May 1st, 2005

Illustmaker me

Wise readers

I've been re-reading Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (whatever you think of Card's politics, I recommend this book and his other, Characters and Viewpoint; they're good books about writing with good, solid, specific advice), and he mentions toward the end that someone a writer really needs is a "wise reader." One of the things he points out is that the wise reader is not an editor or a copyeditor--those are different functions. And he said something interesting, which I realized really cuts to the heart of what we mean by "good feedback." What he says is, "But first you have to understand that a Wise Reader is not someone to tell you what to do next--it's someone to tell you what you have just done. In other words, you want your spouse or friend to report to you, in detail and accurately, on the experience of reading the story."

I think that's a really important distinction between the Wise Reader and the beta-reader or editor. Beta-ing a story may include, "Wow, I liked that image," but it's mostly about saying, "You need to watch your commas... this plot twist is odd... SPELLING!!!... Dialogue is off here." The Wise Reader is the one who says, "When I read X, this is what it seemed to be." It may lead to a revelation that does change planned events, because the writer may see something that's in there clear as day for WR that s/he never suspected while writing it. Or it may lead to scaling back a character because too much attention has been paid to him and WR is (rightly) perceiving him as more important than he is. Then again, it may show an interest that the writer didn't think she had, and the character might be bolstered, made more central, and so on, if you're doing an ongoing story. (I've been lucky enough to have WRs on a couple of ongoing stories, and this sort of thing happens a lot.) A one-shot may use these things in another draft, or they might be used in the next story.

Card suggests "training" WRs by asking questions at the end of a reading--like, "What did you make of the character So-and-so?" or "How does such-and-such event strike you as read?" I guess if I'm going to toss a question out for discussion, it would be, would it be a good idea for writers and artists seeking feedback to ask specific questions? Not things like, "Do you like my story?" or "Isn't Marisu the coolest?" or leading questions like, "Did my attempt to make the scene look dark make the action more sinister?" but things about how the reader has experienced the story or chapter, just kind of, "These are things I'd like to know," or would that seem pushy? Or would it seem stifling if other things happened to be what struck a reader's eye?

Then again, the suggestion is just for one Wise Reader--maybe the questions should just be directed an individual person.

Or not at all.

Comments? Thoughts? Bueller?