Thursday, March 15, 2012

What's your advice?

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to meet award winning YA author Sherri L Smith. My sons seventh grade class had just finished reading Flygirl and were privileged enough to hear her speak about the book and her writing journey.

I found Sherri to be relaxed and someone you could easily grab a cup of coffee with and talk writing as if you were old friends. Her career started very differently than most authors experience. She was lucky enough to work Tim Burton and a handful of other talented artists in California before choosing to write YA novels. 

I loved her ease around the students and the way she engaged them with questions. Even when they asked her to explain certain parts of the book she'd left for the reader to determine, she graciously spun the question back to them and asked, "What do you think happened?"

I love that, and I write with the idea that not all things need explained by the author, some are better left for the reader to conclude on their own, whatever that conclusion might be.  Which brings me to today's question—When writing a novel how do you decide what is okay to leave for the readers assumption and what needs to be spelled out?

As a writer we all have critique partners, and in my experience, they all pull different things from my work. Some love a piece, while others question it. Some understand a paragraph or chapter while others are left wanting an explanation. So when you get a piece back that has contradicting reviews from your CPs, how do you decide whose advice to take? Do you go with your gut and leave it at that, or should you seek more opinions? In my experience, too many people in my head causes that much more trouble, questions, problems. What's your advice?


  1. I think that if you know what something means to you, even if it's thematic, or subtext only (and not explicitly spelled out), you can often explain it to a CP, after they've read it at least once, and ask them if what you were implying is coming across at all. Other than that, you have to trust your own instinct.

  2. You take MY advice, obviously. LOL. J/K

    If more than one person got it, I'd go with your gut, as long as those are two people you REALLY trust. I also like Matthew's suggestion of asking the CP about it.

    But basically, my advice is majority rules. If more than one person gets it, it's probably okay. That one person maybe missed something that would clue them in. But if only one person gets it, and more than one are confused, it's probably something you should fix.

  3. You'll never come to a time where everyone will love every aspect of your work because a writer's work is never finished. It does come down to listening to what they have to say, and then trusting your gut.

  4. Even when I critique a piece, I remind the author that they are welcome to take whatever i offer and use it or pick what they feel will help and trash the rest. Not because the rest is worthless or a waste of time, but because it may not meet the needs of ensuring the author's voice and characters shine through.

    Usually, when I get feedback, I look for the things pointedly out repeatedly. That could be a sign of a problem to fix. If one person likes a scene while another thinks it's junk, I consider where each may be coming from. The one who loves it could be a lover of the same style of writing as you while the other may be a minimalist.