Drawing the Line in Revisions

Drawing the Line in Revisions

I’m very lucky to have a talented group of writer friends. Whenever I have some kind of writing crisis — How do I write a query? Does my character motivation work? Is my synopsis terrible? — I know exactly where to turn for answers, which are guaranteed to be both helpful and brutally honest.

As I mentioned in my DFWCon post, there are a couple of agents who are interested in seeing an excerpt from my manuscript — in this case, the first three chapters. So for the past several weeks, I’ve been scrambling and polishing, trying to get my work as flawless as possible, in hopes of landing an agent and a publishing deal.

But this process has presented an interesting dilemma: at what point is enough, enough? As it stands, I have five alpha readers; on top of that, these chapters have been beta read by eleven or more additional people. That means I have suggestions and feedback from at least 16 different readers. Which is truly great — their insights have vastly improved my story.

But at the same time, with that many opinions in the mix, you’re bound to get some conflicting feedback. For instance, my story originally started in the middle of an intense action scene. Two readers suggested I go back a bit and create some background and build-up, to make the scene even more intense. I thought that was great advice, so I did it, and sent it out for another round of critiques. The first comment? “I like the beginning, but there’s too much backstory. Try jumping in right at the action.”

That’s slightly paraphrased, but you get the idea. Or how about this one? “I like the dinner scene. A professor told me once that people love to read about food.” Immediately followed by, “Cut all the food talk. It’s boring and not relevant to the story. This scene bores me.” Again, slight paraphrasing (I opted not to dig out all the email chains for specific quotes), but you see the issue.

Some readers think my MC is a well-crafted teen, both smart and a little immature. Others see her as inconsistent and wishy-washy. Some people are intrigued by another character’s inexplicably cold exterior, while others see him as an unrealistic robot. The love interest is either “hot and mysterious” or an “arrogant a-hole” and his dialogue is either “strong” or “talking down,” depending on who you ask.

And so, in an effort to please as many readers as possible, I keep revising, editing, deleting, rephrasing and cutting with abandon, while at the same time trying to hold on to my character’s voice. It’s a delicate balance, trying to please as many people as possible without wiping away everything that’s unique about my story, leaving something bland and generic in its place.

I think I’ve reached the point where I’m nearly done accepting feedback (for now). I’m waiting on one last round of comments, and then I think it’s time to polish it up, cross my fingers, and send it off to the agents. But there’s a little part of me that’s worried. Have I overlooked something? Do I need more beta readers? A teen’s perspective? More guy readers? Do I end up with too much input? Am I simply getting confused by too many opinions and conflicting suggestions?

Ultimately, how do I know when enough is enough?

So that’s my question for you. Where do you draw the line in revisions? When do you take back the reins and finally say, “I appreciate all the feedback, but I’ve got it from here.” How much help is too much?

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