Responding to stories

One of the best articles on responding to stories and listening to responses that I have ever read. Ever.  “The Business Rusch: Perfection” by Kristine Rusch.

For those of you that have seen my presentation on The Hunger Games, you’ll recognize the idea immediately. O, but Kristine says it with so much more insight and grace.  

No, I’m not going to comment. Just go read that essay.


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4 Responses to Responding to stories

  1. I read Kris Rusch’s post yesterday, too, and it struck me like the proverbial thunderbolt. In the past I’ve been guilty of delivering an all-too thorough prescriptive critique with the best on intentions. More recently I’ve tried doing differently, but still hitting the prescriptive part. I think it was you that actually spelled out the difference between descriptive and prescriptive critiquing. Rusch goes even further with her three simple questions. I also find Card’s “three ughs”– where was it unclear, unbelievable and uninteresting a very handy tool.

    Keeping in mind the intended audience is crucial, too, isn’t it?

  2. John Brown says:

    Well, I don’t know how you keep the intended audience in mind if you’re not part of it. Unless there’s something specific to include or exclude that’s part of the package.

    For example, you may like a MG novel, but it has profanity that won’t fly with parents. So you could point that out. Or you might like a novel a lot, but because it’s using huge college-level words, you might wonder if the MG readers will be able to get it. I can see stuff like that.

    But I think the key insight is that you read, looking for an experience, not to critique. You just experience it. You put it down where you would if it was in the store. If you don’t like it, that just means you don’t. Not that it’s bad. And you do NOT focus on rules. As a writer, you don’t take counsel from those who hate your story. The goal is that readers are entertained, not that you follow rules. And you don’t expect 100% perfection.

    “A good plan, violently executed right now is better than a perfect plan next week” — Gen. George Patton.

    At the same time, I do think Kris’s three responses can be taken too far so they become fairly unhelpful. That’s all you’re going to say? You must say nothing else? Really?

    A wise reader CAN help you improve a story IF that wise reader is simply reporting their experience, and doesn’t come to critique, and stops where they normally would. AND if the writer treats their report as nothing more than it is–ONE data point.

    So let’s say you have a reader who read to the end and said “I loved it.” Was there anything confusing? Anything you didn’t believe? Any parts where you started to skim and got bored?

    Notice: you’re not focusing on rules there. You’re just focusing on effect. On experience. And you’re doing it with someone who liked the story.

    Brandon Sanderson is selling books getting millions in contracts. He does multiple drafts. Ken Follett is a grand master and sells millions and does drafts. Orson Card has his wife read everything. If it stalls or doesn’t work, he’ll write it again. A lot of best-selling excellent writers do.

    So if Kris is suggesting excellent writers do not do that, then she’s demonstrably, flat-out wrong. But I think her post was focused on the mindset we take when testing our stories and providing responses.

  3. John,

    I agree about the key insight. That’s an excellent point, and one that too many writers (this one included) can overlook all too easily. Moreover, critique mindset can keep the writer from experiencing story as an eager reader, and instead comparing everything to, well, a perfect standard that doesn’t exist. If I *have* to read something with an idea of contrasting it with that standard, I won’t have the reader’s experience, which is to sit down, begin reading, and see where it takes me. And if I can’t read further, then I can ask myself, why did I stop?

    As for feedback, again I agree with you. I need more than she asks for– Card’s three points help a lot here.

    As for doing multiple drafts, it is a necessary and a fundamental part of the process for me. I think it is for most writers. The stories I’ve sold wouldn’t have done so without rewriting and multiple drafts.

    Happy writing!

  4. Ben says:

    Awesome post. Thanks for pointing it out! I really need to bookmark Kristine’s blog…