I’ve encountered a lot of writing feedback over the years.
Feedback that’s good, bad, or cocktail of both — from the 15 workshops I joined in college (including my time in the MFA) to my current experiences as a copywriter.
I’ve also learned how to get the most out of all that feedback. So this week I decided to share six types of story feedback and what do with each.
The Opinion is completely subjective feedback, and its purpose is to gauge what is and isn’t working for readers on a personal level. Isolated opinions offer some insight, but in general, you’ll want to pay attention to the patterns that emerge from multiple readers’ opinions.
- Focus on: doubling down on the things your readers tend to like, and consider dialing back the things they don’t like.
- Ignore: suggestions for phrasings, story elements, or plot directions that are purely a matter of taste.
The Misdiagnosis is feedback where the reader has noticed something wrong in your writing, but they struggle to identify the issue — so they “misdiagnose” the problem. It’s tempting to think this is a False Alarm (#6), but this type of feedback is actually very common and well intentioned, so be on the lookout!
- Focus on: reverse engineering the true problem by closely reading the feedback and the passage it applies to. After identifying the real issue, work on a solution.
- Ignore: their original diagnosis and any suggestions that are now irrelevant.
The Bad Remedy gets one step further than the Misdiagnosis. Here, the reader correctly identifies the problem, but the solution they provide either doesn’t solve the issue, is overly subjective (see #1), or has a negative ripple effect that the reader didn’t expect.
- Focus on: determining a new solution that works for your story and style.
- Ignore: any solutions that aren’t right for your story.
The Right Cure is the best kind of feedback, because it not only properly diagnoses a problem in your story, but also provides an effective solution. This feedback is easy to identify when it hits like a lightning-strike revelation — but sometimes the accuracy of the feedback or the tone of its delivery puts us on the defensive. We might try to write it off as an Opinion or False Alarm, but it’s important to accept the Right Cure when it’s offered.
- Focus on: following the feedback. You can still tweak or build upon the solution if better ideas come to you; just make sure you’re still solving the problem.
- Ignore: any temptation to dismiss the feedback out of pride or a feeling of being wronged due to an uncouth delivery.
The Divination is any feedback that provides the right solution to a problem, even when the reader misdiagnoses (or doesn’t try to diagnose) the problem itself. This often arises when a reader critiques mostly by feel, and while they may struggle to articulate why something is wrong, they feel something is wrong and are able to identify an effective solution. This type of feedback can often look like an Opinion since it lacks justification, but it’s always worth considering.
- Focus on: identifying whether their suggestion improves the story, and if it does, implement it.
- Ignore: the feedback if you’re confident it’s just an Opinion that doesn’t align with your vision for the story.
The False Alarm is feedback that tries to solve a problem that isn’t there. This type generally comes from a reader who’s distracted, reading too quickly, or trying too hard to find things to criticize (which can occasionally happen in formal critique settings like workshops, where some feel pressure to always contribute). Note, however, that this type of feedback is rare; what you think is a False Alarm is more often than not a Misdiagnosis, a Bad Remedy, or even a poorly delivered Right Cure.
- Focus on: identifying whether the feedback actually is a False Alarm or something legitimate.
- Ignore: the feedback, but only if you’re absolutely confident it’s a False Alarm. (If you find yourself receiving a lot of False Alarms, reflect on whether you’re dismissing too much feedback, and if you aren’t, consider looping in some new readers.)
Some Parting Rules of Thumb
Now that you have a grasp on these different types of feedback, I want to leave you with some general rules of thumb for revision:
- Assume all feedback has the potential to improve your story, even if parts of it are misguided.
- Know that everyone is capable of providing helpful feedback, even if they’re less experienced than you are.
- Remember your vision as a writer matters, so don’t feel obligated to follow feedback that pushes your story in a direction that contradicts what you want to create.
- Never mistake the need for feedback as a shortcoming; instead, recognize it as an opportunity. Everyone needs feedback, but not everyone is willing to seek it out.
Good luck, and good writing, everybody! I hope this helps you sift through the feedback on your next story.
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