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Don’t let me Rosebud; or, why your feedback matters

17 February 2016 | No comments | Tagged:

(Beware: tl;dr navel-gazing self-important writer nonsense ahead.)

Some of you guys are scary.

You know who you are. The ones leaving reviews of Dragonchoice 3 on fanfiction.net or AO3 or Tumblr, or who email or Facebook message or Tweet me with questions and theories and speculation. The ones looking for clues to solve DC3′s mysteries. The ones picking up on casual throwaway lines that seem innocuous but might not be.

You’re clever, and you’re paying attention, and I’m running scared.

Because if I leave a plot hole, you’re going to find it. If I contradict an established fact, you’re going to notice. If I forget about a minor character that you care about, you’re not going to be happy.

Dragonchoice 3 is “finished” only in the sense that I have a complete first draft plus a list as long as my arm entitled “things to fix in second draft”. Foreshadowing plot points, solving contradictions, expanding character beats. Theme stuff. Arc stuff. Pretentious, moi?

But the chapter I post each Wednesday evening isn’t really the second draft. It’ll have gone through at least one and up to four beta readers (Laurie / Jen / Kath / Amy), each of whom brings a different perspective to the table. I might have revisited it half a dozen times at various points during first draft to seed ideas into early chapters that become important in later ones. I’m currently running about ten chapters ahead of the post schedule in terms of my major “second draft” retool. My fix list keeps getting longer.

I usually do the very definitely final draft of any given week’s chapter on a Monday or Tuesday. I go through it in my master document one final time looking for anything problematic, doing little line edits, nuking any stray epithets or adverbs that aren’t absolutely necessary (I’m far from perfect, but I try to be vigilant).

And then I take into account all the reviews and feedback I’ve had up to that point. If I know that you’re paying extra close attention to something significant, I make damn sure I am too. If someone’s posited an incorrect-but-very-clever theory, I double-check that I haven’t overlooked something obvious. I really don’t want to write something that’s ruined because I missed that Charles Kane died alone and therefore no one would have known that his last word was ‘Rosebud’. (If you want to throttle me for comparing a Pern fanfic to Citizen Kane: yes, you have a point. Throttle away.)

It’s not just speculation that has an effect. There’s already at least one minor character who, in first draft, doesn’t really go anywhere, but based on the fact that several people have responded positively to him/her, will get some additional attention later on. The primary function of some characters is to be a plot device, but that’s not good enough when it turns out that readers actually care about them. There are seven point-of-view characters in Dragonchoice 3, and none of them exists only to serve someone else’s plot. But I also want the secondary and tertiary characters to feel like real people, not spear carriers.

I’m not going to change the story to please anyone. Nor am I going to obfuscate a plot point that someone’s figured out too soon just to preserve the mystery. But the speculative feedback keeps me on my toes, and the subjective stuff gives me perspective. That random quirky green rider with a two-line cameo isn’t going to come out of nowhere and save the world in Act Five, but he might get two more lines somewhere.

Bottom line: your feedback matters. Not because it pleases me (though it does) or strokes my ego (it does) or makes me feel like the last five years I’ve spent writing a fanfic haven’t been a total waste of time (…), but because it’s making the story better.

Dragonchoice 3 does not exist in a vacuum, and when we get to the end of the road, sometime in 2017, it will absolutely have been improved by your response to it.

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