Sunday, December 12, 2010

Writing Tip #26 - To Believe or Not To Believe

I read an interesting thread the other day on an online writers group I belong to. An author was complaining bitterly that a review she received from an online review blog was flawed because the reviewer admitted that he/she didn’t really like that genre, and couldn’t get into the story. The thing that I found most interesting was that the author chastised the reviewer for not being able to “suspend belief” and get into her story, placing all the blame on the reviewer.

I’ve heard a lot over the years about the reader needing to “suspend belief” in order to enjoy a story, and I must say that I think it is pure bullshit. It’s as if the author expects the reader to flush all his/her experience and knowledge, to be able to enjoy the tale being presented.

I feel that it is not the suspension of belief that needs to happen, but rather, the author needs to make the reader believe. It is the writer’s job to skillfully pull the reader into the story, by making the reader believe what is presented is real. The writer must make it so convincing, that the reader has no choice but to go along.

Admittedly, no writer likes even a mediocre review, let alone a bad one. And of course, there are hordes of reviewers posting reviews who don’t have a clue about what makes a good read. But blaming the reviewer is the tool of an amateur writer.

If an author receives a negative review, it is up to the writer to evaluate the comments and determine what could make the story better, thus turning it into a learning experience. In my humble opinion, a writer should always be looking for any feedback in order to hone his/her craft.

That said, I recently finished reading/reviewing a novel for a fellow writer at Dreamspinner Press. The story was somewhat interesting, but all the way through I kept seeing numerous issues that novice writers make, convincing me this was his debut story. I kept thinking, this is not a bad story for a first-time author. But as I finished the story, I read the author bio, and realized this author had written at least twelve other books! It became clear to me that this author is either a slow learner or he has never bothered to try to improve his craft.

I believe each writer should spend as much time learning their craft as they do writing. How else can we become accomplished writers? And getting back to negative reviews, they are feedback on what didn’t work for that particular reviewer. That should be a clear signal as what areas the writer can concentrate on improving.


Unknown said...

This was a great article. I recently read some posts from an Author blasting the reviewer and it was upsetting. The author came across as insensitive and petty. I'm an aspiring author and I was given some advice on this subject that I hope to take to heart. Some will love your story, a lot will like it and some will hate it. It's their opinion and they are entitled to it. Never, Never criticize a reviewers opinion. (At least not where others can hear you :)

Andrew Ashling said...

Great article , Alan, and I agree with the greater part.

And getting back to negative reviews, they are feedback on what didn’t work for that particular reviewer.

This is correct.

That should be a clear signal as what areas the writer can concentrate on improving.

Not necessarily. It's worth considering, but why take it seriously if you know the majority of readers like it just as it is? Or even if it's only you who like it? Writing a review doesn't make someone an authority. Let me repeat that: Writing a review doesn't make someone an authority. For some Shakespeare "doesn't work". They used to rewrite his plays to make them "better", because, as we know, old Bill was someone with little Latin and less Greek. What did he know about what makes a good play?

Handling a bad review must be one of the hardest things a writer ever has to do. Also, you can't win. The reviewer has a right to his or her opinion on your book and can demolish it. The writer however has no right to have an opinion on their review... not publicly anyway.

I really don't know for certain, but I think the best thing to do is try to learn what you can learn. If anything. Then move on.

Shelly Goodman Wright said...

Well said!