Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Goldilocks Readers – too little, too much, or just right? by Leah St. James #amreading #amwriting

Several weeks ago, Margo bravely offered the reworked opening of her WIP (“On the Make,” Book 3 in her Brothers in Blue series) for some feedback.

I was the first to respond, and I questioned a couple things that confused me about the family dynamics. (Whose sons are they again???)

Jannine was next with some tough-love advice, including suggestions for obliterating info dumps.

Rolynn got stopped by some of the phrasing and character development and posed some questions to rethink the section.

Vonnie offered her version of the scene with some comedic elements.

And so it went.

It reminded me of the many committee meetings I’ve attended. You ask a question of a dozen people and get a dozen different answers. It’s not surprising in a meeting, and it’s not surprising from readers/writers either.

Just as each of us has a unique point a view, each of us has a unique “thing” we’re looking for in a book. 

We know, for example, that I love emotions and digging into relationships, so it wasn’t a surprise that I focused on the relationships in the scene.

Jannine likes “action, action, action,” so it makes sense that she suggested ways to bring more action to the scene.

What does intrigue me is that I didn’t necessarily see what my fellow Roses saw in the excerpt!

I didn’t get info dump at all from the scene. Introspection, yes, but I was completely hooked (although I did agree that Jannine’s suggestions were excellent!).

Similarly, I didn’t share Rolynn’s opinion of the main character (who had shown a lack of remorse over Husband No. 2’s death). I could absolutely see where she was coming from and how some would read it like that, but I was intrigued by the character’s reaction and just wanted to know more: Why isn’t she more upset about her husband’s death? Is she maybe (gasp) glad he’s dead? I was rooting for her without even knowing why or how she’d been widowed. (So maybe the task for Margo is to add one or two more elements that will endear the character to a reader—maybe a  tender exchange with one of the boys...something.)

Vonnie’s rewrite of the scene made me chuckle, and illustrated how a skilled writer can change the mood of a scene.


The varying reactions and suggestions made me ask myself: Is there a larger lesson here? What does it mean? 

Here's what I came up with.

It means, in this case, that Margo has a ton of suggestions to comb through to determine which are best for her project. :-) (Ultimately, she’ll have to satisfy her editor, who might have yet different ideas!)

It means that we shouldn’t despair when one reader loves the dark, grittiness of our story and another is  completely turned off. Or if one reader snaps up our romantic comedy and another calls it drivel. It’s normal to have a wide range of opinions. We are, I think, by nature Goldilocks readers.

But the biggest lesson to me is that as we craft our stories, we should each embrace our uniqueness. Yes, we need other sets of (skillful) eyes to help point out weaknesses, and we need to look at those suggestions with thick-skinned honesty. But we also need to trust our own voices and our own vision for the story. We need to own our stories and make them uniquely ours.

Once again I’m reminded how tricky and difficult this writing thing is! 

To my fellow 'Goldilocks-es':  Happy reading, happy writing!


Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil, and the power of love. Learn more at, visit her on Facebook or check out her Pinterest boards where she pins books and videos she loves, along with recipes she'll probably never try and gardens she'll never plant. :-)


Jannine Gallant said...

Interesting insights, Leah. I agree everyone looks for something different in books and appreciates a variety of things about them. But the one point I'd make is sub-genre. Readers of romantic suspense don't have the same expectations as readers of contemporary, etc. etc. Also that whole thing about creating a brand and being recognizable. Vonnie's comments are a perfect example of her brand, which is doused in humor. What readers want when you label a book by a sub-genre also comes into play. More focus on relationship development in contemporary. More focus on action in suspense. More focus on world building in sci-fi, etc. etc. I think it's something we, as writers, need to think about when we chose a sub-genre. What are the strongest elements of our writing and how can we best play to that particular audience. Also, when choosing a critique partner/editor, it's wise to find someone who has different strengths than your own so they can point out the areas where you might lack development. Didn't mean to write a novel about this! Great post!

Vonnie Davis said...

What Jannine said. WORD! Or perhaps I should simply say I agree. We have to remember every reader brings something different to the story and, as writers, we can't satisfy everything they bring. Think about it. Not every reader has the same amount of education. Or the same vocabulary level. Or the same interests. Where the reader resides plays into the mix, too. My critique partner who lives in the middle of the country did not know what flip flops were. Huh? In her area, they're called toe sandals. I kept them as flip flops because I felt it was a better known term. The age of the reader also muddles things. When I write, I imagine my audience as middle-aged. My critique partner is younger with a better knowledge of a more youthful jargon. She knows I want to widen my audience by appealing to more age groups, so she'll write in track changes "you sound old here." And I laugh. I AM old! How else would I sound? So your take on everything was spot on. Very insightful.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Good comments, Jannine and Vonnie. I think you nailed it Leah, all the way around. I have four critique partners which hail from three different "groups" that I've interacted with over the years. What I love, love, love about these ladies is they write different genres and they all see my stories from different angles. I get diverse opinions and suggestions. Now, you better believe that if they all mention the same thing, I make the change. But even if only one of them picks up on something, I stop and look at it. I might not always take their advice, and this plays into keeping my voice, but I always take away some aspect of how my readers will view it.

Jannine Gallant said...

SO TRUE, Vonnie. About the sounding old. My 21 year old daughter reads my stuff before I send it to my editor. She leaves comments like, "OMG Mom, seriously? No one says that. At least no one young." All of us who are over 50 should have a youthful reader to make our 20 or even 30 something heroes and heroines sound more realistic.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Great post, Leah. The parable about the blind men and the elephant comes to mind. When we are asked to respond to a text, I believe we're being asked to see it from our vantage point. So what the writer of the text is going to get from several responders will naturally vary, depending on the age, background, intellect, preference, emotional state of each reader. It's up to the writer to sort through all the responses she's given and create the elephant...or cheetah, or whatever...that she envisions. Candid, unfiltered responses are what I'm looking for, always. I consider this honesty and specificity a form of caring...I cherish my critical friends!

Alison Henderson said...

Your observations and conclusions are spot-on, Leah. They reflect my recent experience editing my last book. I had struggled so much writing it, and this time I had my two sisters and a mystery writer friend as beta readers and Jannine as editor. I got TONS of advice. LOL It was up to me to sort through it all, fix the common complaints, and choose the right path for my story and characters. For example, Jannine always tells me my characters sound too old. Like Vonnie said, I AM old. I also know my readers after all these years, and they're not the same age as my characters. They veer more toward the cozy mystery age group. However, when Jannine tells me my characters sound tired all the time, that needs to fixed! Critical input is invaluable--I would never have been able to publish this book without it--but ultimately, you're right. We do have to own our stories.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Talk about your great minds and/or twins separated at birth. Just what I needed to hear today, Leah. I was struggling with what to write for my post on Monday, June 11. Now I know!!! Bwwwaaaaaahhhhh! Another crack at Book 3, anyone? Seriously though, the insight and advice I received from my colleagues here at the ROP was truly valuable and much appreciated. Even, bonus, when Jannine's mother, a true reader, provided her take. Her input I really took to heart. How fortunate are all of us for the diversity of this group, not to mention the willingness to provide help and support. One of our many strengths is our diversity. As others as said, having a critique partner or partners with a slightly different take on things is invaluable. And who among us doesn't need a little tough love now and then? I know I do.

Leah St. James said...

So sorry to be late to respond, everyone! Got sucked into the day/paycheck job and am just crawling out of the rubble. :-)

Jannine, I think you hit the nail on the head. Sub-genre is definitely one of the big differentiators. Sometimes I find myself mixing genres in the same piece! Yikes! :)

Leah St. James said...

I'm "old" with you, Vonnie! I also imagine my readers in the maturing (40s and up) age bracket. Good point about vocabulary, education level, all factors into the reader's experience. (I've never heard of toe sandals either!)

Leah St. James said...

That's great to have that kind of diversity in feedback (and that you can trust it), Brenda. That must make for some interesting conversations (or email exchanges)!

Leah St. James said...

You're right, Rolynn, about honest critique being a special form of caring. I've never thought of it that way, but it is. It's also a skill, I think, to offer critical commentary in a constructive way. Thankfully I think everyone in this group has mastered that! :-)

Leah St. James said...

That's great that you were able to get so much feedback on your story, Alison. We never see what other people see in our own writing either, especially after we've written it then read it for editing x-number of times. I always appreciate beta readers pointing out things I've missed! And I think your books align perfectly with the cozy mystery reader. :-)

Leah St. James said...

Very fortunate, Margo. I'm glad you've been able to use all the suggestions and figure out what works for you. And that's very cool that Jannine's mother read and offered some advice! I'm looking forward to the day you post that the story is ready for purchase!

Diane Burton said...

What a great post, Leah. Every weekend, I participate in Weekend Writing Warriors, a blog hop where we post an 8-10 sentence snippet from one of our works (either published or in progress). I'm amazed at the insights other authors have into those few sentences. Eye opening! Some zero in on the characters' interaction, other see the action. Rolynn mentioned the blind man and the elephant. It's all about where we're coming from. That's how we need to take any feedback--consider the source (and I don't mean that sarcastically). Same with our readers. They bring their life experiences, their preferences to our books. In the end, though, we have to please ourselves. Our we satisfied with/proud of what we've written.