Be careful when asking for opinions about stories you haven’t started writing
“Hold off asking for opinion. The earlier you ask for feedback, the more likely you are to get deterred from what might be your best writing. The best judge of a good idea is you, but only after you’ve mulled it over for a long while, or tested it by writing a draft, or rewritten it three or four times. After you’ve read similar works to compare. After you’ve honed your writing skills to develop the chops to even write the concept.” C. Hope Clark
I can’t find the quotation now, but Hemingway once warned writers against talking their ideas away. That is, telling others the plots of stories they were about to write. After all was said and done, possibly at a table with several bottles of wine, the author would realize that in all the give and take about his or her prospective project, s/he had lost it.
In this week’s Funds for Writers newsletter, Hope Clark expressed similar reservations about rushing out and telling friends, fans, and other writers what you’re thinking about writing–all in hopes of getting feedback about its viability.
Personally, I don’t understand this at all unless, perhaps, you’re floating an idea with your publisher or agent about what you want to write next. Otherwise, early on, what the hell kind of feedback could anyone possibly offer? So, telling–let’s say–your usual beta readers that you’re starting a new series may elicit a lot of pats on the back with little useful feedback.
The more you say, the more likely it is that their comments and questions will derail the project or somehow change it into something outside the scope of what you want to do.
Personally, I don’t like or understand the concept of beta readers unless I’m writing nonfiction and am looking for an unofficial peer review of my approach before devoting too much time researching the project. So I never ask anybody what they think of a prospective story idea because any input I get is doing to be detrimental to what my muse and I are considering.
If you feel better asking for feedback, my suggestion is to wait until you have the first draft. At that point, you have enough of a story for others to understand your plot, theme, characters, and style. When you wait, you’re more sure of yourself and your story, including its focus and ending, and distracting and negative comments are less likely to derail you. Now, quality beta readers may, in fact, find holes in the story, inconsistencies, and other issues that fall far short of destroying your work in progress.