Yesterday I decided to look over some of my past work and was reminded that I’d entered a couple of contests – synopsis contests, first 100 word contests, passion contests. What I found most interesting was not so much the final scores, but the judges’ comments.
In one contest, two judges read the first chapter from one of my stories. One judge had mounds of praise. The other, clearly, wasn’t all that impressed. Both, however, touched on the same issue and that was the takeaway for me.
In another contest, a synopsis was judged and I found a particular comment very interesting. One dropped word from that synopsis changed the entire meaning for one of the three judges who’d read it. In changing the meaning for that judge, the missing word took logic and flow right out of the synopsis and she was left thinking I’d failed to tie up all the loose ends in a satisfying way. And, she was right. My fault. Instead of saying the villain was my hero’s “business partner”, I simply said he was my hero’s “partner”. When the villain did all of his crazy things and met his end, I, naturally, didn’t delve into the emotional trauma this would have for the hero on an intimate level. They weren’t lovers, they hadn’t been in a relationship beyond business. And yet, because of that one missing word, my synopsis left this one judge feeling dissatisfied and annoyed.
I know the written word is much easier to misunderstand than the spoken word. Because of that, I do try to say precisely what I mean. Unfortunately, that goal is not always met and so misunderstandings, misinterpretations occur. The best we, as writers, can do is aim for clarity. Write our stories, walk away and come back to them with fresh eyes. Chances are, problems will be more apparent after a break from the text and we’ll be able to make the necessary adjustments. Having a critique partner or two is also a tremendous aid in fixing issues like this – and others.
It’s not easy to put our work out there for scrutiny. We pour our energy, love and time into these stories, these characters that we develop from nothing, nurture and guide as if they were of our flesh. And then someone picks them apart, telling you what “doesn’t quite work” for them. It’s hard to knock down that ego-protecting wall we build around us, but it’s vital to do so.
When I first read the comments from the judge who misunderstood, I couldn’t imagine what she was thinking. When she mentioned, toward the end of her critique, that I would no doubt submit this work to a publisher open to non-traditional relationships, I finally realized what she thought. Confused as to why, I had to review what I’d written and that’s when I found the word “partner”.
It’s very simple – you cannot catch every glitch and you cannot please everyone. But we have to be open to criticism when we put such a subjective product out there with our names on it. Not everyone will “get it” the way we hope they will, but those who do will be your audience and it is for the sake of your audience that feedback of all kinds is to be embraced.
Keep writing! Keep improving! And keep an open mind.