Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Points of View

People have this strange thing about believing that their opinion is valuable to me.  Especially, you know, when I've asked for it.

I know, I know.  When I ask for an opinion, I should want what I get, right?

Unless it's not what I want, right? 

Okay, I'm being a little facetious, I must admit, mostly for the fun of the word gaming.  Here's the deal: I sent the Elf Queen out to several beta readers.  So far, I've gotten three responses, and despite the gross oversimplification involved I'll summarize: one liked it, one didn't, and one was in the middle. 

It's like I invited the Three Bears to read my book.

Again, I take literary liberties that I shouldn't.  Three Bears is funny but tremendously undervaluing.  All three opinions, though they come from severely different points of view, will be extremely valuable in the revision process.  The two less positive are the more valuable, matter of fact. 

I'm just a little punchy, though, thanks in part to the feedback but mostly due to a stressful week at work.  It's my process, after all, and I'll poke fun at it if I want to. 

The nature of feedback is strange.  Sometimes it's gentle: "Daniel-san, remember, wax on, wax off."  Sometimes it's not; the most memorable feedback I received in my boxing class long ago was when a short guy knocked me flat with a punch to the solar plexus.  Remember that lesson on keeping the elbows in?  Yeah, I'd forgotten it.  Can you guess what lesson I never, ever, forgot again?

Here's the deal, though.  Everybody won't like this book I'm writing.  I know that.  Everybody doesn't have to like this book I'm writing.  Each installation of Harry Potter received 1-star reviews, after all.  Same for Dresden Files, a series by Jim Butcher that has several Bestseller list notches to its credit and at the same time is probably my own personal favorite series. 

So that's fine.  Everybody doesn't have to like it.  But everybody's opinion, especially those of my cherished beta readers (who, remember, I selected because of their own literary chops as well as their taste for my genre), is important.  Whether they love it or hate it, I can't wait to see what the others say.

And speaking of points of view (and still related to this topic), the first person is an interesting one.  I chose to write Elf Queen in first person.  It was a conscious decision, too, based on my desire to make it a powerful coming-of-age and coming-of-power story.  First person has its strengths, and it has its limitations, none of which I need to make this blog post longer to discuss. 

Well, maybe one of them....

Here's what's most interesting to me about first person narration: the main character has so much greater of an impact on the reader's experience than he does in third person POV.  Now, I haven't taken the time to do a serious study of this, though honestly, if I had the time and money to do so, the results would be very interesting.  But I don't have the time, or the money, and so I'll just have to surmise.

Let's take two high-performing fantasy works, Harry Potter and Dresden, and compare.  Harry Potter was written about Harry Potter, and in the third person.  Many people liked the series.  Some, though, didn't.  Most readers liked the main character.  Some didn't.  Reading the reviews, though, there doesn't seem to be much main-character-driven angst among those who disliked the series or the individual books. 

In other words, whether you personally like or dislike Harry Potter seems to have little impact on whether you like or dislike the book series named after him.

Reading the comments on Dresden Files, though, as I have when I've wondered how anybody could give that incredible series a 1-star review, yields a different result.  Because the story is seen entirely through Harry's eyes, the experience of being "with" him becomes the yardstick.  If the reviewer likes the person who Harry Dresden is portrayed to be, he's very likely to rate the story well.  The inverse seems, upon my casual observation, to also be true; most of the negative reviewers don't seem to like Harry as a person.

And no, that's not a bad thing.  Keep in mind that Harry Dresden and Harry Potter are both (fictionally created) people.  Far from a blank slate, each was granted personality strengths and weaknesses and yes, quirks also, by his author.  Honestly, were Harry Potter to come to life, I'd probably shake his hand and smile and move on.  I liked the story, but not so much the person.  Were Harry Dresden to come to life, meanwhile, I'd beg for the opportunity to pull up a seat beside him and buy him a beer. 

Bottom line: I like Harry Dresden, and so I like the story he tells.  Another first person POV narration I purchased a couple of years ago wasn't so lucky.  Though it had won several literary awards, I never really found anything worth pulling up a chair, ordering a beer, and talking about with the main character, and so I didn't enjoy the story she told. 

So back to the story at hand--you know, mine.  I wrote it to have a main character who's every bit as quirky as I am.  More so, even.  The reader who never connected with her didn't like the story, and that's to be expected.  What he gave me for ways to improve the telling of the story was invaluable, though.  The reader who did connect, did love it, and what she gave me to improve it was also worth more than I could possibly pay her.  And the one in the middle?  She gave me the best stuff of all.

Like I said--I can't wait to read the rest of the comments, nor can I wait for it to be widely available.  Got some revisioning to do before that, though....



  1. How many beta readers did you send it out to? :)

    1. Six. I'd been thinking it was seven or eight, but I just went back and counted. My day job is all about numbers of people, so I don't do that much with my authorpreneurialism.