I love it. Do you? – Is Asking for Feedback on your Story Ideas a Good Idea?

Should you seek feedback from others before you start writing?

The idea and basic plot for my first book were developed during a weekend writing workshop. The tutor loved the idea, and her parting words at the conclusion of that weekend workshop were, ‘Just write it.’ So I did. Although I received feedback and input later on in the writing process, this was the only feedback I had prior to writing.

For my second book (click here to read about the basic premise of this new book), I’m doing things a little differently. The publisher of my first book (Pear Jam Books) has facilitated the creation of a network of its authors interested in helping each other creatively. After discussing what we wanted this group to achieve, Project Bounceboard was born. Its mission: ‘to provide a safe, positive, supportive environment for those who want somewhere to bounce new or in-progress ideas for stories or have a bit of help brainstorming.’

We set up a few basic rules of engagement:

  • This is a brainstorming group, NOT a critiquing group! If a member wishes to have more in-depth feedback on both strengths and weaknesses, then they will ask for it . Otherwise, positive comments and productive suggestions only, please.
  • It is assumed that everyone will respect each other’s intellectual property and copyright and not steal any ideas. If someone comes up with an idea that you really really love, ask them if you can work on it with them!
  • At this stage it is assumed that everyone wants to focus on projects that are more mainstream in theme and tone. If you wish to work on topics that are more alternative or niche (e.g. erotica, explicit horror) then please indicate possible offensive content at the top of each post as a courtesy to those who may not wish to read it.
  • Have fun! No idea is a stupid or dumb idea. Some may just need a bit more development than others.

In an uncommon act of bravery (I’m quite insecure about my writing!) I decided to kick things off by posting the synopsis for my second book to our closed Facebook group for comments – I wanted to know the following things: did the book idea appeal? What did I need to consider? What would make it better? What age group and gender would it appeal to?

The group responded en masse. There were 58 comments on the thread.

The relevant question is… did it help?

The answer… YES!

Firstly the feedback from my group confirmed that my synopsis had appeal. Aside from direct comments made that the idea had appeal, I also think that the fact that the group posted such a variety of comments was indirect confirmation that the idea had struck a chord of interest within the group. The group felt the best audience for this story would be a young adult (YA) readership.

Secondly, because every person is different, with differing interests and strengths, the things the group asked me to consider were varied. Some were interested in the technical details, what would my characters eat and wear, how would they travel about, who would they meet, and so on. Others were interested in my characters – what growth and change would occur to them during the story. There was an interesting discussion on how to make the story appeal to both genders. There were some fantastic suggestions for the plot.

All in all, it was an incredibly useful exercise that solidified my thinking in a number of areas. I made some decisions. Just a few examples are: I am writing the story for a YA market; I will try and keep the science as real as possible; a second character needs to be introduced early on in the book. Having to answer the questions of the group forced me to make necessary decisions; things I needed to consider before I could start writing.

In summary, I found the feedback of my group to be invaluble. If you are an author in a similar position and are considering seeking feedback from others, my suggestion is to go for it, with the following proviso: You must trust those whom you share with. Their feedback should be positive and constructive. Our group was comprised of authors and although this isn’t strictly necessary, it was a benefit – fellow authors have technical expertise, but more importantly for me, they understand how it feels to put yourself and your work into the public arena.

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9 thoughts on “I love it. Do you? – Is Asking for Feedback on your Story Ideas a Good Idea?

  1. This shows the value of having a sounding board when you are unsure of your idea. I reread your previous post, and finally read Donna Gillespie’s blog, and she hits the concept of outlines – when demanded by others,

    Her friends tutor was a perfect example of the concept: those who can – do, those who can’t – stop them. Your bounceboard helped you to cristalize your idea, and that’s brilliant. I’m looking forward to the finished book.

  2. I love the idea of keeping it focused on brainstorming, rather than critiquing! I think sometimes it’s hard to find readers or “bouncers” who can step back from trying to “fix” things and just help you dream. It’s great when you find the right mix. Looking forward to learning more about your process.

  3. Thanks Deborah. I think it works really well for us. Critiquing just sounds scary, particularly for a new writer with a fragile ego! I have heard some horror stories.

    • I put a hint of an idea on Twitter asking for thoughts, yet received none. How did you start this group? I have many story ideas but am stuck as how to put them together. I believe brainstorming can be a huge boost! And, husbands and moms don’t count.

      • Our group were introduced because we all have the same publisher. I’ve also met other writers at writing workshops. There may be some writing websites that convene groups too,

  4. SJ, I think critiquing should come much later in the project. There are two types of critiquing. One is where people of like mind look at your finished work and pick up the minor problems. That is mispers, repetitions, grammar issues.

    The other is where a reviewer comments on the place the book should be in general, eg. this is suitable for 8 to 12 year old’s, and is an exciting adventure that will inspire them to become aliens.

    I no place is a critique a criticism. Any reasonable critiquer will make you feel good, and if they do have something to suggest, it is one small negative between many positives.

    If a critiquer makes you feel bad, they are doing it wrong.

  5. As you know, I was just thinking about this topic. It is so hard to take feedback that is negative and it is also hard to know when feedback that is good or bad should be ignored. Either way, it does help to have someone else look it over because there will be times when a writing partner notices something I didn’t (overuse of certain words, plot holes, inconsistencies) when I was in the process of putting it all together.

    • Absolutely agree. My husband is fantastic for picking up overuse of words in a short space but that is an obvious thing to fix once pointed out. The harder issue is what to do with input that is of a more subjective nature because it may just be that the person commenting would have written differently because they have a different style to yours. What you have done may be great and not need changing at all. How do you know? Perhaps this is when you should use a manuscript assessor rather than a mish-mash of people to provide input.

    • Hi Tara and SJ, I think having outside input is great, but you need people who know the difference between critique and criticize.

      Belonging to a critique group is great, if they balance each other out. One person can have a ‘bee in their bonnet’, but the right group can eliminate this.

      However, every comment should be given with the proviso that you as the writer accept or reject it. It is your story, and you own it.

      The group I go to is brilliant. There is a range of expertise and experience there, and we all learn, even the most experience. I put a couple of hours a week in, and it keeps me honest. We each bring two pages of 12 font, dble spaced pages (a copy for everyone there). Everyone names their copy, and writes their observations, corrections etc. on the page. It is then discussed. That way, we all learn from each other. The pages are returned to the writer, who then takes them home and can analyse them as they see fit.

      Writing is such a solitary profession, it is good to get together to spend time with other writers.

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