Writers’ Questions: Contradictory Advice and Tips for a Newbie

I’m doing a blog series now where I find questions on FB writer groups, like Fiction Writing, answer them, and post the Q & A. Eventually, I’m hoping I can collect these into an ebook. Here are a couple of questions, one about how to handle conflicting advice from critiques, and one from a writer just starting her first novel.

How to write a novel: 1) Write. 2) Edit. 3) Get Feedback. 4) Revise. 5) Repeat.
My most succint writing advice.

Question:

…I wrote a series where witches work with law enforcement. It’s not the premise of the stories, but it is a strong recurring element. I shared a scene with a group who hadn’t read it, with two witches coming to an active crime scene, after having been called to it by a federal inspector who had been working with them for roughly five years.

I was told it made no sense to have them there, furthermore that they should argue with the witches about coming. Even after explaining their partnership I was told it didn’t matter and to apply the suggestions. I changed the scene to be more of an clash and when my betas read it, they were confused and upset that after all these years the Inspector changed her tune.

What’s the best way to mitigate this kind of feedback? Since most writing communities shun the author defending their choices, should you do what others say even if they don’t have full context, or is it best to stick with people who’ve followed the story?

Answer:

If your beta readers are familiar with the overall story, you should listen to them. Nothing takes me out of a story quicker than when characters do something that makes no sense given what has happened in the story so far. If I had been one of your beta readers, I probably would have had the same reaction.

On critique groups in general, I am getting ready to self-publish my first novel, and I never would have gotten to this point without them. However, this is the kind of problem that can happen when critiquers see only one scene without having read the story leading up to it. You can explain the situation to them, but sometimes they still don’t get it. I shared my chapters in order, so I knew if they said something didn’t make sense, they had the context to make that judgment.

Anytime you solicit advice, you have to separate the good from the bad. Mostly what I have found is advice falls mostly into three categories.

  1. I know they are right.
  2. I know they are wrong.
  3. I don’t want to use that, but their suggestion points me in a direction that is more interesting than what I have.

If you’re not sure, then try out what they suggest and ask yourself one question: Does this make it a better story? The answer to that is subjective, but that is what it means to be an author: You get to make that call.

Question:

I am just starting out as a writer.

I want to write fun somewhat surreal tropical paradise like stories and also tropical paradise murder mysteries. I have read some of both and am currently on a trip in French Polynesia.

I am a big fan of Agatha Christie and see her series stories as inspiration.

I am learning Polynesian culture and also more specifically Hawaiian culture and history.

I have just entered my 60s, and my career is and has been Information Technology. That might be some I might incorporate as well.

But I am at the very beginning!

So how does one start?

Answer:

Read current bestsellers in your genre. Agatha Christie is considered cozy mystery, so you will need to know what that audience is reading now. Beyond that, join a writing group. Learn the craft: plot, characterization, dialog, point of view, etc. Write. Edit. Get feedback. Revise. Repeat. And welcome.


Both these posts came from a FB group called Fiction Writing. If you would like to see the original posts and other answers, here they are. Given your interests, cozy mysteries set in Hawaii would be the best thing to read. You will probably have to request to join the group. But if your serious about writing fiction, it’s a good place to get some feedback and questions answered.

I wrote a series where witches work with law enforcement.”

I am just starting out as a writer.”

Happy writing!

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