Minor Characters

Recently, in the circles that I’m in, more and more people are asking what to do about minor characters. They want to flush them out, give them their own backstory, their own story, understand their background, and everything that makes them tick, but should they do that? How much attention should we give our minor characters? To address this, let’s look at real life.

There are people you encounter every day that you know nothing about. You go to the gas station, fuel up, go inside to get a snack, and the only words exchanged between you and the cashier are:

“Hello, how are you today?”

“I’m great, thanks.”

“Your total will be $5.98.” A pause as the cashier accepts the cash from you, and then she smiles at you and hands you your purchased item. “Thank you, and have a great day.”

“Thanks. You too.” And you leave.

Now, you know nothing about that girl. You don’t know how old she is, if she’s in high school or college, if she’s married or single or has any kids. You don’t know what her talents are, her skills are, or her dreams. You know absolutely nothing, but you’re okay with that. Why? Because you have someplace to be, and getting stuck in a conversation may distract you from what you have to do.

So having characters you know nothing about is fine in a story. Now, another instance of minor characters would be those people you run into on occasion. You’ve seen them enough times you might know their names and greet them. For instance, my mother and I used to go to the park and walk every morning, and at the same time there was this older couple also walking the trail. Their names were Vic and Sid. We knew nothing more of each other except for our names, and we’d greet each other warmly each time we saw one another:

“Hey! How are you? Been a while since we’ve seen you.”

“Yeah, been busy—family stuff, but it’s nice to be back.”

“It’s great to see you again.”

“You too.” And we’d just keep walking, minding our own business.

Another way we may encounter minor characters in real life may be those people we see on a regular basis and may or may not recall the person’s name, but we have a fair idea of what their personality is like and maybe even their dreams. However, they like to talk with you at the most inopportune times, and you never really want to get too drawn into a conversation. An example of this is a cashier at Wal-Mart who has checked out your items on a regular basis. You can’t recall her name, so you have to keep looking at her tag, which reads ‘Jenny’. She remembers you though even if she doesn’t recall your name. You’re the person who’s published a book. In her eyes, you’re famous, and she likes talking with you in a loud voice. She tries to be nonchalant about your accomplishments, and every time she sees you, she tells you about her plans of making a movie. You encourage her, but really, standing in line at the cashier in Wal-Mart is not the best place for this conversation since there are other people in line waiting for their items to be checked through. However, you never see her outside of Wal-Mart, and every time you talk with her, she keeps saying the same thing, and it’s like she never takes any steps toward fulfilling her dreams. You don’t really have time to invest in this person, but you try to be nice.

Now all these are minor characters you may meet in real life. In stories, your characters will encounter similar characters, and you don’t have to flush them out thoroughly. Giving them a personality is always good, and sometimes minor characters will surprise you by actually contributing majorly to the story in ways you never expected, and that’s all right.

The main thing to keep in mind is, “Is this minor character important to the story? Does this character contribute to the story? Do they contribute in a small way or in a big way?” If it’s a small way, you don’t have to develop them too much. Yes, you as the author might know their entire life story and all their hopes and dreams, but that might not be important to the story you’re writing. It’d be very confusing if you have a story about someone who’s on the run from the law, and he checks into this motel where there’s this guy behind the counter who’s dream is to become a cowboy, and suddenly the story shifts to trying to let him accomplish his dream. Sure, there are ways of making the work, but what about the guy who’s on the run?

You’re not obligated it give every character major screen time. In someone else’s life, you are a minor character, someone who they merely passed by on the sidewalk. Yes, you have a lot of depth, huge dreams, and your own bag of troubles, but to that individual whose life you don’t impact, you’re just another face, and that’s okay.

So, when you’re writing a story, if you don’t know how much you should develop a minor character, look at the story, ask how important the character is to the story and how much they contribute to it. Go ahead and give them some personality or quirk to make them memorable to the reader, but then move on. You could have a memorable minor character, and this could be someone that you decide to come back to later and write his own story, but for the time being, don’t overwhelm your book with too many characters.

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Dealing with Procrastination

“How do you deal with procrastination?” I’ve been asked, and I ask them, “Well, what’s your reason for procrastinating?”  Usually I don’t get much of a response except for an indecisive, uncertain answer such as a shrug of the shoulder and, “I don’t know.” In order to tackle procrastination, you must first determine why you do it. It is a means to pass time, but pass time from what? For us writers, usually we’re procrastinating from working on our stories in one way or another. What are some ways and reasons we procrastinate? Here’s a list:

  • Distracted
  • Bored
  • Really just don’t want to do what you have to do
  • Not even sure what you’re supposed to do
  • Don’t know how to do what you’re supposed to do
  • Tired or beyond exhausted
  • Not feeling well
  • Can’t get your thoughts organized
  • Totally unmotivated to do anything
  • Lacking direction
  • Keep getting interrupted
  • Stressed out
  • Health issues
  • Reluctant to write
  • Lacking confidence in your abilities
  • Lack of time
  • Family/friend drama
  • Life issues
  • Have other things you’d rather do

And the list can go on. Now, there is no magic formula how to not procrastinate. Everyone is different, and there is different ways to combat this. Some people are more self-motivated while other people really struggle to get much done. You need to determine what kind of person you are and what your unique struggles are. If you realize you lack self-motivation but really want to change that, you need to start setting realistic goals for yourself. Let’s say you struggle with writing anything in your story, but you want to get better at that. Start by telling yourself to write at least 250-500 words a day. You have no excuses. You can do it. You simply need to make the time to do that. You can ask a friend to hold you accountable, but you don’t want to rely on that individual. You must become independent and self-driven.

As you do this, you will find that this new drive doesn’t only affect how you write, but it also touches upon the rest of your life and how you conduct yourself. You see, it takes time to get something time. If you can measure how much time each project takes, you can manage it accordingly. People have lost the sense of being accountable for how they spend their time. If you’re trying to become more self-motivated, start observing how you spend your time. One way to do this is to take a calendar at the end of the day and write the major things you accomplished during that day or what major things happened to you during that day. Having a blank day makes you feel like you totally wasted all that time, which cannot be redeemed.

Always try to have a short To-Do list every day of things that are within your ability to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be a long list but rather realistic. For instance, today I only have a few things on my list to do. It looks like this:

  1. Write new blog posts
  2. Proof/edit 15 chapters
  3. Post author interview
  4. Go to gym and swim

Of course that’s not including the everyday chores I have to do. These are things totally within the realm of possibility. Yes, the proofing and editing of fifteen chapters can be daunting, and I’m really not looking forward to that, but I did the math. If I do 15 chapters a day, I will have completed the book by Saturday. Once it’s completed, I can send it on to my proofreader and to my editor, and they can begin the process of proofing and editing it themselves. The sooner they get it, the sooner they’ll get it back to me, and the sooner I can publish it. That is the only thing pushing me. I’ve already completed #3 on that list, and I’m currently working on #1. Around 3PM today, I’ll be able to hit the gym. And that is how I’m able to accomplish things on my To-Do list. I don’t list every little thing I need to do (like cooking dinner or cleaning out the cat litter box or feeding the dog), but I list the things that I’d like to accomplish during the day.

So, as you contemplate procrastination, reflect on your life, your motives, and what motivates you. I can’t give you a checklist that will make you more productive. I can’t change who you are—only you can do that, but you can only do that once you realize who you really are, and that takes some self-reflection and being honest with yourself.

A Unique Kind of Character Interview

Character interviews and character questionnaires—the point of these is for the author of the character to get to know him by asking him rounds of questions. If it’s a questionnaire, it will look something like this:

Name:

Age:

Height:

Hair color:

Eye color:

Parents:

Siblings:

Favorite food:

Favorite color:

And so forth. This is a way to find out a lot about your character…but most likely stuff you may never, ever use because it’s not important to the story. I’m not saying questionnaires are wrong and useless—quite the contrary. They can be very helpful and useful to some writers, but other writers may find them overwhelming.

Now though, there is such a thing as ‘character interviews’. In these, the author asks the character a question, and the character shows his or her personality through the answers. These work exceptionally well in order to get to know your character for yourself, but there’s only one problem. You interview your own character, and the character is in your head, and your own thoughts could influence the character’s response. This isn’t bad because this is just a fact of writing, but what if there’s a better way to interview characters? This is something I’ve explored with multiple authors.

This new format is very similar to the new kind of author interview I introduced a few weeks ago. A fictional scene is set, two of us meet, we write in third person, questions are asked, questions are answered, and you see the character in action rather than merely hearing their responses. For the Character Interviews, I allowed the authors to choose the setting—something from their story world—so their character would feel comfortable on their own turf.

I then came in, and I am not a character—this was difficult for both author and character to comprehend, and they kept trying to tie me to their reality, but I had to stay outside their reality because it allowed me to ask questions that would probably get another character of the story killed. How exactly did I remain outside their reality? I set one rule: no touching. Even if a character did try to touch me, he would pass through me as through I were a ghost. This was incredibly helpful when I came face-to-face to some savage, bloodthirsty villains because I was able to ask them pointed questions they hated to hear, and if they lashed out at me, they couldn’t harm me. This accomplished two things: 1) took control away from the villains, and they loathe that, so it shows a different shade of them, and 2) allowed me to stay focused on the interview and questions rather than getting caught up in an actual story scene. The point of these interviews is to ask questions—not become part of a story. That is why I set that rule in place.

Not all characters I interviewed were antagonists. Sometimes I interviewed the protagonist, and depending on the character’s personality, it was either a witty and charming interview or it was a cautious, carefully probing questioning. Some characters were forthright and confident, but others were withdrawn, distrusting, and insecure. To each of these, I had to adapt my approach to ask them questions.

What does this kind of character interview accomplish? In this type of interview, there is the element of the unknown. Neither you nor your character know what I will ask next. You are confident that you know your characters very well, and instead of trying to trip them up yourself with difficult questions, you’re completely backing up your character. Both your character and you are absolutely engaged in answering the question—rather than you trying to come up with questions which your character may or may not answer. Having someone from the outside come in and interview the character in a story form really gives the author and the readers a chance to learn who that character is. Being able to use body language allows for the character to show his true colors without having to say anything. I once interviewed a villain who I enraged so much that he had to go and get a drink, but he was still furious and squeezed the glass until it burst in his hand…and then he answered my question. If we were just showing the question and answer, we wouldn’t have been able to show his full rage.

Since an outside person is asking the question, this allows the author to learn so much about their character because they are forced to dig deep and find answers to questions they may never have thought of to ask. Sometimes the author realizes their character is completely cliché and shallow. In these cases, I’d pause the interview and inform the author of my observations. If they wanted to know how to make a stronger character, I’d make recommendations, and then we’d redo the interview after they’ve had a chance to recreate the character. It is amazing to observe the difference between the two interviews once the author has really delved deep into his character and forced him to take shape rather than letting him be ambiguous. But most characters I’ve interviewed have been well-developed. It’s just a matter of probing deep and uncovering the truth behind their motives and the depth of their beliefs.

Here’s what a few of the authors, whose characters I interviewed, said about the experience:

Nan Sampson Bach

This was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had! I knew my villain had a short temper, even though he prides himself on being so controlled. Kelly managed to enrage him so much he completely lost it. It was hilarious! The questions really made me think too (seriously, it was getting hard to tell who was doing the thinking, me or him), about his motivations, his underlying belief systems and a host of other things. I thought I had a handle on it, but this interview brought up some good stuff I can play with. So not only a FAB time, but useful for me the author and hence for my readers too! Thank you, Kelly!

Matthew Dale

So I have to be honest, this interview was a mulligan. The first time Kelly interviewed this character, he did not perform well. I don’t have a lot of experience writing villains and it showed. That being said, this interview was a huge learning experience! Kelly was awesome. She was patient and encouraging, but was very direct about what could be improved. That directness was tempered with kindness and an attitude of wanting to see a fellow writer improve their craft, which cushioned her critique. The “redo” interview was much better, and I really felt like I got to know my own character. She really made me dig into his motivations, and she didn’t hold back in asking him tough questions. It’s helpful to sit down and actually role play a character, which is something I hadn’t really done prior to this interview. This was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had as a writer. I would encourage other writers who want to do this interview to be willing to listen to the opinion of others, and at least be willing to consider that opinion. You may learn something new about your character you never considered before.

Kristen Moger

I found Kelly Blanchard’s character interviews a fascinating journey into my own character. It is an interesting experience to take a character out of my own head and make them come alive for another person. As a writer, it is a challenge I loved as it brought me a greater awareness as to my character’s motivation and potential. Thanks, Kelly, for the opportunity.

Clint Brill

Kelly approached me to do a character interview and, for some strange reason, I agreed. I’d never done a character interview before so I wasn’t sure how it would work out. I was worried about it and considered making an excuse to get out of it. Even at zero hour, as I was typing up the intro to get the interview started, part of me was still trying to think of how to get out of it. I couldn’t think of anything and I’m glad I didn’t. The interview was a lot of fun, and I was sad when our time was up. Kelly has a way of putting interviewees at ease and make the interview fun. Janus, the character I used for the interview, is very reticent when it comes to talking about himself, but Kelly got him to open up and reveal more than he has in any of the stories he’s appeared in. She even got him to reveal his plans for the future. Those plans were a surprise to me because I didn’t know anything about them. Because Kelly was able to make the interview fun and interesting, I enjoyed the process and learned something about my character that I didn’t know before. Kelly is a skilled and delightful interviewer. She can interview me or my characters any time she wants.

Lia Rees

In my second interview with Kelly, I was able to explore the personality of a supporting character who previously hadn’t seemed real to me. The style of interview was vital to this exploration. Kelly entered the world of my character, Myriam, with curiosity and openness. She easily grasped the unusual setting, psychological climate and areas of conflict. She asked probing questions, gently suggested potential pathways, and showed a general spirit of empathy. Immersing myself fully in my character’s reality, I was able to draw from intuitive methods as well as intellectual ones to understand her better than I had before.

Virginia Carraway Stark

This is what it is like:

You open those doors in your mind that release your characters to be free in their world. When you go to those familiar places, you notice something different…A new door where there was no door before.

That is what it is like to be interviewed as your character like my character, Sasha Wheaton, was interviewed last week by Kelly Blanchard. It’s the same as writing in many ways but with the added dimension of penetrating, rational thought being added to the process. By adding this we don’t just stay in our character’s comfort zone but penetrate deep into their hearts and minds. You’ll find more there than when you first opened that door. A vital tool for all writers seeking to hone their craft, and if you’re a writer, you always are a seeker.

<~>~<~>~<~>

These are just a few examples of what people have experienced with this form of character interviews. I am currently still in the process of finishing all 25 interviews, and that won’t wrap up until next week. I will begin posting the interviews regularly once I’m finished, and you can find the interviews on my other blog: Meeting With The Muse

Writers have discovered this to be a fun and unique way to get exposure for their work as well as introduce their characters, story, and writing style to readers, and I intend to continue offering this service to writers. If you are interested, you may join my group on Facebook: Author Kelly Blanchard, and watch for the announcement when I open the invitation for more people to be interviewed.

You never know what you’ll learn in these interviews, and this is a very unique way to introduce you and your work to potential readers.

My First Interview

Last week I introduced the idea of a different kind of Author Interviews. One of the people I interviewed was Amy Preder, and she wrote a blog post describing her experience. Check it out! Next week begins the Character Interviews done similarly to these Author Interviews, and I plan to write a post about those once I have done a few. In the meanwhile, enjoy Amy’s post!

amy preder

On 25 May 2015, I had my very first author interview with Kelly Blanchard. I’ve been the interviewer before, but never the interviewee. I must admit, I was more than a bit nervous. I’ve read plenty of author interviews before. Most are dull, to say the least. I was definitely afraid of being another one of those dull, lifeless interviews. I am just getting started in writing, and I thought the last thing I needed was to hamstring myself by seeming boring or uninspired.

As it turned out, I need not have feared. Kelly’s style for this interview is not the same as the standard author interview. Instead, she swept me into a wonderful imaginary world, Kelly’s Muse Shop. Instead of a boring and predictable set of questions, we co-wrote a story. Each of us wrote ourselves as a character in this story. Kelly did a great job of putting…

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A Different Kind of Author Interview

Author Interviews can be done in person or online. If it’s in person, you’d likely sit across from the interviewer and be asked numerous questions, “So, when did you start writing?”, “Tell us about the book you’ve published?”, “Where do you get your ideas?”, “What advice do you have for other writers?”, and so forth. You have no idea what question they’d ask next, and if you’re on camera and are a natural introvert, this is torture for you as you try not to let your nervousness show through while at the same time, you don’t want to come across as overly excited about your books. There’s a balance, but who really knows where it is? However, my main focus of this post isn’t about in-person interviews. I can’t help you there, so you’re on your own! But I want to focus on online interviews.

These interviews are much less intimidating. There’s a screen between you and them, and what usually happens is the interviewer will email you a list of questions and ask that you send back the answers by a certain deadline. In the end, the format looks something like this (DISCLAIMER: this is a fictional interview—not based on any real interview but made up specifically for this post.)

Q: So, when did you begin writing?

A: I began writing when I was really young. I can’t even remember the first story that I wrote!

Q: What genre do you write?

A: Fantasy! And a bit of science fiction—if you can believe that.

Q: Who is your favorite author?

A: I really like C. S. Lewis and Tolkien. Very awesome!

Q: What inspired your book?

A: Well, I was sitting in a coffee shop when I overheard this guy asking this girl questions like if she wanted to go watch this movie or that movie later, and all her responses were, “I have no preference,” because she was really into the book she was reading.

Q: What is your story about?

 

And it goes on from there. You send the answers back, and what happens? Weeks later, the interviewer posts the interview on their site/blog, and it looks exactly like that.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. It gets the job done, so it works.

But something seems to be missing. Could we do something more? Something more interactive?

These interviews tell us a lot about the author and their story, but I’ve never been satisfied with being told anything. I want to see! Pure dialogue reveals little about who the author really is because it lacks body language, facial expressions, and physical interaction with the author. We can’t really tell if they’re reserved, bored, or beaming with excitement. Those interviews simply give us the answers, but what if readers want to know more and get to know the author better to view them as truly human?

Well, I had an idea, so I ran an experiment—as you should know by now I am fond of doing. I’m still in the middle of it, but the responses I’ve gotten so far are very positive.

What did I do? I created a fictional place and invited authors to meet me there. They had to write themselves in third person as if they were a character of their own creation, but they were writing themselves. I did the same, and I took them through the setting I had created, sat them down, and had a chat with them. Some authors I took to a forest garden among castle ruins. Others opted for the palace library or the study in the palace. Others were more intrigued with the more modern-day Muse Shop I made up while few chose the setting of a coffee shop.

In these places, we met and chatted like friends but with me asking a lot of questions. To write this format, both of us had to be online at the same time, and we co-wrote via instant messenger. I told them I didn’t want dialogue tags because that would defeat the purpose of the interview since tags are more telling, but I preferred if they used body language instead. I asked for 27 volunteers and am currently in the middle of these interviews, but so far all the ones I’ve interviewed admitted they were nervous at the beginning because they didn’t know how this would work out, but they quickly slipped into it and became lost in the imaginary world I created. The next thing they knew, it was the end of the interview, and they were quite disappointed that it came to an end. Every person I’ve interviewed so far has used the word ‘fun’ to describe it, but here are some reviews a few people gave me after I interviewed them:

Kristen Moger

Kelly Blanchard’s interviews are a pleasure to take part in. She has a great imagination and encourages her interviewees to join in the creative adventure, all the while allowing the reader to discover an author in a new way that is far more interesting than the usual question and answer session.

Matthew Dale

I was unsure of what to expect going into this interview. The setup Kelly gave the volunteers beforehand was, unorthodox, to say the least, but interesting. The interview takes place in a fictional environment, and the author being interviewed is expected to write about themselves as if they are one of their own characters. I found this concept to be fascinating! Kelly is very friendly and easily approachable in the interview, and the process really forced me to consider my answers to her questions. Having been a newspaper reporter, I’ve done my share of interviews, even with a couple of published authors. I’ve never been the interviewee, and I’ve never had such an interesting, thought provoking, and overall enjoyable interview. Were I to give it an Amazon Star style rating, I’d probably rate it 5 out of 5. My only complaint is that the time for our conversation went by too quickly, and this is coming from a self professed introvert who has not had very much contact with Kelly prior to this interview. Definitely worth your time to do this, if for nothing more than a pleasant diversion from the norm.

Lia Rees

Kelly’s interviews are a pleasure to take part in. She invites you into a setting which is developed enough to offer scope for imagination, yet not restrictive in its demands. She is encouraging, builds a natural rapport with her interviewee, and easily shifts her focus to meet new ideas. Even allowing for the difference in our genres and styles, Kelly made my first ever author interview straightforward and inspiring.

Clint Brill

Kelly’s interviews are like all standard interviews with a simple Q&A session. The similarity, however, stops there. The idea of working through the interview in Third Person like you’re writing a scene for a character was a little odd at first, but it doesn’t take long to get into the fun of it. Her questions were thought-provoking and the “character interactions” between questions helped ease the tension and make the entire process enjoyable. More interviewers need to take a similar approach. I’d definitely do another interview like that any time.

Jacob Settlemyre

The interview was really interesting. Kelly is really good at setting the scene and making you comfortable when you first begin. It was like a real conversation. The talk was laidback and had a lot of possibilities. Of course she lets you explore and contribute. I learned a lot from the experience. Thanks Kelly!

Virginia Carraway Stark

Being interviewed by Kelly Blanchard about my upcoming novel, “The Hunt for Z’iaster’ was an interesting and imaginative romp that showed Blanchard’s clarity of vision of her world. I had never written about myself in the third person before and adding to the challenge of trying to think of how to describe and characterize my movements, voice and idiom was the challenge of being transported to Blanchard’s fantasy universe as well.

Blanchard encourages play over a standard, by the books interview and lets the interviewee lead with creation and imagination so that the interview takes place in another world, Kelly Blanchard’s world. In my case we started off in a royal garden and then rambled through a woods and into ancient ruins.

The suspension of belief and the removal of the bounds of reality are essential to the creative process. This is what was distinguishing about the interview. It was an effort of creation rather than a simple rundown of facts. There was no list of interview questions, and it was much more a conversation between writers that allows others an inside peek into the world of not one author, but two.

I am currently in the middle of interviews with two weeks of Author Interviews and two weeks of Character Interviews—two interviews a day, six days a week. Once all these interviews are completed, I will begin posting the Author Interview of one author on Wednesday and the Character Interview of the same author on Fridays on my new blog Meeting With The Muse. You can visit that blog now and see the Author/Character Interviews I already have posted there when I interviewed Kat Perrin for an example of the new style of interviews.

Am I saying all author interviews should be done like this? No. It is quite time consuming and a stretch of the imagination, and everyone’s schedules must be rearranged. However, the difference is nice.

Leaving Feedback

As writers, we like getting feedback on our stories. We’re excited about the worlds and characters we’ve created, and we can’t wait to share them with others. Many of us love reading other people’s works in order to provide feedback and encouragement, but the way we comment can have different affects on them as writers. Now, to determine the best kind of feedback to give, I presented 30 writers with the following questions:

Imagine you gave someone a piece of your writing (a chapter or so). You did not ask them to proofread or edit or critique you work—merely enjoy it, and you get three kinds of responses:

  1. Awesome! That was totally neat! LOVED IT! Check out my story here:…”
  2. Awesome action! A lot of stuff happening here. It was a bit hard to follow at times since so much was happening. For instance, were there four guards or three? Because I only saw them take down three guards, so what happened to the fourth? Other than that, really epic writing! I chuckled when Rex was shouting at the others, “Stop it! Stop it! You’re shooting the mummies!” “They’re already dead!” “They’re ARTIFACTS!” “Then come out, so we can shoot you without hitting anything else. It’s either you or the dead guys.” “Well, when you put it like that…” That was funny. Can’t wait to read more. And hey, if you’d check out my story, I’d really appreciate it. Would love to hear what you think! Anyway, looking forward to more of your story. Keep writing!”
  3. You forgot a period at the end of the sentence ‘He determined this was going to be a very long afternoon’, and you’re missing a word in this sentence, ‘he didn’t dare look up because the bullets were everywhere.’ Also, the action was too fast and unclear a lot of the time.”

Out of the three which would you prefer to receive, and which one would get you to read the individual’s story?

The results:

No one chose #1.

2/30 people chose #3 as their preference of feedback.

28/30 people chose #2 as the feedback they would want to receive.

Those who chose #2 said they would be more likely to check out the other person’s story based on the comment they left behind. Although several people said they didn’t like the person plugging in their own story.

Those who chose #3 didn’t say much other than the fact that if they were going to look for a proofreader or so, they’d go to that individual.

However though, the comment examples I used above are imperfect. When I conversed with the 30 volunteers of the experiment, a few of them were torn between #2 and #3. They appreciated the specifics provided in #3, but in the end, if they were choosing to forever receive a single kind of feedback based on those three choices, they preferred #2. However, if given the choice, they really wanted a combination of #2 & #3.

Here is what I’ve determined:

If you’re only reading a chapter at a time or so, as you begin the story, find what you like about it—if anything really catches your attention. Focus on that. If something yanks you out of the story, make mention of it, but in the beginning stages of this procedure, don’t focus on every little error—not yet, at least.

Once you’re established an understanding with the author, and they ask you to give more detailed feedback, that’s when you can start looking for more specifics. Also, the courteous thing to do is to send that kind of feedback privately to the author rather than publicly. Would you like someone to publicly point out all the mistakes you’ve made, or would you rather the issues be handled quietly?

Even when you’ve established such an understanding with the writer, be sure to maintain a balance between the negative feedback and the positive feedback. Too much negativity can be draining and discouraging, and that can be devastating to a writer.

Another to keep in mind when it comes to some structures of sentences, the writer might not heed your advice. Don’t take it personally. Don’t think of them as stupid or a failure. They may very well have a precise purpose for that structure which you, being too close to it and viewing it as an editor, don’t see. Their decision might not work with traditional publishers, but they may be self-publishing, and it will work. All you can do is offer advice but then let them make their own decisions. This takes stress off of you.

In the end, remember, you’re not their editor—not unless you two agreed upon that and the author is likely paying you for your services. Otherwise, it isn’t your responsibility.

Now though, there is the aspect of leaving feedback and requesting someone read your own story. What is the best way to do this? Simple: don’t make the request—at least not at first. Rather, be encouraging to the author, allow for conversation to flourish, and then you may politely request they check out your story. Sometimes there simply won’t be a right time for that. However, if someone is leaving you the gracious comments, the kind thing to do is go and investigate their story without them having to make the request. That way you can leave similar positive feedback, and the two of you can encourage one another and slowly build a relationship where you can help one another grow as writers.

In the experiment someone pointed out to me a few things that I think are important to mention: caps lock & shorter sentences make things sound more malicious than intended. Also, using text writing (‘u’ instead of ‘you’, etc) when leaving comments greatly discredits you as a writer. The author, whose story you’re commenting on, will likely not check out your story or look to you for any editorial feedback because it appears that you are lacking the basic fundamentals of writing. I’m not saying you are lacking those, but you’re giving that impression when you use such writing. If you want to be taken seriously, then write in a more professional manner.

What happens if you read a story that is poorly structured, horribly written, and absolutely confusing? Should you be honest and tell the person? Or should you just smile and nod, “That’s nice…”? Well, put yourself in their shoes. How would you like to be approached if your writing was that horrible? Perhaps you should privately contact the individual and hint at some improvements they need to make. Don’t present them with a long list of errors on the outset because that could be overwhelming and so discouraging they may quit as a writer. You may make note of a few things and ask them if they would like some help to improve their writing. If they say ‘yes’, then you can begin helping them. If they’re not interested, leave them be. However, let me warn you, if they accept your help, then be ready to invest a lot of time and energy in their growth. If you don’t have the desire to invest that in the person, you can always point them in the direction of a writing mentor/coach.

Sometimes though, the story is honestly so horrible, and you don’t have the time to even open a conversation with the writer to help them improve, so what’s the best thing to do? Don’t comment. As the common proverb states, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Of course, it is entirely up to you.

Now though, I asked the participants of the survey a second question, and it was this:

What do those comments tell you about the people who wrote them? (shy, confident, encouraging, intimidating, arrogant, etc)

Here is what they said about each person. Disclaimer: this is not based on a real individual. This is the views of multiple people according to the comments. Remember, in this scenario, only a chapter or so was read like on Wattpad where many others have their stories online too, and the author did not ask for proofreading, editing, or critiquing.

Comment #1:

Shy

Advertising

Self-centered

Has agenda

Doesn’t care

Uninvested

Not as helpful

Wants you to read them but not read you

Busy

Encouraging

Narcissistic

Arrogant

Didn’t even read

Bubbly

Fishing

Insecure

Clueless

New reader/writer

Not sure how to write good review

Skims

Not comfortable giving feedback/critique

Not into the story

Rushed

Friend/family

Excited but not well thought-out

Didn’t pay attention

 

Comment #2

Balanced

Approachable

Friendly

Constructive criticism

Positive

Encouraging

Genuinely nice

Honestly attentive

Detailed

Eager to help

Engaged

Interested

Cares

Actual reader

Knowledgeable

Conversational

Heartwarming

A bit vague

Excitable

Confident

Thoughtful

Happy

Practical/useful info

Mature reader

Not overly critical

Not editor

Wants what’s best

Valid criticism

Praised author with specific details

Genuinely interested

Helpful

 

Comment #3

Negative

Arrogant

Nit-picky

Looking for something wrong

Hyper-critical

Perfectionist

Close-minded

Uptight

Stiff

Cold

Terse

Standoffish

Quick, to the point

Confident

Helpful

Task oriented

Bad day

naïve

Unfriendly

Discouraging

No one is good enough

Useful info

Proofreader

Disinterested

Determined to give useful info

Didn’t read but rather analyzed

Editor

Critical thinker

Can’t turn off inner editor

Aggravating

Picky

Not encouraging to helpful in the long run

Bitter critic

Grammar nazi

Critical of each error

Intimidating

Now, some of these may be contradictory, but that’s what happens when you get the opinions of 30 different people. However, this is an overarching view of what people think of those individuals behind the such comments.

So, what kind of feedback do you find yourself leaving? And what impression does that kind of feedback give others? Do you like that impression? If not, change the way you comment. Take a moment to make the extra effort, and everyone will benefit.

Why is it important to leave feedback on others’ writing—especially positive feedback? Because that writer might be going through a difficult time in their life, and they’re extremely discouraged, but one kind remark from a stranger can completely change the outlook of their day. If you become acquainted enough with the writer to help them strengthen their weaknesses, it will definitely impact their life—and yours.

There’s enough cruelty out in the world and on the Internet. Why not try to be a bit of kindness for someone today?

Sharing Others’ Works

Sharing the works of others—it’s the courteous thing to do in order to support one another, but it is one thing to share someone else’s work and another thing to get that writer new readers. So how do you do it? First off, you have multiple platforms on which you can promote others. Any social media outlet (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, etc) offers unique opportunities, but how do you share? What do you say?

Most of the time people simply say, “Read this awesome story!” or there might be a little more like, “Be sure to check out this fantastic fantasy story!” or such. It tends to be short and relatively vague, and it works…sometimes, but personally with me, such blurbs really don’t get my attention. It gives me no motivation to click on the link because it doesn’t speak to me.

However, I ran an experiment. I wrote up two random blurbs for a story and sent them to ten different people. Here is what I sent:

  1. “Hey, you should totally check out this awesome fantasy book! Lots of twists and turns. Very intriguing.”

  2. “Hey, you should totally check out this awesome fantasy book! It has me constantly doubting the motives of each characters, so I don’t trust any of them, but it’s a lot of fun. Plus! There’s a character who ABSOLUTELY reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin from ‘Once Upon a Time’, so if you like that character from that show, you’d like this book.”

(The story I wrote the blurbs about is ‘The Magician: Book One in the Rogue Portal Series by Courtney Herz’ in case anyone was wondering.)

I asked them which one did they prefer better? Which one would likely convince them to check out the story. The results?

7/10 chose #2

2/10 chose #1

1/10 was absolutely indecisive

The people who chose #1 said short was best, but they didn’t really give much more reason other than that.

Those who chose #2 said it was much more personalized, and it spoke to them more individually. The impression they got with #1 was the person was sharing the story only out of obligation—not because they really want to or believed in the story.

One person who chose #2 said if it were an official promotion of a story, they would choose #1 instead, but if it was coming from someone they knew and trusted who was helping out a fellow writer friend and sharing their work in a more informal way, they would choose #2.

And the indecisive person? Still hasn’t given me a reason one way or another.

So what is the verdict?

If you are sharing to help someone out in an informal manner, and if you really want to get that author more readers and help them reach their audience, take an extra moment to craft your message. Find something in the story that truly catches and keeps your attention, something that you find unique because more stories don’t do it (e.g. a vampire that cares for his pet cat even though he’s chasing down possible end-of-the-world threats (this story is ‘Shadows of Glenhill’ by Raven Blackburn on Wattpad)). Don’t make it a long blurb or have too many examples of things you really like in the story. Just one should do. Craft it so it’s more personable.

However, if you are sharing someone’s work in a more formal manner (perhaps as a blog post, or maybe your Facebook Page is about promoting others’ stories), then shorter is better, but still try to make it unique. Don’t settle for, “Great story!” Add something more like #1 had where it said, “…lots of twists and turns. Very intriguing!” —this tells you that the story will be one that will make you think as you try to get ahead of the characters and even the author. Every little bit helps, but keep it short. And, of course, always supply the link where the story may be found.

So, go ahead. Share fellow writers’ works. They may do the same in return, and both of you could be helping out one another. That is what a supportive community is all about.