When I went off to college in the mid-eighties, I was assigned a college roommate from the opposite side of the country. I showed up in jeans and a "Haagen Dazs" T-shirt, which caused the roommate to think I spoke a strange and esoteric foreign language. Bridget showed up in a denim pinafore with a sailboat on the front pocket, which I thought was the kind of outfit only a third grader might wear. Despite our first impressions, we became best friends, and she became my best reader. Bridget had a sharp and finely-tuned editorial mind 25 years ago, and she does to this day. She is not a writer or editor, but she pays attention to the world, and she loves to read.
I sent her the first 100 pages of my novel because I was feeling pretty good about the pages. I'd done so much research, hammered out a fantastic plot, dug deep into my characters' motivations. I figured Bridget would be excited. I expected her tell me I was on the right track and to inspire me to keep going. I needed that jolt.
But alas, I was wrong. We spoke on the phone this morning (because we still live a continent apart.) "I love what's happening and I love the writing," she said, "but these characters feel like cardboard to me. I'm having a hard time caring about them."
I wish I could ignore her. I wish I could come up with some reason why I could discount her feedback. But I know she's right. Her criticism has that ring of truth to it. Somewhere in my brain, there's a bell ringing because she struck it. Darn her!
So it's back to the first 100 pages I go, rather than forward to the rough pages I was writing beyond page 100. It's not what I wanted in the short term, but it's the right thing in the long-term.
Do you want a fantastic test audience of one in your own life? You have to nurture this relationship as much as you do any other, but the payoff is huge: you get an insightful, honest and kind reader. Here are some tips that have made it work for me and Bridget:
- Don't necessarily look for people who write or who are good with words. Look for people who know how to see the world and who love a good story.