In On Writing, Stephen King says the following about getting initial feedback from close, trusted readers:
“If you give out six or eight copies … you get back six or eight highly subjective opinions about what’s good and bad in it. If all your readers think you did a pretty good job, you probably did. This sort of unanimity does happen, but it’s rare, even with friends. More likely, they’ll think that some parts are good and some parts are, well, not so good. Some will feel that Character A works but Character B is far-fetched. If others feel that Character B is believable but Character A is overdrawn, it’s a wash. You can safely relax and leave things the way they are (in baseball, tie goes to the runner; for novelists, it goes to the writer). If some people love your ending and others hate it, same deal – it’s a wash, and tie goes to the writer.” (pp. 216-17)
I recently used this advice with my new flash fiction story, The Sleepwalker, published this month in Every Day Fiction. When I workshopped this story with my writing group, it got mixed feedback: Some thought it worked fine, others thought it needed an overhaul, getting more in depth with the character and the actions that created their circumstances.
Potential wash, I thought.
Then, fellow workshop member – and award-winning flash fiction writer – Kat Gonso not only championed it, but also suggested a drastic revision. She recommended leaning in to the flash and distilling even further.
In her notes, she included a ~350-word version (cut from my original draft around 500), and suggested I pare it down even further. I sat with it a bit, tweaked a few sections based on her suggestions and additional workshop feedback, and sent it out to a few journals.
Every Day Fiction expressed interest, and then also shared their team’s notes. Their reader found it problematic. The fiction editor liked it and wanted to publish it.
Tie goes to the editor, and by extension, me.
Photo courtesy Matthew Ansley via Unsplash