Feedback on your novel: A closer look

Feedback on your fiction is, on the surface of it, a sensible thing. You’re writing for readers, and people reading your draft and giving opinions is bound to be helpful, right?

Not always.

Sometimes we end up feeling undermined or, conversely, falsely assured. Feedback can be useful at times, but for reasons that are often invisible to writers, may fail to help us. In pursuit of the deeper truth about feedback, here are some observations.

Motivation and self confidence

  • We writers are in an insecure vocation. Connecting with readers can seem unfairly difficult, even random. In such an environment we may turn to others for feedback. But we may not be ready to handle criticism, and this can weaken our intention, especially if we are already lacking in writerly confidence.
  • If you’re really ready to hear honest opinions, then it might be a good idea to get feedback. Personally, I tend to avoid feedback (except under strict conditions), because I find myself susceptible to doubt and confused by too much input.
  • I know I’m being a bit contrary, but give it some thought. At a deeper level, you know why you want feedback, and you may well be right about whatever decision you come to. But: Sharer beware.

Writers’ groups and friends

  • Writers’ groups can be helpful. They provide psychological support and motivation. They may also give usable feedback at the page level or slightly beyond. (“I got confused when . . .” “I haven’t warmed up to your character yet.”)
  • Don’t go to writers’ groups hungry for validation or fearful of criticism. Repeat this five times before every meeting. You’re there to find out what the piece needs in order to be better, period. Is this hard? Yes. Really, there’s no way to sugar coat this truth.
  • Critiques from family and friends are not “at arm’s length.” Their praise might feel good, but may not be helpful in practical terms or to your attitude and mood. Stop, stop giving your manuscripts to people hoping for praise.
  • Unless your writers’ group reads full manuscripts, getting piece-meal feedback on your novel can take months or even years. You’ll get feedback on your writing, but not on your story, the arena where most drafts falter.
  • Don’t engage your group with fixing problems. They can help identify issues, but getting them involved with creative decisions fosters dependency and can undermine your creative intuition.
  • I end this section by saying I believe writers’ groups can be great support in the writing life. They’ve helped me see issues I might otherwise have missed. They’ve inspired me and nurtured friendships, not inconsiderable benefits in the writing life. But, honestly, I go for their sharp perspective on issues, not hoping for praise. I want them to catch stuff.

Learning to dance with the marketplace

  • Despite all of the above, I do think it’s a good idea to take seriously feedback from agents and editors who take time to read your material. (Your acquiring editor’s feedback is a different case entirely. Stuff of another blog post.)
  • When your work is published, you’ll enter the arena of validation. It’ll loom large in your mind–as it does in mine–but we shouldn’t let it define us. We keep on, practicing gratitude that we found the writing life and also working on humility should some success arise.
  • When you’re on contract, there may not be time to get feedback. One idea is to find several excellent readers. Give them your second draft of the first three-quarters of the novel. While you’re writing the last section, they are reading. One month before your deadline, the critiques come in and you revise. I only recommend this if  you have healthy relationship with feedback (as per the Motivation section of this post).

The big picture

  • Read extensively. Practice judging how your story compares with writers you admire (at least the first few books that launched their careers.) Get tough, be diagnostic in your approach to evaluating your stories. Then send them out and see if they connect with readers. Accept that, in the main, your exquisite and excruciating task is to decide what to write and how to do it.
  • Learn to navigate the writing life having faith in the worthwhile nature of your work, knowing it will sometimes succeed in reaching others, and other times will not. Our writing practice is a deeply personal commitment and is worth nurturing every day lest the world and its constant comparisons cause us to lose heart–or forget how much fun it is to write stories!
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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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