steering the craft

the “likeability” trap

 

My dear storyteller, I hope no one has said this to you, but if you’ve heard it, please console yourself with the knowledge that you’re not alone. Buckle up and let’s get it over with:

“I just didn’t care about your main character. You need to make her more likeable. More relatable!”

Bah, humbug! I had to say it. Yet how many earnest writers have heard this all-too-common bit of feedback, licked their wounds for a minute, and then bravely proceeded to revise their draft to remove every character defect, cross word, and unpleasant facial expression from the manuscript?

Then, after all traces of humanity have been stripped out, the poor writer who’s fallen into the “likeability trap” throws in a saving-kittens-from-the-floodwaters scene for good measure, and perhaps adds a charming dollop of self-doubt and dorkiness to amp up...

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feedback without tears

 

Remember the famous baby shampoo ad? No more tears!

That this sudsy slogan is what today’s topic makes me think of is reveals a lot. Getting feedback on our writing can be overwhelming in a way that feels disproportionate. Depending on what that feedback is, it can make our day or keep us up all night fretting.

Consider how often you’ve heard this bundle of advice: Because writers “lack objectivity,” you must share your work for feedback, be in a critique group, have beta readers pore over your final draft, and/or pay for a professional edit, and you must rewrite, rewrite, rewrite to "fix" all the flaws found by this ragtag army of critics. 

But when does all this input start to be counterproductive? What if the feedback is contradictory, or just feels off? How do we know which notes to take and which to ignore? 

To give feedback on other’s work is a delicate task; to receive feedback...

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