Have you ever shared a draft with friends and colleagues to see what they think and been disappointed with the feedback you received? Conversely, have you ever read a friend’s manuscript and been unsure of how to give them actionable critiques?
Feedback can be uncomfortable on both sides of the fence: we feel put on the spot, we aren’t sure how to articulate how we felt, or we aren’t even sure whether what we have managed to articulate is useful! I’d like to share a couple strategies to reduce this stress and optimize your results.
Hey! I was hoping you could read the attached story and let me know what you thought! Thanks so much! 🙂
Don’t send this email unless you already have an ongoing critical relationship with the recipient; surprises are for your stories. An email like this out of the blue can cause many people to panic. What if I don’t like it? What if I don’t give the kind of response they’re looking for? Your email may get a quick “Great job, this was a fun read!” or it may get relegated to the deep recesses of your friend’s unread pile. Instead, ask your friends and colleagues if they’d be willing and interested in reading and critiquing your work in advance of sending them your latest draft. This way they are prepared and have a chance to bow out gracefully if they haven’t the time or inclination.
Ask specific questions
Are you wondering whether the dialogue works? Whether the twist on page 20 is too out of the blue? Ask! It’s much easier for someone to give you useful feedback when it’s specific. Sending your story along with 1-3 specific questions you’re trying to answer will help your reader target their commentary in a way that they and you both feel is useful. “Did you like it??” doesn’t count —it may be what you want to know, but it’s not very useful as you head into your next draft.
A handful of our favorite questions:
- What is your favorite part of the story? This is fun to talk about and usually gets people primed to give you honest responses. Readers will be more comfortable if they can give you some positive words off the bat.
- What do you feel is missing or unclear? Were there parts you felt like skipping over? Is there anything you wished there were more of? These are good for identifying deficiencies—maybe a character or plot point needs further development. The implied reverse questions are also a fair ask.
- Do the climax and resolution make sense? Sometimes we get so wrapped up in getting to the climax of a story that we forget that our readers have to buy into the plot that gets them there.
- Is the main character sympathetic? Stories often fail because readers can’t identify with or sympathize with the main character. Asking them to consider this aspect can be very helpful.
- Is the dialogue in this scene realistic? Sometimes we tend to make dialogue too explanatory in an effort to make things clear. But dialogue needs to sound natural, like people actually talking.
– Renee Jackson