Seriously, this is a must in every writer’s bucket list, a brutally honest beta-reader who tells you that he/she didn’t care about your characters, your story had a long list of faults, you must show and not tell and whatever else they have found of extremely badly written in your manuscript draft, especially if you are now starting your writing career and therefore clueless of where you have to improve.
If your writing is a career for you, then you need to study to develop your weak spots, you need feedback and you need to hear your beta-readers, even if he/she was brutally honest and even if the way how he/she manifested his/her opinion made you cringe at the sight of that feedback for a whole month.
I remember when I received that brutally honest feedback. I had swapped beta-reading with another writer, but I couldn’t get her story for two reasons:
First, she didn’t tell me that one of her short stories was a spin-off of a novel from her that I haven’t read, so, not understanding at all where her short story had come from, I found it confusing and with an underdeveloped story world. She should have told me as a beta-reader that I would only understand the short story if I read the novel first.
And second, her protagonist failed to do anything out of her own insecurity and misplaced principles until the end of her story. So the protagonist was arrested, the horrible and well-depicted villain won and the third character, whose goals weren’t clear for me since the start, went on doing nothing apart from being the (impossible to understand) passive love interest of the protagonist. It was a weak story without a fully formed plot where nothing happened. It masqueraded as a tragedy, but at least for me, a tragedy without enough reasons for its sad and inconclusive end. I confess that I don’t like tragedies unless that really makes sense in the context of the character arc. Her story didn’t make sense to me at the time so I was sincere enough to tell her my opinion, taking care though to also point out what I had found of positive in her WIP, so it would be a balanced feedback.
As an answer, she sent me a really long email telling me all the things she had hated in my WIP in a really emotional way. To summarize it, her main points were that my backstory was stupid, my writing was beyond terrible and she didn’t care for the characters or the story at all. Her feedback was much more emotional and negative than what I usually received from other beta-readers, so I concluded that being upset about my previous, not completely positive feedback, had influenced the way how she expressed herself in her answer.
I thanked her for her quite thorough feedback and said nothing about the emotional way she had expressed it. I was astonished that my writing had called such a strong emotional reaction, even if a negative one. So, I decided to ignore the emotional coloring of her feedback and concentrated on the more precise advice buried under all that emotion.
And the advice was:
I had to find ways to bring the reader into my story so the reader would care.
I had to flesh out summarized narrative (Change tell into show) and make better description and settings.
I had to make my characters intriguing even if not likable through a clearer character arc.
I had to break the backstory into smaller bits, weaving it into the plot.
I had to show, not tell.
I accepted that brutally honest feedback regardless of how it was expressed and learned from it, instead of dismissing it completely or being hurt/discouraged by it. The harsh way how the critique was written convinced me to study and try to improve my writing in a way that milder feedback had not. So it was a hard experience, but one that was vital and important for my writing development.
Bucket list item accomplished. 🙂
Of course, there are always exceptions. Once I received feedback where it was clear that my beta-reader was disappointed that my story wasn’t a courageous group of marines shooting around to save the world. So I read his feedback taking that into account. 😉
And you? Have you already received brutally honest feedback?