Does posting a novel on the internet in order to get feedback help us improve our writing? After being involved in a writing contest for over a month now, I honestly can’t answer that question. I have received hundreds of comments, but there is no consensus. Some people love my story, others hate it. Some think my writing is stellar, others think it is dreadful.
I’m accepting all comments without argument and am planning to analyze them after the contest, but I have noticed that most contestants feel the need to justify their story decisions. If readers say the story is too slow, the writer says to be patient, it will get better. If the reader says it is front-laden with exposition, the writer says it’s necessary for the story. If readers say the conflict isn’t pronounced enough, the writer says it is subtle, but will be apparent later.
It makes me wonder if all this justification is turning us into sloppy writers. If we can explain our motivations as an aside, there is no reason to fit it into the story. A good writer, however, makes her justifications in the body of the work. If she wants the story to move slowly but wants readers to wait patiently for the good parts, she tells them this by foreshadowing what is to come. If the exposition is truly important at the beginning, she entwines it into the story so that readers get the necessary information while she is tweaking their interest. If the conflict isn’t pronounced enough, she bumps up the tension.
Tension is created when questions form in the readers’ minds: Who killed him? Why? How did the killer escape from the locked room? Without these questions, readers have no reason to continue reading, and they won’t. In a published book, there are no margin notes by the author saying, “Keep reading. Things will get better.”
There is truly nothing wrong with justifying our story decisions; we just need to learn how to write the justifications into our stories using the accepted language of storytelling.
(I am a semi-finalist in the Search for the Next Great Crime Writer Contest. You can see my contest entry here: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977202263)