Congratulations, you’ve finished writing a story or a novel. But you’re not done yet. Now you need feedback.
You give the manuscript to writing friends and ask them to find all your errors. This step is psychologically difficult and dealing with who and how and what you listen to is a different topic for a different article. For the sake of brevity, let’s assume you’re already involved in a local writers’ group (and if you’re not, go to Meetups.com and search Writing).
Your group reads your story and delivers their comments. You listen and take notes and thank them for their feedback. Sorting through their notes, you see comments like, “I don’t believe the character would do this,” and “Your writing is forced here,” and “I want to see more...” But what do these comments even mean? How is a character believable? How is writing forced? They want to see more of what exactly?
Over time, you’ll hear these (and many other) platitudes again and again. They quickly become clichés. The problems with clichés and platitudes is that they may actually be the correct comment, but the critics avoid explanation by just presuming you understand. I’ve found that many writers – especially beginning and intermediate writers (and even those giving the critique) – still don’t really understand the many nuances of the clichéd platitude. So let's dive in to what some of these mean.
This months cliché: “I’d like to see more...” This is one of the most hurtful clichés a beginning writer might hear.
Wanting “to see more” can mean multiple things. First, it can simply mean the reader liked the story and would continue reading if the book continued on (warning: this is often just an easy compliment to give bad writing). Second, the critic is indicating their personal interests. They like stories about volcanoes and so they want to see more scenes involving that volcano you mentioned. And third, it means there is an aspect of your writing that engaged them, and they want to continue feeling engaged. The first two meanings you can dismiss – take the compliment and move on, or ignore the comment because the book’s not about the volcano. The third, however, can cause some damage.
When a critic says “I want to see more…” they are, in fact, asking for LESS!
Example: You’ve written an engaging scene between a teacher and her struggling student. Your critic says they "want to see more". So, you go home and write a bunch more about the teacher-student interactions. You give it to your critic again and she says, “I liked the other version better” or “This doesn’t seem to have the power of the first scene" (or, worse, again says "I want to see more"). You’ll start to wonder what you did wrong – after all, you gave the critic what she wanted, why didn’t the story improve?
“I want to see more…” is about the writing style, not the plot or characters or reader interest. In other words, the critic felt engaged because of how you wrote, not what you wrote. This means that you should mimic and emulate the style in that section elsewhere. Did that scene move quickly? Then speed up other scenes. Did that scene give sensory images and create mood? Then create images and mood in other scenes.
“I’d like to see more…” also means you should not add more because the reader engaged with the certain level of information -- the combination of actions, images and narrative. If your readers are engaged and asking "What will happen next?", that’s great. But it doesn’t mean you need to answer all their questions. The bits of mystery, those unanswered questions ( different from just being plain confused) will keep the reader reading. Don’t shift the story to explain. Don't slam on the narrative breaks to give details about the characters' past actions or to fill in some minute detail a critic found personally interesting. Not only is it boring to explain each detail of your story, trying to fill in all gaps is just plain impossible.
When you have the opportunity to respond to your writing friends’ comments, your only question should be “Why?” Ask them why they want to see more. If their comments come out similar to “Because I liked it” you can ignore that comment (take the compliment, but don’t change your writing). If they detail how the plot engaged them, listen – but don’t immediately give more plot information in that section. If they detail how the writing was particularly sharp, absorb every word. Emulate your own style to keep the reader engaged throughout.
Remember: Most often, less is more.