Often the Scrivas are unanimous in their feedback. If they all suggest killing characters, then I oil up the guillotine and start hacking off heads. That’s a no-brainer.
Then there are the “other” times when conflict reigns supreme. Confession: we have actually called votes.
“Who likes it in first person?”
“First person it is. Get on that revision, Scriva!”
For Angel Punk, my YA novel-in-progress, consensus has been a fleeting thing. There was an even split between love and hate on the first prologue. I ditched it and tried again. Half the Scrivas missed the old prologue. The new had one “aye” vote. That one’s going in the crapper too. Point of view (POV) is also an area of contention. Some lobby for 1st person, others for close-in 3rd person. I was hoping for 3rd person omniscient but it looks like that is making me lose the voice. Ack!
So what do you do when you get contradictory feedback?
First, I try to understand the feedback behind the feedback. Do they hate the prologue because they miss the main character’s voice or because it seems to offer superfluous information or because it distracts from the main themes that I’m trying to address? I need to find out what I’m actually trying to say.
One approach I sometimes use is to write it in plain language so I’m not distracted by fancy-pants words or attempts at subtlety. For example, “Mara acts tough but she’s on shaky ground because she doesn’t really know who or what she is.” I know I can’t use that verbage in the book but it might give me clarity to know that the prologue should show Mara’s confusion without her losing face by being too weepy or confessional.
Second, I check out books that have succeeded in areas where I struggle. Again thinking about Mara, she has personality qualities that are similar to Katniss in The Hunger Games, Katsa in Graceling, and Karou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. What was the POV for those characters? Can that help me figure out which POV will work best for Mara?
Third, I have to accept that the Scriva majority may be most representative of my readers. In my first draft of Angel Punk, I tried to use short, fast-paced scenes – each of which shifted POV – to give a comic book, action-adventure feel to the story. One Scriva loved it. The others were lost. I loved it too and was tempted to stick with my experimental style, but I want people to read my book. If a handful of brilliant Scrivas were lost, then chances are many of my readers would be too. I went back to more traditional approach.
The take-home from this (at least for me) is that sometimes contradictory feedback is the best feedback because it forces me to go deep, analyze more, and find absolute clarity on what I’m trying to achieve with the work.