Feedback on writing is a tricky thing. Flat statements are just frustrating. “I loved that,” makes me happy, but doesn’t help me much. “I hate that,” hurts, but it doesn’t tell me what didn’t work or what to look at and maybe fix. I say maybe, because no writer is ever going to please everyone. And that’s probably a good thing.
I followed a LONG thread once on Goodreads about reviews–what readers, bloggers, and writers considered a good review. I liked the comments because they came at reviews from a lot of different angles. Readers looked for information that would help them decide if they wanted to read a book or not, if it was worth picking up; and I have to say, the readers proved generous and discriminating to authors. They wanted to like their books. If there were characters they could like or a plot that could entertain them, they were pretty forgiving of flaws if they saw some potential or promise for improvement. I found that encouraging.
Bloggers read a book and tried their best to give enough details to inform readers what was good about it and what wasn’t. I learned a lot from their comments because they took the time to list what they considered each book’s strengths and weaknesses. And writers tended to comment on how they approached good or bad feedback.
I’m thinking about all of this because I just got a new review on Amazon for Fallen Angels. I’m new enough that I don’t have that many, so a reader’s take on my work gets me pretty excited. This review particularly struck me because the comments were so thoughtful. The reader gave me three stars and said that she liked my book, but wasn’t crazy about it, that if it had more depth, it could have been a knockout. I really appreciated the time and thought the reviewer put into my novel–maybe because I’ve been trying to put more depth into my writing, and hopefully, each book has a little more than the one before it. But that brings me to the next question. What really adds depth?
My opinion is that depth comes from conflict and emotions. If we watch a character struggle with internal and external conflict and try to achieve a goal that’s important to him against great odds, if an author can bring that struggle to life, the character should have depth. The more he struggles, the more we care. Revealing the character’s frustration and determination and his inner battles makes him more real. Internal dialogue can reveal his reactions in scenes, but his actions speak just as loudly–probably more so. “Actions speak louder than words” is just as true in fiction as real life. If a character tells himself that he’d give his life for his friend and then walks away when his friend is jumped, leaving him to battle by himself, the reader knows how that character really feels. If he feels guilty for his actions later, the writer’s given him a new layer of depth. On the other hand, if he has to walk away, when he doesn’t want to, sacrificing his friend to save others, the author’s created even more depth, because the more internal conflict for the character, the more powerful the story.
I’m starting work on my third Enoch/Voronika novel later this week. That should keep me busy for a few months to come. Let’s hope I can add more depth to this one. I’m trying!