Recently I’ve had a lot of fresh eyes on my first chapter, and I was amazed at what my readers picked up on. Here’s why fresh eyes are so valuable.
This evening I finished the tenth draft of my WIP. It’s been a long time coming and the story still has a way to go, but it’s definite progress.
I have a story that runs from a beginning, stumbles through a middle, and finally reaches an end.* The number of characters who magically appear or vanish without a trace can now be counted on one hand, and I’m pretty sure no one who dies is suddenly walking around later on.
* Okay, this was also true of draft six (or was it seven?), but the plot works better this time.
The avian part of my world is still populated solely by owls, sparrows, and the occasional hawk, though.
What now? I hear you ask.
The time has come, the walrus said, to let hubby read the full draft. And, through some combination of critique partners and beta readers, to get many more fresh eyes on my baby.
Now I’m nervous. I should check my list of things to fix to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything important.
I know the draft isn’t perfect and is probably more appropriate for critique partners than for beta readers. But, through my search for the perfect critique partner match and exchanging first chapters with a lot of people, I’ve acquired a new appreciation for the value of fresh eyes on my writing.
Right now it’s mostly a feeling that’s swelling in my chest, but let’s see if I can put it into words that might help someone else.
Fresh Eyes doesn’t know what’s in your head
When I write something, I know what I mean (unless I’ve had too much to drink).
If I say “fire ran up her back” I know it’s metaphorical fire and the character’s not in urgent need of a blanket or a dunking in the horse trough.
Fresh Eyes has no idea and she will point this out:
“With all the fire burning her clothes, I’m surprised this character can concentrate on winning the tiddlywinks championship.”
Clearly, clarification is required.
I might imagine a courtyard replete with basalt flagstones, sandstone arches, palm fronds, and a salt-scented breeze. But if all I say is “she walked into the courtyard” Fresh Eyes will point out my setting is a trifle on the blank side.
That’s right. Fresh Eyes can see exactly what’s on the page and no more, and chances are that’s not what’s in my head.
Fresh Eyes responds emotionally based on how the characters are conveyed
… and not how I imagine them to be.
I don’t know about you, but I love my characters, regardless of whether they obsess about the water all over the floor while their best friend floats drowned in the tub.
I know they’re tough and resourceful whether I write them as sitting whimpering all day or going out and kicking some pirate dragon butt.
Fresh Eyes, on the other hand, might view things differently.
“I worry the MC’s concern over her horse’s strained fetlock when her whole family has just been slaughtered might make her unsympathetic.”
Good point, Fresh Eyes!
Fresh Eyes hasn’t spent ten thousand hours agonising over the plot
… and so is much more likely than you to find gaping holes in it.
“So the eel girl swam up the pipe and out the tap and that’s how she ended up in the dragon’s bathtub. Wouldn’t that mean she’d have to be less than two inches wide?”
I guess I had bigger pipes in mind.
“Why did the MC have to climb all the way up the treacherous mountain to get the sword before she could fly down on her dragon? Couldn’t the dragon have flown her up the mountain too?”
“So she could fight the ice troll who turns out to be her long-lost father” is not an adequate answer.
Darn you, two-way dragon transport!
Fresh Eyes doesn’t know what’s coming
Fresh Eyes: This scene felt slow to me.
Me: But what about the simmering tension as we wait for the MC to transform into a hawk with a woman’s head?
Fresh Eyes: Hawk? What? Where?
Me: Well, it hasn’t happened yet.
Fresh Eyes isn’t you
Fresh Eyes: Honestly, I didn’t like the MC. Her obsession with embroidery was ridiculously boring. It was all she ever thought about.
Me: How is that boring? I love embroidery!
Fresh Eyes: …
Okay, I see your point. Some things that delight me bore nearly everyone else. If I want a wider readership than the few people who collect used bolts, I should consider the effect of my writing on people who don’t share my obsessions.
Different Fresh Eyes see different things
I didn’t count how many people gave me feedback on my first chapter. Eight, perhaps?
What struck me was how little their comments overlapped.
Sure, some clunky or nonsensical sentences threw most people and some sentences drew positive comments from several readers.
But the bigger picture comments were almost entirely distinct.
From this I made a number of unscientific inferences:
- People experience your story differently depending on the knowledge and perspective they bring to their reading.
- There is no one best way of writing your story (or any given sentence). Some ways are more effective for certain sorts of readers, some ways are more effective for others. (Though some ways are universally ineffectual.)
- No character will be universally adored. A character who seems delightfully complex to one reader will seem disjointed and contradictory to another. A character who is admired as tough by one reader will be spurned as heartless by another.
- A certain level of craft and confidence in your opinion are required to make good use of feedback. Not all comments should be acted on, and it can be hard to tell which you should take seriously.
- Bullet points make me sound more serious and smart.
And thus a swelling of emotion is transformed into a ramble of words.
How are fresh eyes helpful to you? Have you been surprised by anything a reader has picked up on or by how they’ve interpreted something you’ve written?
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