How many times have you heard…
“I am keeping your manuscript so I can sell it when you’re famous…”
…but they haven’t even bothered to read your story. Or if they have…
1. It will be a giant exercise in ad hominem
A complete stranger writes about rape? How graphic was it? How scary? It will annoy the feminists, etc. They will consume the text the way it was meant to and you could clearly see whether it works.
A friend wrote a story about rape: Was he raped? Did she rape someone? How does she know this? That’s not how rape works. Why did he give it to me? Is this a hint?
If you give your writing to a friend for an honest opinion, I will guarantee they’ll have questions, but none of those questions will be related to the text. They won’t even remember the parts that weren’t about them.
I wish people would be as critical with all the sources of the information they consume as they are with texts written by people they actually know. But they limit this wonderful skill to friends – and to fiction.
2. They will look for offence
This is a pretty intimidating group. The parnoid one:
“Is that about me?”
Or the way too self-centred:
“Which character am I?”
“Why am I not in it?”
And my personal favourite:
“Do you really mean what that character said?”
Some people just cannot handle a text in its place. It doesn’t matter if it’s the villain said it or the protagonist, if you present both sides of an argument they will get offended by the side they disagree with. It is even worse than the trigger-warning crowd because you at least need to offend them with something. But these people are upset that you may convince other people about something. You know, people, who are less sophisticated than they are. Of course, you would never do that. But no one should ever write a non-ridiculous interpretation of an argument you don’t like. Other people might misunderstand it.
3. Friends compete because they can compare and relate
A complete stranger writes in solitude for years and comes up with the ultimate novel? What a great story, let me read it, when’s the movie out? A friend writes in solitude for years and comes up with… well… a novel? He must fail. These stories are only allowed to happen to other people because friends are too easy to relate to. Their achievement is easily compared to mine. This is why it is so hard to accept that he had even completed something, let alone that it may be good.
English is my second language. Same stands for my friends. There is a special corner in hell where non-native speakers correct each other’s grammar and suggest equally inadequate phrases to replace yours. (While they refuse to comment on anything they are competent about.)
“But I told you to leave the grammar to the professional editor.
I just wanted to know what you think about the story.”
“Oh, I didn’t think about that at all… Let’s see… Why did you choose this subject?”
The worst thing about a grammar-focused reader: they have absolutely no idea what the book was about. They have been grammar-checking it from the first sentence on. They even have a list of the mistakes, that’s how much they’ve worked on it.
4. They don’t care so no one would
OK, this is my fault. Giving my stories to read to someone who doesn’t read for pleasure is just silly. Yes, they will ask for it. Yes, they will be genuinely interested. In me – not the story. I should know better.
Maybe you have given a book to someone, who hasn’t read for pleasure since university, apart from 45-second listicles on Facebook. Surprisingly, he won’t like reading your book either. Maybe you gave a fantasy story to someone who only ever reads non-fiction. Again, pointless. But their opinion still hurts. Especially from friends.
This is why I strongly prefer to discuss my stories with strangers. They engage with the story, and want to ask the author. They don’t engage with me and don’t try to relate the text to my life. Or their own.
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