The Value of Feedback

Every writer knows (or should know) the worth of feedback. Yes, we can pass our stories to friends and relatives but unless they have an eye for details the most one could expect is “I like it” or “Wasn’t fussed”, and some of them will say it’s great just to spare our feelings.

As writers, what we really need is good, constructive feedback. It’s great a story works but we need to know why. Similarly, a pair of objective eyes can go a long way in pinpointing what’s wrong, what doesn’t work, awkward sentences or grammatical errors we may have just missed.

I used to be a fairly active member of FictionPress. For those who don’t know, FictionPress was the sister site of FanFiction.org. I actually joined both in the early 2000s; FanFiction once I discovered I could write about Harry Potter, and shortly after, FictionPress when it started. Then I stopped, for a while, but while at University (possibly a little earlier) I rejoined the website and started posting more, as well as participating in The Roadhouse forum, where you could exchange reviews.

This worked out really well. I got to read some really good stories posted by other writers, and received a lot of great feedback on my work. Encouraging feedback, too, and through the reviews managed to realise exactly what I was doing wrong, and learned a few things about grammar that I hadn’t actually known before.

At University, studying Creative Writing, seminars were made up mostly of reading and critiquing people’s work. It was more important to be honest, and to be specific; to help pinpoint exactly what was right and wrong with another student’s story. And, under the right tutors, we were encouraged to experiment and try different techniques, styles, and to be completely honest in what we told others.

It’s something I’ve really missed since leaving University. I stopped posting on FictionPress when I realized I wanted to try to get my work out there. So there was no source for that sort of feedback. And it isn’t just on a spelling, grammar, etc level where the feedback is valuable.

It’s a confidence thing, too. Entering competitions and entering stories for possible publication, I constantly found myself wondering – is this good enough? Even with stories I really like, I still get that tremor of fear. But, with places like FictionPress and in a seminar, even when the feedback contains points to improve on, people will still tell you the things they liked about the story.

So, knowing I needed some way of getting feedback on what I’ve been writing, I joined Scribophile. I’ve only been on there a week, giving critiques, and so far have two stories posted up. The first has  had some really good critiques on it, which will go a long way to polishing it and making it much better than it currently is. I’m still waiting to get a few more on the second, but the other writers on the site have shown themselves to be kind, welcoming and eager to help everyone. The forums are entertaining, and the site has some brilliant articles in regards to writing. Overall, so far I’m enjoying the experience, and it’s given me exactly what I need. A place to get good, honest feedback, to help me grow as a writer and to give me that little boost of confidence I’m going to need going forward.

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Play Time

One thing writers are told time and time again is to read everything they can get their hands on. You cannot be a writer unless you’re a reader; otherwise, how do you know what’s gone before? Plus, reading books allows you to see how sentences are crafted and with a keen eye you can see how a writer has enabled you to feel for a character or, in some cases, to see where they have fallen down flat with this.

But it’s not just in books where aspiring writers can pick up tips. Film and TV, obviously, are brilliant showcases for dialogue, and looking at the way directors frame camera shots and build on relationships between characters can always provide inspiration for tricky scenes. But there’s a further medium that can be looked at, too – video games.

I mentioned before about my love for Bioshock and part of that love comes from the way it’s written. There are twists that are built up throughout the game, great moments of dialogue, and the way it’s written means that, as the main character, by a certain point you’re never quite sure who to trust. And then, of course, there is the ending, which quite honestly had me tearing up. (Well, the ending I saw. There are different endings depending on your actions in game)

Since I finished that game I’ve been playing Fallout 3. Bioshock is a more linear game, where you basically move from one part to the next. Fallout is different, in that you can pretty much explore the world around you at your leisure. You can follow the main story quests, or do lots of little side quests or a mix of both…it’s up to you.

Even with this freedom, story and plot still play a major role. On top of that, the writing – especially with dialogue for so many different characters – has to take into account the potential actions of the person playing. Yes, the enemies have stock lines that get thrown at you as you fight them, but if you listen Galaxy News Radio with Three Dog (a DJ who doesn’t know what a disc is) you’ll hear him mention various places and events and, later, even hear him reporting on what your character has been doing.

The actual plot revolves around your character going out looking for his/her father, and in terms of writing, the game is very good at giving hints as to what your father might be doing, via Three Dog. And there’s a karma system to it, too. You can save certain characters or help them out, giving you karma, or…do other stuff and get negative karma. I assume. I very much help people in the game where I can. And of course, there is one character I care about more than any other, who I just want to be happy even if he keeps running away from me. Just hope he turns up at Vault 101 again soon.

images (1).jpgOne of the other games I’ve been playing is Kingdom Hearts 1.5  – the remake of the PS2 game by the same name, but this version is apparently HD or something and has two of the other games included. I’ve been focusing on replaying the main game; I know when I played years ago I got to the end, but I don’t quite remember if I actually managed to beat the final boss or not.

Kingdom Hearts is a game using characters from Final Fantasy and various Disney films. You play Sora, a FF-style kid who just wants to leave the island he lives on with his two best friends. But when a storm strikes, the friends are separated and Sora wakes up in a very strange town. He meets Goofy and Donald, on a quest to find King Mickey, and joins them hoping they can help him find his friends.

With these two familiar faces, Sora travels through various worlds including Wonderland, Agrabah, the jungle Tarzan calls his home, Ancient Greece, and many others. As for plot, it’s a fairly simple one to follow, but one which does really well in drawing in these characters and having them inhabit the same universe, as the villains gather together to try to take over the world, using the heartless to achieve their goals.

Plot wise, it has some good examples perhaps of how to take existing stories and merge them together or rework them to fit something else. And what with it being a kid’s game, although it is single player there’s a strong message of working together and the importance of friendship. Something to keep in mind if, as a writer, you’re working on writing for kids.

kh That’s only two of the many, many games out there with compelling plots and interesting characters, mainly because it just happens to be the two I’m mainly playing at the moment. There are so many others out there, and I’ll probably come back to this in a future blog post, maybe one about the sort of games I played when I was younger. But if there are any games you’d recommend, or think contain some good tips for writing, let me know in the comments.