Thursday, May 19, 2011

Uncovering Invisible Story Problems

Sometimes when you write a story, it seems like all the pieces just fit together perfectly. You’ve nailed the voice, pacing, plot, setting, characters, tone, and so on. You think, there’s no way you can make it any better. It’s perfect. But a funny thing happens when someone else reads it; they don’t get it or they think it’s okay, but not great, or they just don’t like it. What happened?

Well first off, everyone has different tastes. What you like, might not be liked by everyone else. As the old saying goes, you can’t make everybody happy all the time— or something like that.

But there’s something else going on that makes your perfect story not so perfect to other people. When you write something, there’s a personal connection between you and the piece. The words you frame take on a personal meaning to you that often go beyond the printed page. While you might be reading the exact same words as someone else, you’re interpretation of them is far different due to your personal or unique understanding of those words. That unique insight or understanding often bridges gaps or overrides problems that others will see in the story who do not share that same insight or interpretation. That’s why critique groups are so essential.

A good critique group helps you see problems or solutions that you often are unable to see on your own. From lifetimes built on different experiences and circumstances than your own, they can see the imperfections in what you once believed to be the perfect story. By bringing those imperfections to light, you have the opportunity to make your story even better.

However, taking advice from a critique group can be tricky. What if you don’t agree with what they say? Well, the choice is always yours as to whether or not you act on that advice. The truth is that sometimes critique group members might give you bad advice. But if you find that multiple critiquers are giving you the same or similar suggestions, even if you don’t agree with it, it pays to try to understand why they are saying what they’re saying. Ultimately, that usually points to a problem that needs fixing one way or another.

The point is that to make your story the best it can be you need the help of others. You need readers that can look at your story from a perspective different and removed from your own. You need readers that will point out problems that you don’t want to admit or believe are there. You need readers who will be honest in their assessment, and can give you constructive suggestions on how to address them. But perhaps the hardest things is that you need to be able to hear those problems and receive those suggestions without taking them personal, and with an attitude that they present an opportunity to make a good story great.


  1. Enjoyed this piece. I recently posted tips for writers' groups on my blog. I just posted your article to my FB page.

  2. Karen, thanks! Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for sharing.

  3. Hey, Ken! You are right about needing other people to read our work. When my husband read the manuscript of my novel before I submitted it, he found a lot of things that I hadn't even thought of that I could change. And once I did, the story turned out so much better - and so much more believeable.

  4. Great post! I added a link to it on my blog as part of a blogger friendship award.

  5. A lot of good points here. It's hard sometimes to take the critique that's handed you, but in the end you'll have a better story if you do. Thanks for the post!