Monday, 25 April 2011

feedback and the art of making it better and knowing when you just don't know something (or anything)

I like to enter competitions where I get feedback and a particular favourite is the Writers' Forum comp, because for the bargain price of £8 you can enter the competition and get feedback (if you're a subscriber, I think it's a bit more expensive if you're not).

This month, I sent in a story which I really like, but I was sure needed something doing to it but I wasn't sure what. I thought it needed perhaps some more conflict, or something else to drive the story forward but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. So I thought, I'll send it away and see what happens.

And do you know what happened? I got the best piece of feedback I've ever received from them.


For the first time, they didn't pull me on the layout, thought the title was good, thought everything, overall, was well...good. Here, I'll let you see for yourself....

Hello Helen,


Thanks for entering the Writers’ Forum competition.

Presentation: Manuscript layout is generally good.

Title: Very good. It’s apt for the story and works on more than one level.

Opening: Very good. This grabs the reader’s attention and takes us right into the heart of the story.

Dialogue: Generally good. The dialogue is minimal, but where used it does everything that good dialogue should.

Characterisation: Good, but your narrator’s age seems to fluctuate. I would suggest going through this with the age in mind and correcting the sections where the voice is too young or too old. Because of this fluctuation, I couldn’t quite grasp her age.

Overall: This is a well written and poignant story. It has lots going for it and your writing style carried me along to the end. However, you have a slight tendency to overwrite, almost as if you don’t quite trust your readers to get things. Often you explain something that your dialogue and narration has already made perfectly clear, for example: “But if he does wake up, he’ll know how much we love him and how much we’re going to miss him,” I said. This made her cry again [which was a bit confusing. I thought that was a nice thing to say]. You don’t need the words in brackets as they detract from what is already a well portrayed situation.

Commended - needs some work but has potential

Best wishes,
I have to admit, I was really quite pleased. I've tried really hard to follow all the (very confusing) rules in regards to layout, and I've taken on board advice from previous feedback about the title, and applied it and now my feedback is...good. Not great, but good. I feel like I'm getting there.

So I had a little think about what I needed to do and enlisted the help of a friend. The narrator for my story, Vivian, is six years old. I don't know any six year olds. We have a little downstairs neighbour who is three and a half and just adorable (quote of the day on the stairs yesterday "my daddy is sick of my mummy but he isn't sick of me") but she's really the only child we see on a regular basis, and even then she's only chatty sometimes.

So I asked my friend, who has three kids ranging from four to eleven, to go through the story for me and tell me what was working and what wasn't. She replied within a few hours with the most informative suggestions I've ever had. She hadn't just gone through the story, she'd written an introduction on her experiences with her children, the things they say and how they react in certain situations. I now feel like I can go through it and make the changes that I need. I now feel like I know what I need to do. Both of these are exciting feelings.

So this morning, I've been through the story. I've taken out my two favourite lines on Amy's advice as they weren't age appropriate and so far, it is going quite well. I'm glad I asked an expert as these aren't changes I would have made on my own (I loved those lines, but "kill your darlings" boohoo).

Right, ok, that's me done. I'm going back to my rewrite...bye!

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