Monday, February 18, 2013

What I've Learned from Critical Reviews

When I first started to get reviews in for Defy the Stars, I wrote a post about how incredibly helpful reader/blogger reviews are, especially the more critical ones.  Reading these reviews is a chance to see your book through someone else's eyes, and it helps you understand how others think about the  reading experience and how their expectations and priorities may differ from your own.  Obviously, you just can't please everyone, but it's ALWAYS worthwhile to see how someone views your I thought I'd follow up on that first post by giving a specific example of something I've learned from reviews of Defy the Stars.  And that something is, as a general rule...

Don't create characters just for the sake of having more people.  And especially don't give those characters names and/or physical descriptions unless you intend to develop them, because if you don't, you're bound to get some of this reaction:

I've realized this is something I do a lot because, realistically, in most scenes of a book there will probably be multiple people around.  Most teenage girls don't sit with only their best friend at an otherwise empty lunch table, or only go out with one other person on the weekend.  But for better or worse, making every scene like this...

..does not a good book make.  The fact is...shh...novels are actually not that realistic.  (Not that the above photo is a realistic portrait of human relationships either, but I digress...)  Rather, novels are a carefully chosen collection of moments, scenes, characters, and thoughts, organized, ordered and filtered to evoke a response from the reader.  If the writer does their job well, the reader may feel like they're reading an accurate depiction of human life, but, really...they're not.  So as a writer, it's my job to make sure every character is there for a REASON and actually contributing to the story, rather than just being there for the sake of making things more "realistic."

Author Jaclyn Dolamore also wrote a very good post about this on her blog.  And I'll leave you with her words, since they're much more eloquent and to the point than mine:

"I am going to try to banish the word "realistically" from my vocabulary--well, or at least pare it back. It's one thing to get serious research details wrong, but the actual storytelling? Well, it probably shouldn't be TOO realistic."


  1. What a great post, Stephanie. We, as readers, say we want realistic stories, but we actually don't. We want the highlights, the important moments/events. I know it probably seems like a Neverending struggle to please readers.
    You're such a great writer.

  2. I needed to read this. Like right this second! I was just thinking that I should add characters into my book to flesh it out. Now I think I have the perfect amount! This is such an awesome post!

  3. Great post! I definitely agree now that I think about it. Books with too many characters, many of them being irrelevant, do drive me nuts.