How to Prompt Feedback in a Writing Forum

keyboard forum keySo you’ve written a thousand words or so yesterday and you’d like to get some feedback on it. Posting that excerpt on a writing forum is a good idea to gauge reception and spot mistakes.

Or sometimes you just want a bit of validation to quell that annoying self-doubt. It’s alright.

Posting excerpts is also great for getting feedback on quality of prose. Some benevolent souls – even though their tone might be untactful – will correct your excerpt line by line, highlighting punctuation and grammatical errors, redundancies, useless words, poorly constructed sentences and parts with unclear meaning.

Every now and then I go to some forum to see what’s up. I head to the critique section, I find some excerpts. I click on some of them, hoping to find something interesting and give feedback on it.

However, I often end up closing the tabs and moving to other websites. Why?

I really want to help the authors but they’re making it very hard for me.

When it comes to posting pieces on forums, many writers make two huge mistakes.

Mistake one: the excerpt is waaaaay too long

There’s so much to do on a computer or phone. We watch YouTube videos, browse Twitter, read reddit threads and website articles…

Honestly, how high do you think your excerpt will rank in the priority list of a person?

When I see an overly long excerpt, I bail out. I wish I had enough spare time to read it, but I don’t.

At the same time, I don’t want to post a reply based on a mere 400-500 words, because either nothing has happened yet or whatever remark I may have could be debunked by a later part (and that would piss off the author).

Excerpts exceeding 2,000 words are often left ignored by most visitors and for good reason.

Or if you insist on posting such a long piece, your story had better be gripping from the first line.

Mistake two: story-wise, there is nothing to comment on

nothing happens

Too much introspection, ramblings and musings. Not enough concrete action. And action doesn’t mean sword fights or Gatling guns spitting fire, but instead, you know, people doing things and not just lamenting or having aimless conversations.

In many cases I can feel the author trying really hard to be deep and/or edgy, instead of providing real substance that I can comment on.

Here’s one excerpt I came across some time ago: a man and his wife keep arguing in their car while trying to find their way. The idea sounds interesting and has plenty of potential. At first, the dialogue is funny. But then, instead of facing a new obstacle, building up suspense or learning more about the couple, they just keep arguing. And that goes on and on and on and on…

Little to nothing about that piece was able to keep my attention. In the end I simply closed the tab and moved on.

Another example involves two cops who force their way into a house. They find the corpse of the owner in a weird position. The end.

Now that scene could have been interesting if there were intriguing details in the house, or if the cops were given a fair amount of characterization. But the way it was written, there was barely anything worth talking about.

In cases like these, somebody who’s very patient or has a lot of time to kill proceeds to point out language weaknesses. And after those issues have been addressed, there’s nothing else to mention and the discussion comes to a halt.

Interestingly, the pieces that get the most feedback are those in which something happens; the context is clear and there is a beginning, middle and end. The author has given visitors enough elements to analyze and discuss.

The more input you give, the more output you will get.

How to prompt feedback in a writing forum:

It doesn’t take a genius to incite the feedback you seek:

  • Make your piece easy to read;
  • Give some food for thought.

A little thoughtfulness goes a long way.

1. Don’t go overboard with the number of words

A reasonable length for a piece is anywhere from 500 to 1,500 words.

If you need more than 1,500 words to depict a simple scene, you have pacing issues.

That’s not to say all scenes in a story should be less than 1,500 words. There’s no rule for scene length and more importantly: in all creative endeavors, you need to stop thinking in terms of rules.

I’ll give you just a quick guideline: the length of a scene depends on how complex and important it is.

Anyway, when you post on a forum the scene in question will probably be from the beginning of the story. And in the beginning, the situation is still relatively simple. The daily life of somebody, or a soldier wrapping up a mission.

Naturally, you’re not going to post a scene that has spoilers and requires previous knowledge of the story. Most likely it’ll be a scene where the premise is being set up. This is why 500-1,500 words are enough for a piece of a story still in its early stages.

Post a 3,000 words excerpt and you’ll get few responses, while half of it could prompt a much bigger reaction full of valuable remarks and opinions.

Don’t ask for too much of people’s time, especially when it’s for free.

2. Format properly

Huge blocks of text are a great way to chase away readers. When you neglect formatting and post a daunting wall of words, you are drastically decreasing the chances of people reading and reacting to whatever you wrote. This is copywriting 101.

Wall of text

With the same word count, you can have either many or few replies, depending on the presentation.

For instance, in each paragraph you should focus on one main idea. Have some spacing between paragraphs. It also helps to have a balance between narration and dialogue.

If you want to learn more about paragraph mistakes, check out KM Weiland’s stellar post about 8 common paragraph mistakes and learn how you can fix them.

3. Choose a self-contained excerpt

Post an important scene, not just whatever you wrote this morning. Maybe one where the main character’s personality is highlighted, or the incident that triggers the plot.

The scene needs to be easy to understand and mustn’t require any prior knowledge. The reader should be able to pick up the context even when it’s not directly presented.

It needs a clear beginning, middle and end. It has to be its own short story while raising curiosity about what happens next.

I will even go as far as to say that the scene should have its own conflict.

For example a girl wakes up in a forest or two men are held hostage by a drug dealer. There is a problem and by the end of the scene there has to be some kind of resolution. Maybe the cops storm in or the two men manage to make a deal with the drug dealer. And as for the girl, we could have a cliffhanger where she finds out that her village has been raided by soldiers.

Whatever it is, that scene will be a key moment in the overall story. It raises a lot of questions and keeps the mind wondering.

With an excerpt where something relevant is happening, people can get a feel for the premise, look for inconsistencies, gauge freshness and, of course, review quality of style.

Post a scene that readers can understand and enjoy on its own. Take your story and select a meaty teaser that is too good to be ignored.

Until next time, keep writing.

Image credits: 1, 2

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