Southern Discomfort: the feedback (#SFWApro)

So last week I sat down and reread the criticisms of Southern Discomfort, or in the case of people who didn’t make the dinner, read what they emailed me (I still have a couple of people I need to nudge about contacting me). These can be grouped into several different classes:

•Things one person brought up that nobody else did. Ada Milenkovic Brown, for instance, saw the elves running Pharisee as resembling the kind of control antebellum Southerners exercised over their slaves. Nobody else suggested that, but I think that’s an interesting idea, I’ll be working on.

•Things lots of people brought up. Most people thought Rhonda and Alan were largely pointless characters. And the cast of thousands approach, with little scenes set all around Pharisee didn’t work either. So those problems definitely need fixing. I’m not sure I want to eliminate Rhonda and Alan because they’re my lead black characters and while I have a good-sized black supporting cast, I want some black faces in the core cast too. So either I rework them to be more effective or come up with new characters.

The cast of thousands will be a challenge to fix, too. I wanted to show more of Pharisee than just the central cast; it’s the best way to show what effect the McAlisters have had on the community without tons of exposition (and I have plenty of that, too). Can I whittle it down to a cast of hundreds? Or do I need to do something radically different? Or concentrate only on locals who can have some sort of an arc rather than just a scene here or there?

A lot of people were also frustrated with the sheer number of faces I threw at them in the early chapters. It always feels very natural to me to go that way, but then again people keep telling me they’re confused (it’s not the first time). It didn’t help that multiple people have nicknames, so it’s not enough to learn who Joan is, for example, they also have to learn that she’s Joan “Squiddly” Slattery.

•Stuff that’s just temporary sloppiness. There were a couple of spots where despite changing character names in the current draft, I didn’t change them everywhere in the text. No difficulty fixing that.

•Things I thought were perfectly clear, but I was wrong. Things about Maria’s motivation, the effect of Aubric’s death on the county, the use of second sight that I thought I’d explained well, turned out to have confused several readers. That shouldn’t be too hard to fix.

•Stuff I don’t agree with. Ada suggested the elves might be covertly using charm power to influence people; that just doesn’t work for me (I may change my mind when I get to replotting, but I don’t think so).

•Things I’m not sure about. One of the standard recommendations in how-to articles for handling backstory is not to divulge it up front, but some people wanted to know more of Maria’s from the start. Is it possible that’s one of those “how to write” rules that readers don’t actually care about? Could I get by with just a little bit more? I’ll see what I think when rewriting starts.

I was only skimming to get the highlights of everyone’s thoughts and start my mind working. I’ll look at them in detail next month as I start work on the next draft.

My thanks to Heather Frederick, Ada, Allegra Gulino, Michele Berger and everyone else who offered their thoughts.

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Filed under Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Writing

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