The Power of Positive Feedback
Here in Florida it feels like summer, and throughout the country it feels like winter, but happy first day of Spring! Winter tends to breed sadness and depression, but spring brings me thoughts of pretty flowers, cute animals, and an overall sense of positivity. In honor of the season, I'd like to share my thoughts on the power of positive feedback in the editing process.
I've worked as a college writing tutor for the past three years. Part of our training for assisting other students with papers is to point out areas where the student has done well. Even if these positive remarks appear far less often than the critical remarks, they serve as concrete examples of what the student has done well and should continue to do in the future.
I believe the same mindset should apply to critique partners, beta readers, and anyone else involved in the editing process for creative works. Critique is so important. Without critique, a writer's work will never improve because it will never be forced to change. But critique should not entirely eclipse positive feedback.
Positive feedback tells a writer, "I liked this. You did this well. You should continue along this vein in the future." As someone critiquing a work, it's easy to feel sucked into searching for what to fix, and consequently overlook what already succeeds. If you don't critique a particular section, that implies to the writer that section is fine. Right?
Not necessarily. From a writer's perspective, if you only receive critique, you start to wonder, "Was any of it good?" No matter how braced you are for criticism, it's a very discouraging thought to have.
For me, a little positive feedback goes a long way. One positive comment amid a wave of critique keeps me going, even if that comment is a simple "haha" in the margins. I love that! My magic system might need more explanation or my paragraphs reorganization, but at least that line made someone laugh. On Friday I have a Skype appointment with Eric Smith, an author and literary agent I greatly admire, to discuss my query letter and first ten pages. As the amazing person he is, he already sent me written comments. His critique and suggestions opened my mind to ways I could improve, but the positive comments he wove throughout made it all seem more rewarding. It reminded me how powerful a positive comment is among critique, and how I hope to do the same to other writers when editing their work.
Keep editing and critiquing. That's how writing evolves. But remember the power of positive feedback, and consider wielding it in your own editing process.
Last Thursday, the book world of Twitter became a flurry of pitches due to #PitMad, an opportunity for writers to pitch their stories to agents through shortened Twitter pitches. Since I have a couple opportunities on the horizon to receive further critique on my manuscript, I decided to hold back from this month's #PitMad and wait for a later opportunity.
In order to distract myself from the temptation of pitching, I instead participated in a writing exercise called #PhotoStoryChallenge. Every week, Radina Valova posts one of her photos on Twitter with a set of rules, and challenges writers to incorporate the photo and rules into a scene. It's a great flash fiction exercise, and it's fun to see the many ways different writers twist the inspiration into a variety of stories. Since I've recently trapped myself in a cycle of editing and worldbuilding, I enjoyed giving myself a chance to write without a care, and it helped jog my creativity. It also strengthened my bond with the participating members of my writing group on Twitter.
Here's a recap of the March 8th challenge:
The rules of the challenge were to write a scene based on this image, and it had to include dialogue between at least two people who want something from each other, and the writer must use the words "is that all."
Apparently when given this set of inspiration, my first instinct is to write about a farm girl and a demon queen. Below is my unedited #PhotoStoryChallenge flash fiction from Thursday.
She didn’t look like a demon queen, leaning against my closet door while the setting sun highlighted her profile. Not the way she did an hour prior, when the fire in her eyes burned against the darkest shadows surrounding her, and for a split moment my fear and awe mixed into a knot of doubt.
“I thought you might kill me earlier,” I said. “Rather than that monster.” The memory of its putrid breath twisted my stomach, and I touched the spot on my neck where its teeth punctured my skin before it fell prey to the demon queen.
Annora pulled her gaze away from the window to look at me. “That would somewhat defeat the purpose of protecting you, would it not?”
The twist in my stomach became something else entirely as I smiled at her. “It might be counterproductive.”
Her dark eyes still simmered with a hint of that flame. “I wouldn’t hurt you.”
I shrugged in an attempt at nonchalance. “I suppose our pact wouldn’t allow you to harm me.”
Annora shook her chin. “It’s not about the pact.”
I arched a brow, but she didn’t elaborate.
“Well,” I said as I pushed to my feet and stretched my arms up, “we should get going. We only have four hours to locate your buried crown and defeat a demonic prince before he destroys you, me, and everyone else in my small but still arguably significant Kansas town.”
The edge of Annora’s mouth twitched up. “Is that all?”
I offered my hand to pull her to her feet, and she paused in front of me. Her warm fingers locked around mine and her extra two inches of height forced me to tilt back in order to meet her eyes. Her rare smile returned to tight-lipped hesitation.
“Annora,” I said. I meant it as a statement, but my concern turned it into a question.
She squeezed my hand. “When this is over,” she said, “you have to let me go.”
A dull ache spread through my chest, but I refused to let it show on my face. Returning to my lonely farm life now seemed more unbelievable than losing my heart to a demon queen.
“I will,” I said, dropping her hand. “I know the rules.”
The look in her eyes echoed the sentiment in my head: neither of us felt confident in my ability to fulfill that promise.
That's all, folks. Follow Radina Valova for more weekly challenges, which I hope to participate in from now on. I also need to tuck this story idea of a farm girl and a demon queen away in my box of ideas-that-cannot-distract-me-from-my-current-work-in-progress. Also, check out Radina's Twitter Memory to read the scenes written by other writers!
I’ve read a few tweets in the past couple days regarding the discussion of f/f (female/female) representation in novels, particularly in the YA category. Writers seem deterred by claims that f/f romance does not have the substantial audience required for it to succeed in the way m/f or m/m romantic plots do, and so agents and editors are less inclined to represent stories featuring f/f romance.
I was actually somewhat surprised to see this discussion pop up, since every agent I personally follow seems desperate for LGBT content. Nonetheless, I think the continued lack of representation in YA literature is a major problem, and writers should fight back against claims that there is not an audience and their stories will not be published. This applies to multiple forms of LGBT representation, but I will focus on f/f since this was the focus of the discussion and it relates the most to my own writing.
It is dismal how difficult it is to find a story based around a non-heterosexual MC that falls for a girl. It’s even harder to find one in speculative fiction, with a storyline that does not center around the MC coming to terms with sexuality. It’s even harder to find one that does not end in heartbreak, death, or overall depression. This mixture gives the impression that if you are a female who falls in love with another female, your life will be riddled with the stress of overcoming your sexuality, and it will likely end in disaster.
This should change. Young Adult literature needs stories of females going on adventures, slaying dragons, fighting demons, and delving into space, while also occasionally developing feelings for other female characters. Even if plots do not revolve around a romance, characters should not be assumed straight until proven otherwise. LGBT readers want to see characters similar to them exploring imaginative worlds—not everyone wants to read about the tragic love between two young women, which inevitably ends in disaster. I myself would rather read about confident and happy females falling in love and working together to make a relationship last. And maybe conquering a kingdom in the meantime.
Changing these long-held beliefs and stigmas will be difficult. The publishing industry does not change overnight, but it can change. There was a time when YA was not a major category, and now it has exploded. People have the power to change the industry if readers, writers, agents, and editors all work to create that change. People might say otherwise, but there are agents and editors who want stories representing f/f romance. Plenty of writers are writing f/f romance, and they should continue to do so. Lastly, readers should support the stories that currently exist. Show the world that an audience exists, and wants more.
Writing and publishing is not an easy career, and writing and publishing LGBT content is harder still. But I think it is very, very worth it.
If you are interested in reading speculative fiction with f/f romance, my recommendations are unfortunately scarce. Malinda Lo has published multiple novels in a variety of genres featuring female MCs falling for female characters. I have read both Ash and Huntress, but you can read about her other novels on her website. Recently, I discovered a newly published YA fantasy called Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller, which follows a gender-fluid MC who seems to fall for a female character. I haven’t had the chance to read it, but it was a promising sight to see, and it will definitely be next on my TBR list.
If you have any thoughts about the inclusion of f/f representation in YA literature, or recommendations for stories already featuring this representation, feel free to comment below.
I write YA fantasy and paranormal fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.