I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post from author Dale E. Lehman, who shares...
Who Do You Trust?
Dale E. Lehman
The secrets to improving your writing craft are four: learn from books and articles on writing, read other writers, write as much as possible, and get feedback. The first three can and should be done simultaneously, but you can't get feedback until you've written something. Having written something, you might be tempted to rush to self-publication. After all, it's so easy to publish these days, and who doesn't want to see their brainchild in print? But do you really trust yourself that much? It's your baby, the story you labored over, your magnum opus that will bring you accolades and fame and maybe even wealth. Are you unbiased enough to pass judgement on it?
No, you're not, for several reasons. First, you are too easily impressed by yourself, unless you hate everything you do, which is a problem for another post. Second, you know your work too well. Specifically, you know what you mean at all times, whether anyone else does or not. A garbled or awkward sentence won't throw you in the least. Indeed, even your typos may be invisible to you. You'll read it correctly even if it's wrong.
This is why you need feedback. Other people often catch mistakes you don't see: the typo, the unclear sentence, the continuity error, the gaping hole in the story. They can tell you whether or not the story engages them, what they think of the characters, if your settings come to life. Such input is invaluable and can help you improve your writing.
But again, do you really trust your readers? Let's face it. Family and friends make convenient sounding boards but are not always the most reliable. These people love you. They have a natural aversion to hurting your feelings. They may find it hard to suggest that your brilliant story fell flat on its face. If glowing praise is the extent of your feedback from family and friends, be suspicious. Ask specific questions about what they didn't like as well as what they did.
A writer's group—whether in person or virtual—might offer better-quality feedback. After all, who better than other writers to judge your writing? Who better to give you honest feedback than fellow wordsmiths? Surely you can trust them, right? Yeah, well, even writers are human, with human failings. For one thing, not all writers are equally skilled. For another, they all have their own preferences. So again, do you really trust these people?
Rather a swamp, isn't it? Fortunately, there's an easy path through it: listen more to averages than individuals. Say you get feedback from ten people. If one of them dislikes your lead character and the other nine love her, don't worry too much about it. But if one likes her and nine hate her, you've got a problem. Real problems are, at the very least, likely to be mentioned by more than one person, as are real strengths. Even so, don't blow off a reaction merely because only one person has it, but don't inflate its importance, either. Examine it critically, and use your best judgement.
You are the ultimate judge of how your story is written, but you do write enjoyment of your readers, don't you? If so, listen to them. Just don't trust them implicitly!
Dale E. Lehman
A saintly young veterinary technician disappears on Christmas Eve, leaving behind only a broken window and smears of blood on his clinic's back steps. Two years later, his disappearance remains a mystery. A home in an exclusive area burns to the ground, mirroring fires ignited the previous year by an arsonist who now sits in prison. Is the new fire a copycat, or has the wrong man been convicted? A criminal with a long list of enemies is shot dead, and not even his friends are sorry. While temperatures plummet, cold cases collide with new crimes, and somewhere a killer with blood as icy as the waters of the Chesapeake Bay watches and waits.
Hannah took two pairs of latex gloves from her pocket and handed one pair to Harold. They pulled them on, careful not to rip them, then Harold eased up the short flight of wooden steps leading to the door, his footfalls quieter than a rabbit's. He gently rotated the knob. Of course it was locked, but it never hurt to check. No sense smashing things if the owner had invited them in. Leaning to the left, he felt around the nearest window, examined it in detail, and gingerly tried to push up the lower sash. Again, no luck. Again, none expected.
Hannah tiptoed up the steps while he worked and stood close behind him. "Hammer," she whispered, pulling the tool from her coat pocket and handing it to him like a nurse handing a scalpel to a surgeon.
He took the hammer and with a swift stroke smashed the pane, then cleaned the jagged shards from the sash with the head. Falling splinters chattered as they struck the floor inside. Once satisfied the opening was clean, he helped Hannah through the window. She moved so quietly she might have vanished, but in his mind Harold could see her go to the door, disarm the alarm with the code they had been given, and unlock the deadbolt. The door whispered open.
He slipped inside and eased the door shut, then took her face in his hands and kissed her on the forehead. She beamed, a dog basking in her master's approval.
The very next instant, the job went horribly wrong.
Book Links:Ice on the Bay
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Dale E. Lehman is a veteran software developer, amateur astronomer, and bonsai artist in training. He is the author of the Howard County Mysteries series (The Fibonacci Murders, True Death, and Ice on the Bay ). His writing has also appeared in Sky & Telescope and a couple of software development journals. With his wife Kathleen he owns and operates One Voice Press and Serpent Cliff. They have five children, five grandchildren, and two feisty cats.
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