This might be an odd thing to say, but I’m a fan of criticism. Now let me clarify that—I do mean criticism of the constructive kind.
I certainly don’t want to read a scathing review that can’t (or refuses) to see any redeeming qualities in one of my stories. That’s just going to bring me down and depress me for days on end, without any reward at the end of it.
However, while glowing reviews are lovely and whatnot—great for the ego—if an element of a story isn’t working for a reader, I’d rather know.
I was pretty lucky on the review front when my stories first started getting published. Romantic Times gave me a mixture of 4 and 4.5 star reviews until Book 5, which got a 3. Now a 3 is more than respectable, but I couldn’t help wondering why hadn’t this book garnered a 4 or 4.5? The reviewer said: “The characters are sympathetic enough, but their angst overshadows what little romance there is in their budding relationship.”
The reviewer not only pinpointed my own niggle of unease with that story but she named it—angst overshadowing my story. Yes! She nailed it! What did I learn—to keep backstory as a motivating force for the characters, not to have it front and centre.
Recently I’ve started to ponder a few reviews I’ve been reading on Amazon. Here is a comment from Karen Hunt who loved the books (First Comes Baby… and The Loner’s Guarded Heart) but said “…in all of her stories they end too suddenly and in these two I feel strongly that a prologue and an epilogue were a must and was disappointed to find them missing.” And from Reading Mom about the same two stories, “…both very good, but both ending rather abruptly.” Several readers found the ending to The Secretary’s Secret too quick and opined the fact there wasn’t an epilogue revealing the sex of the baby. :)
All of this led me to go back and read some earlier reviews on Amazon. From Reviewer Aus for The Loner’s Guarded Heart: “The ending was foreshadowed right from the start of the story, but I found it a little rushed and the happily ever after for Josie and Kent too sudden.” Antdew2 on The Secretary’s Secret: “Very disappointed in the ending.”
Now, I have had a couple of “perfect ending” comments (mainly for The Nanny Who Saved Christmas and The Man Who Saw Her Beauty), so I do understand that in a lot of ways this is merely a taste thing—different strokes and all of that.
Do I have a tendency to rush my endings? Believe me, it’s something I’m going to keep an eye on from hereon. I write these stories with the aim of entertaining and delighting my readers. I want to deliver on every level. I want them closing the pages of my books with a happy sigh. If I’m not doing that, then I need to work harder (and smarter). For those of you who might’ve read one or two of my stories, feel free to weigh in with an opinion here too. :) All thoughts will be gratefully received.
So, for the writers among you—have you ever learned something from a review? And for the readers out there (yes, I know that’s all of you)—are you a fan of long, luxurious endings…or do you like it all to wrap up fast. And if I’ve just written a duet, should I write an epilogue to show my 2 couples living the happy-ever-after dream?
I've learned a lot from reading reviews of my novella. I don't agree with all the negative comments. Sometimes I feel the reader missed my point and it's not for lack of communication, it's more a difference in what I wanted to convey and what they were looking for. And that’s okay. You can’t write for everyone. I believe in writing for yourself. That being said, I have picked up some insight on to how to make my next story more accessible to some readers in a way that works for me as well. While I love writing quirky heroines, I realise that most people like to read someone they can identify with. So I’m trying to make my next heroine a little more usual. That doesn’t mean I won’t write another different sort of girl, it just means I’m trying something new and I think as writers, we all aim to do that.ReplyDelete
As for endings—hm. I think there is a point where the story has to end and adding too much afterwards can detract from the actual ending, or the conclusion to the plot. Epilogues that provide a glimpse of the happy ever after are nice.
I enjoyed reading your thoughts, by the way. Very interesting and encouraging.
So glad you found the post encouraging. :-) And, yes, I never think it wise to agree with all the negative comments in a review, but if something feels as if it has a germ of truth in it (even when it stings a little), I try to make the time to ponder it for a while and see what I might've been able to do differently to counter the criticism. Writing is such a learning curve and sometimes it'll take the writing of another couple of book before that lightbulb moment happens. :-)
Ooh, I love quirky heroines. I do find that if a heroine is give a really sympathetic goal and/or shown being nice/kind/protective to puppies, children or an elderly person then one can get away with a myriad of quirks.
Best of luck with your writing journey!
I agree that if a review is done tastefully and in a postitive way then it should encourage the writer I must say I am a big fan of an epilogue and always have been and I am not fond of rushed endings either and I must say I love your stories they have such emotion and feeling in them :)
Helen, you write gorgeous reviews! :-) I'm so glad you've enjoyed my stories -- chuffed beyond measure! I have to ask now, of course, if you find any of my endings rushed.Delete
Ah, so you'd vote for an epilogue, huh? I'm at the upper word limit with the book 2 in my duet, but maybe I could sneak another couple of hundred words in. I have a feeling an epilogue could be fun ;-)
I wouldn't say they were rushed but I would have liked an epilogue on some of them especially when the heroine is pregnant I do like to know what they had :)
Thanks, Helen! I'm definitely going to keep epilogues in mind in the future. :-)Delete
I'd go with that feeling, Michelle, especially as you're thinking that it will be fun. I do like a well thought out epilogue which reflects the characters truly rather than being a generic babies/love thang. Maybe one that addresses an issue, showing character growth, or a circular one from the prologue or a key scene in the story.ReplyDelete
I've had similar reviews, BTW, on endings that seem too rushed. It's a skill, penning the perfect ending, and one I need to work on. I'm afraid that by the time I work through the black moment and the characters' decision to change, I'm ready to wrap it all up quickly. I far prefer writing the conflict scenes, I realise, and when that's all over I just want to get it finished. Yes. I do need to work on my endings.
You know, Bron -- I think fun is as good a reason as any. :-) And I love your thoughts on epilogues. That whole rosy-glow baby thing doesn't do anything much for more. I like some substance there too, like you.Delete
Hmm, those pesky endings. I do think I get writing fatigue during the writing of a book, and as I write the ending last it's probably the bit that gets the shortest shrift. Now that I'm aware of it, though, hopefully I'll be able to put the extra effort in that's needed. I'm starting to think there's a definite art.
Yes, Michelle, I have learned from reviews. Like you mentioned, they often resonate with my own misgivings - misgivings that aren't very clear to me until I read these reviews. It's also interesting when a reviewer sees a character quite differently to what I thought I was writing. That happened once but fortunately was only a secondary character.ReplyDelete
I'm all for learning, Sue. :-) I have to say that when I've been working on a book for a long time I do start to lose objectivity and perspective on it (which is why I love giving my mss a chance to sit dormant for a while). All of that said, though, I'm not perfect in any other aspect of my life (and I secretly suspect that perfection sets my teeth on edge), but as long as I continue to strive to improve then that's the best anyone can do. :-)Delete
Michelle, how interesting that the reviewer's comments about your 5th book pinpointed your own uncertainties about the story! That's hugely perceptive, isn't it! A thoughtful review can be very helpful.ReplyDelete
Good luck with your "endings"! Some stories definitely lend themselves to an nice epilogue to wrap things up and give us a peek into the characters' "happily ever after". Though I do have to say that with all of your books that I've read, I've thoroughly enjoyed your endings just the way they are!
Sharon, I could've hugged the reviewer (once I got over the wincing)…and I pondered how I could fix the issues with that book for a long time before I got it all straight in my mind. It was a very valuable exercise. You're so right about thoughtful reviews being helpful. :-)Delete
Aw, thanks for chiming in and saying you like my endings as they are. It can be so hard with our shorter books to give every element its rightful weight. Mind you, if I had every aspect of this writing gig nailed -- if it didn't throw up surprises -- I'd probably get bored with it. (Mind you, today I'd be tempted to settle for bored ;-) )
Reviews are a tricky subject aren't they? I actually really like 3 star reviews. I know I shouldn't say that. I know I should say I love the 4 and 5 star reviews and of course I do!! :-) but I think 3 star reviews tend to be very thoughtful and I think, as a reader, are more helpful. As long as the reviewer can give me some insight into her thinking, then I'm generally happy. Hell I've had a couple of 2 star reviews for a book that I've simply loved because they were so well written and thought provoking.
I think endings are very hard not to rush in books of 50k and it seems to be a common complaint. And I, too, am "guilty" of it. I think we can all strive to do better for our readers but ultimately, as a writer, the ending is what the ending is so I think its a bit of a tricky balance!
There's been a lot of chat on the interweb about reviews recently, Amy, with buzzfeed (I think it was them) coming out and saying they wouldn't post any negative reviews. I was a bit saddened by that. I'm all about getting rid of vindictive review/rants, but I still want an honest review. You nailed it with "insight" and "thought-provoking" -- reviews like that are gold.
Okay, and I'm glad I'm not the only person who finds endings tricky. :-) I think part of my problem is that as a reader when I'm reading a romance, I love the declaration of love, the last kiss and the fun, silly, and/or cute bit of banter, but then I want the heck out of there. So that's what I tend to write. But I do want to find a happy balance.
Hi Michelle :) I'm a huge fan of epilogues, i love how they just kind of keep the book going. I read reviews when I'm undecided about buying a book from an author I may be unfamiliar with or I read them after when I have read a book that I know I'll love - to see if others think the same way. Ive seem a truckload of reviews on Amazon or Goodreads that are unconstructive right thru to the ones where you read thinking Really? Clearly you cant stand this genre so why even bother reading a book you know you're not going to like? So some reviews astound me lol. As someone who (tries) writes reviews I get more worried I havent conveyed how much I may LOVE a book when I get the OMG that was the best book ever feeling. I usually focus on the positive in my reviews and share the bits I loved because it's a genre I genuinely enjoy. Not sure if my ramblings even help with your question lol. To me a rushed ending is if there is 9 of 10 chapters of drama and chaos and then in the 10th all of a sudden everything is peachy. It's nice to start towards the wrap up at least a couple of chapters before the end :)ReplyDelete
Ah, another lover of the epilogue. I'm going to have to explore this further. :-)
I hear you on some of those Amazon and Goodread reviews. I try to steer clear of them as I simply don't find them helpful. And, like you, I wonder why the reviewer even bothered picking up the book in the first place.
I think focussing on the positive is a good thing to do in a review, but I also think it's valid to say when something isn't working for you -- like a rushed ending LOL. Drama and chaos is all well and good, but in amongst it I need to see the hero and heroine falling in love too or the ending won't ring true.
Thanks for sharing your ramblings! :-)
This is a very interesting topic, Michelle. I too have been told I'm rushing my endings in reviews. But, as we write category, do we have the space to draw out a longer ending?ReplyDelete
I work really hard on the ending now based on that review feedback. But I worry now that I'm putting too much in the ending. However, I do try to focus on what Bron said...on an issue of character growth and show how far the character has come - if that makes sense.
Do we have the space to draw out a longer ending? Jen, as soon as I find the answer to that I'll let you know! ;-) I think we could all do a lot worse than follow Bron's excellent advice. I'm thinking I just have to find the best balance between rushed and drawn out for too long. I'm telling myself that practise makes perfect. :-)Delete
Michelle, I have to admit that, as a reader, I hate a quick ending. I feel shortchanged after sticking with a couple through a whole book. But having said that, the endings in the books of yours I've read were just perfect. :)ReplyDelete
I read a really good blog post by Will Wheaton (and when you say his name in your head, you have to say it in the Sheldon-waving-fist-at-the-sky way) that I thought was interesting. The post was titled: Not everyone is going to like the thing you made, and that's okay. He'd had some positive and negative feedback over the same thing:
"When I was younger, I would have completely ignored the first one, and obsessively focused on the second one to the point of feeling shitty about myself. Part of having Imposter Syndrome is believing that people who praise you are dupes, while the people who criticize you can actually see through everything. But the thing is, the guy who isn’t thrilled has every right to feel that way, and I don’t take it personally. Not everyone digs what I do and what I bring to a project, and that’s totally cool. At the same time, it’s also pretty awesome that a lot of people do dig what I bring to a project, and that is also cool.
"Consider this, about having perspective on criticism: If you enjoyed making a thing, and you’re proud of the thing you made, that’s enough. Not everyone is going to like it, and that’s okay. And sometimes, a person who likes your work and a person who don’t will show up within milliseconds of each other to let you know how they feel. One does not need to cancel out the other, positively or negatively; if you’re proud of the work, and you enjoyed the work, that is what’s important. Don’t let the fear of not pleasing someone stop you from being creative.
"The goal isn't to make something everyone will love; the goal is to get excited, and make a thing where something wasn't before."
See the whole post here: https://wilwheaton.net/2013/12/not-everyone-is-going-to-like-the-thing-you-made-and-thats-okay/
Oh, what a wonderful blog post and a fabulous perspective to have, Rach! Many thanks for posting the link. :-)Delete
I'm glad you've liked the endings of my books thus far. And I'm certainly not going to let a bit of criticism stop me from writing…but I figure it can't hurt to give said criticisms a little thought to see if there's some validity there. The fact of the matter, as Will Wheaton points out, is that we can't please everyone regardless of what we do. Hmm…maybe I'm just looking for a way to please myself more. ;-)
Michelle, this is fascinating. It's interesting how much we absorb from reviews. For me the main lesson I've learned (echoing Rachel) is that you can't please everyone but you have to work on something you'll be proud and pleased to put your name on. Obviously writing something you think will appeal to others is what it's all about but I've had so many cases where the one specific thing someone didn't like in a particular story was the one thing someone else singled out as fantastic.ReplyDelete
Having said that though, yes, getting an overview of reader's thoughts is a big help. Some books I suspect may have been rushed at the end, others not. It does seem to be something people comment on. If you're writing linked books I'd like to find out how both couples are doing. An epilogue would achieve that, or a scene where the other couple appear in a way that helps the current story along. I've done that a couple of times and it seems to have worked well (and satisfied the readers who commented).
Oh, Annie, I've had that too -- an element in a story that one person has loved and another hasn't. It just goes to prove the maxim of different strokes, doesn't it?Delete
As far as an epilogue goes for linked books, I'm leaning towards your way of thinking. It does seem to be something readers enjoy. Thanks for weighing in on the issue!