just the type of overarching features that I need to know about – both good and bad. I’m fortunate that I have a friend as close as Tinkerbell that I trust to give me an honest opinion and that will do so without being vague and non-descript. She knows how much she’s assisting me in developing the novel and our friendship is strong enough (and I’m realistic enough) to know that it can survive some of the constructive criticism we both know I need.
I have another beta reader looking over the manuscript who is a writer, who I’m sure will point out other elements and may even disagree in some cases to that of my ‘ideal reader’. That’s almost the fun part – because it’s up to me to make that balance work; to write a novel that is literary enough to appeal to the type of reader I hope will most enjoy it and also be respected amongst my fellow writers.
I never thought I’d say this but: I can’t wait to get some more feedback so I can start to deconstruct my own work to improve and develop it into a publishable book!
Who do you trust to read over your work and give you an honest, balanced opinion? Do you have an ‘ideal reader’ in mind when writing or editing, or don’t you think about it at all?
Let me know in comments or, as usual, Tweet Me.