I try to have as many people read a story ahead of publication as possible. It’s extra helpful if those reviewers are very different sorts of people.
My great and longtime friend Nell is a voracious reader and has been since we were children. She grew up reading and continues to enjoy novels, magazines, newspapers in print and electronic forms. She retired young after a very successful career, a good portion of which was in Media Relations or Public Information. She doesn’t hand out gratuitous “atta boys.”
Nell gamely reads everything I’ve ever sent her. I often send her a story before my editor, Claire, has worked her magic on it. Nell kindly offers suggestions, comments, kudos when merited, and gentle but frequent criticism. She generously lent her knowledge and expertise to our publishing effort, and did some arm-twisting to get the word out.
Despite her willingness to stay involved, Nell is not a fan of my stories. We’ve talked about what she doesn’t care for and there are two main complaints. #1 is “too much set-up and not enough payoff” and #2 is “too many principal characters.” Both are valid points.
My friend Gail writes educational television screenplays based on American history. She has written or directed TV shows that have won or been nominated for various awards including regional Emmy awards. She is also a stage and television actress.
Gail gladly reads all my stories and gives each of them a good review. Her having worked with television directors, producers, the below-the-line craftspeople, and actors, she seldom offers real criticism. Everyone has feelings.
Gail deals with television and stage actors. She smiles as she hands out metaphorical trophies just for showing up. She soothes ruffled feathers and never crushes an ego.
Probably because of her television background, Gail enjoys my stories and appreciates that nearly all my characters have speaking roles and back stories of their own. As a screenwriter, she loves the set up: where, when, weather, how, etc. After reading a story, she will often say, “I want to know more about x, y, or z,” or “I really want to find out what happens next.”
She wants to turn one of the stories into a TV script. To that end, she is happy with lots of speaking parts. I am hopeful to see my stories played out on a larger canvas.
Gail seems to love background, lots of characters, and don’t worry about the number of microphones we use. I hope she’s not just soothing my ego.
Between Gail, Nell, and anyone else willing to sit still long enough to read my work, I have quite the panel of critics. My self-esteem has never been so embattled or so healthy.