Three People Read 20 Pages of My MS and the Result was Weird

I’m back. No more three-week breaks between blogging. I mean, I need this thing. It forces me to make progress on the noveling. Also, I love it when people talk to me about my posts—so I guess I better write them, huh? (Btw, I have still been blogging at The Write Practice–feel free to check them out at any time!).

So the other day I found out I am a finalist for another writing contest called the Abalone Awards. Basically, it’s a contest for love stories that have a cultural, interracial or multicultural hook. Check! The difference between this one and the Marlene contest is that finalists are given an opportunity to read the judge’s comments and revise the entry before the final round.

Great! Right?

Well, when I opened the first score sheet, all I saw were 3s (out of 10!).  There were a couple of 5s and a 6 here or there, but not many. My reaction was WTF, how did I become a finalist?! The comments weren’t that much better. She didn’t like my switching points of view* (it felt disjointed to her) and she said the opening scene needed work (I’ve since changed it completely for like the 5th time—but not just because of this). Um, ouch. It hurt, but OK. (She did like my characters though :))

On the next two score sheets I received a bunch of 9s—whew! Those judges said the story flowed and they loved the opening scene! In addition, one of them mentioned she did not like my male character but conceded that characters don’t need to be liked to be successful. (For the record, I think he’s likable).

So this is what’s weird: the judges had completely different reactions to the exact same things. What’s a girl supposed to do with that?!

I already know that I’m not going to please everyone—even J.K. Rowling has a few 2 star reviews. But it was a very strange experience to read such starkly different reactions to my work.

My first instinct was to ignore the hater.  But…the whole point of entering these things is to get feedback (right?). My second instinct was to try to address all of her concerns. Too much work. Plus, no.*

Ultimately I decided to take the following approach:

  • Read through the comments with an open mind, genuinely respecting the judges’ opinion.
  • Note any issues mentioned by all three judges.
  • Go to sleep.
  • Revise without returning to the comments, the assumption being that I have internalized the feedback.

While it’s important to take criticism seriously, the process is inherently subjective.  All I can really do is trust my instincts and stay true to the story, so that’s plan.  Plus—in this case, the contest entry was only 20 pages (out of a 300-page manuscript!) Gotta keep it all in perspective.

Til next week! (I promise!)

* Side note: My manuscript currently alternates between the first person (the female protagonist) and the third person (male protagonist). Every time a group has read pieces of my manuscript, someone has commented on this technique. Future fans let me explain:

  • I wanted the female protagonist to be an unreliable narrator. An unreliable narrator is someone who the reader cannot completely trust because her perspective is skewed. The first person is inherently less reliable than the third person because you only have access to that character’s knowledge, opinions, etc. I wanted the male protagonist to be reliable.
  • I wanted the voices to be distinct. In case you didn’t know—this is my first novel. I was very concerned when I began writing that the voices of the two characters would be too similar (because they were both coming from me!) Alternating between first and third person made it a lot easier for me to accomplish this goal.
  • This isn’t a crazy idea. Terry McMillan has done it. Emily Giffin has done it. So why can’t I? Even if you find the switch initially jarring, I promise you will get used to it after reading another chapter or two.

 

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5 thoughts on “Three People Read 20 Pages of My MS and the Result was Weird

  1. Congratulations. You’re right about reading and writing being subjective. It can drive you crazy but don’t let it.
    Glad to hear someone has her nose to the grindstone. I did well for a while and now I’m spinning my wheels again.

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