Posted in writing

Valuable Feedback

One tool that can make the biggest impact for writing is feedback. You might have written what you think is the world’s greatest novel, but if your readers don’t agree, you’ll be stuck with a manuscript that doesn’t sell. The easiest way to find out what others think is to get feedback—be that through critique partners or beta readers.

Getting that feedback can be difficult however. Writing takes a lot of effort and it can occasionally feel a little daunting to ask for someone to read what you’ve written and tell you what they think. At the same time, knowing what is and isn’t working from an outside perspective is a goldmine.

There are a few things to keep in mind when getting feedback.

It shouldn’t tear you down. Very, very rarely is it aimed as a personal attack. When you hear that something isn’t working, it can sting, and for good reason: you’ve spent a lot of time with this story already. It’s very rarely aimed at you as a person, it’s strictly a comment on what isn’t working for that reader.

It’s not all good stuff. Similarly to the above, your feedback shouldn’t be all compliments and fluff. While it might feel great at first, it’s not likely to give you good, useable information on how you can improve. That isn’t to say a compliment isn’t useful at all. Targeted compliments can often highlight things you’re doing well that you can help to strengthen your weak spots.

Multiple sources are fantastic. I know, getting feedback from one person seems daunting, never mind getting feedback from several.  However, if you have five people and three of them highlight a particular passage as being difficult, you know for sure that you need to address it. If however, only one of the five highlights a passage, you can use your judgement on whether or not you need to follow their suggestions.

It’s only suggestions. At the end of the day, even if you have a full editorial critique, you are the writer. That ultimately means you get to decide if you want to act on a suggestion or not. That’s all feedback is, is giving a suggestion on how things could be improved. Since writing is art and art is subjective, not every suggestion will be one you agree with. You don’t have to follow them all.    

Posted in worldbuilding, writing

Exposition

In storytelling, exposition has two meanings. The first is the opening portion of your plot arc. That is, where your story begins. The second is the one I want to touch on today.

The second use of exposition is the information needed for a story to make sense. That second part covers a lot of ground. It includes character backstories, worldbuilding, societal rules, legal definitions and a host of other things that vary from story to story. Exposition is important because it’s what makes characters, plots and settings work properly. It’s all the information going on behind the scenes that helps a story progress logically.

The big problem with exposition is that while your characters might know it, your readers might not. You don’t need to explain your own childhood to yourself, but for some stories, not knowing a character’s history causes bumps in the road. How do you get exposition out of the way?

Explain it. I know it seems obvious and you’re probably about to shout ‘INFO DUMP’ at me but hold on a second. Yes, info dumps are a way of getting information on the page. Arguably both sci-fi and fantasy are awful at this because then tend to rely heavily on worldbuilding, so there’s always a lot of information. It’s a common trope to have a prologue which details the history of the world, or of a particular set of characters, or that recounts some prophecy or the other.

However, you can reasonably explain information that’s relevant to the story by having your characters discuss it, or by having them realize what they’ve believed or known about that information is wrong. When using the dialogue option, you can offer back-and-forth questions to cover the usual who, what, why, when and how as needed. By having an internal realization, you make the exposition an active part of the story, rendering it a vital part of that character’s arc.

Imply it. Just as you’re not likely to think about your entire history without something that triggers a recollection, your characters likely won’t either. They may however, reference their personal histories when interacting with other characters.

An example of this is when dealing with a character that’s been disgraced for some reason. They may refer to a particular portion of time as ‘before’. Those characters that don’t know what happened can then ask ‘before what’ which gives you an opportunity to either relate it, or to tease it out a bit at a time. A bonus to this one: you give your readers more of a reason to invest in a character.

Similarly, when dealing with world or event information, your characters aren’t likely to have textbook perfect recollection of every single event. Could they possibly give you a good summary of what happened in the last war? Maybe, if they paid attention and had the chance and ability to learn about what happened. Or, maybe they know more about what sort of plants are likely to react with negative magical affects than they know about relations between differing duchies.

Exposition in storytelling is a necessary and vital part of understanding the story, but delivering that information shouldn’t get in the way of the story itself. When and where possible, use it to deepen a conflict: think about if your rival characters get into arguments about who’s right about the environmental risks of paper straws. Also consider your characters and their history. It may take time for your characters to open up and explain, letting you drop little hints and hooks through their actions and reactions.  

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Impressions and Perceptions

When meeting someone for the first time, your first impression may or may not be right. The same goes for characters. Like real people, characters don’t always perceive each other correctly. Sometimes we can think of someone as ‘bossy’ when they’re just trying to be helpful. That expands far beyond first impressions.

As an exercise: List each character and how they view the others in your story. Consider what causes this impression and how it’s different from others’ views on the same character.