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As a person, I'm a bit of a people-pleaser. I tend to bend over backward to avoid conflict and make people happy. I've reached the point in my writing process where I've started to send out drafts of my work to beta readers to get feedback. However, I've started to notice a bit of a problem in that, when I get feedback, I feel compelled to incorporate it all in and kind of unthinkingly accept reader interpretations of things.

In particular, there is one plot point one of my beta readers doesn't like that sets up an important subplot that leads to a lot of juicy conflict between the lead characters and a minor antagonist. Because they're reading in linear order, they only see the comparatively black-and-white event and don't see the more nuanced consequences of it. It touches on a touchy subject (namely, trauma), but it looks at a specific aspect of trauma that is whitewashed or played for laughs in most media, and saying it should be changed is the exact response that kind of thing often gets. Nevertheless, I can see why people wouldn't like it. Regardless of whether the idea is good or not, I'm noticing that my mindset is starting to slip towards "it's bad/wrong" simply because the reviewer said it was bad rather than based on any coherent argument. I think if I had an issue where one beta reader hated a particular plot point and wanted it removed and another thought it was great and demanded it be kept, I would probably short-circuit.

I don't think the problem is any specific plot point, it's that I see it as a symptom that if I made every change beta readers suggested I would end up with a work that doesn't take any risks and loses it's impact. Though at the same time, I want to write things that are enjoyable to read rather than making a didactic point.

To clarify, I'm not asking how to shut out criticism entirely, claiming that my vision is perfect and must be protected at all costs. This is the entire problem, I know that feedback is critical for improving a novel and ironing out the areas an author might have a blind spot for, but this also makes me liable to incorporate every change someone insists upon regardless of how it affects the plot. But if I bend over backward to incorporate every change that people ask of me, I'll end up with a bland, unfocused mess, especially if it involves cutting out plot points that set up later conflict. How does someone determine when it is better to stick to one's vision or when it is better to make beta reader-suggested changes, especially if you know that neither you nor the beta reader are going to be objective in assessing the work.

The only rule of thumb I have been able to figure out is: If multiple people have a problem with the same element of the story, it is probably a good idea to change it. But that doesn't help when I feel myself turning away from plot points when only one beta reader says something is wrong.

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    Does your Beta Reader have a complete start-to-finish draft to read, or only parts of the story? If the former, have they finished reading the draft, or are they throwing things at you that they may change their mind on later, once they do finish? – Chronocidal Jun 24 at 15:17
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    @Chronocidal The latter. I've been experimenting with different ways of showing things to the beta readers, this one is getting the chapters in order to see what their reaction without potential biasing effects of knowing what is going to happen is. – user2352714 Jun 24 at 15:57
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    Do the other beta readers agree? It's good to have several so you can compare. When half or more of my beta readers agree that something is wrong, I concede that my opinion must be wrong, but one is less certain. – Mary Jun 25 at 0:04
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    @Mary Definitely agree there. Right now it's just one beta reader. The issue is more I feel compelled to throw out the plot to please them despite knowing it's just one reader just because they didn't like something. In a vacuum that's not bad, but it's easy to see where it could turn into a bad habit. – user2352714 Jun 25 at 0:53
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    You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time. Abraham Lincoln - I personally don't like some best-sellers. I have never read a single line of Fifty Shades of Grey, the subject matter just doesn't appeal to me. A lot of people steer clear of Shakespeare. I never cook and hate cooking shows. I found Game of Thrones boring even though I tried hard to read the book and watch the series on TV. I gave up after the first episode. – chasly - supports Monica Jun 26 at 11:50
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I'm fond of the following quote from Neil Gaiman:

Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

You're the cook, they're the diner. If they don't like the taste of the omelet, you can't tell them they're wrong. But it's up to you to figure out what's wrong and how to fix it.

The tester/editor does not have the required perspective to tell you how to fix the problem. They don't know what the story is supposed to be, and until the story works, they will guess what it's supposed to be and guess wrong.

They don't know what your motivations are for writing it. They don't know all the blind alleys you tried and crawled out of. All they know is whether it works or not. The best they can do is point to a specific part that doesn't seem to work, but just because that's where the symptoms show, doesn't mean that that's where the problem is.

Their job is to say if it works, your job is to find the problem. If you keep these two concerns separate, you can have a very healthy relation with any tester or editor.

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    Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Customers know the problem -- they want to get somewhere faster. But not the best solution. – jerrymouse Jun 25 at 19:09
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Writing is like most other creative processes. A previous answer is right -- people know if they don't like it, but they don't really know what is wrong.

Listen to the emotional content of the feedback rather than the analysis, but, especially if you are still writing the first draft, don't listen too closely, nor too quickly. Get your thoughts written. Write to your plan. Let the story unfold on the page until you reach your end.

With some time behind you, contemplate the feedback from early readers. Re-read your work. If the places early readers were uneasy, or distracted, or confused don't flow as you thought they would, consider changes. If the reader didn't like a plot point, don't change the plot, but maybe add a word or two that supports your point and refocuses the reader's emotion where you want it.

Ultimately, you are the author. The story is yours. If you tell it cleanly, clearly, and with emotional truth, many will enjoy the telling.

Some will not. Some will object to the subject. Can you make the subject important to them? Some will find your characters offensive. Can you make your readers appreciate the offensive characters for the qualities you find in them? Some may hate you for bringing your work into the world. Wow. That's impact. Congratulations!

You've heard this before, but don't start editing and rethinking until you finish the first draft. If you think a different viewpoint or voice or anything else is the better way to tell the story, start over with that new perspective. Don't edit your partial first draft into a different form. Everything will suffer. Better to give yourself the gift of blank paper and permission to start again on a new project.

If you are in the middle of the first draft now, remember the general principle that "First Drafts Stink". The only good attribute a first draft can have is that it is finished. Only when finished have you charted the course of the story and characters. Only when finished can you see, from a distance, where some turns are too sharp or some character evolution assaults credulity.

With the first draft finished, then listen to your readers who have sampled You have many chances to change things, but only one chance to tell this story for the first time.

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As a person I’m a bit of a people-pleaser. I tend to bend over backwards to avoid conflict and make people happy. I’ve reached the point in my writing process where I’ve started to send out drafts of my work to beta readers to get feedback. However, I've started to notice a bit of a problem in that when I get feedback I feel compelled to incorporate it all in and kind of unthinkingly accept reader interpretations of things.

That sounds like you're letting their criticism too much into the book. Let's look at the other points the author brings up before giving an answer.

In particular, there is one plot point one of my beta readers doesn't like that sets up an important subplot that leads to a lot of juicy conflict between the lead characters and a minor antagonist.

...

The only rule of thumb I have been able to figure out is: If multiple people have a problem with the same element of the story, it is probably a good idea to change it.

As you stated, it was just one. I would listen to what they say, and weigh if their reasons are good enough.

Because they're reading in linear order they only see the comparatively black-and-white event and don't see the more nuanced consequences of it. It touches on a touchy subject (namely, trauma), but it looks at a specific aspect of trauma that is whitewashed or played for laughs in most media and saying it should be changed is the exact response that kind of thing often gets. Nevertheless, I can see why people wouldn't like it. Regardless of whether the idea is good or not, I'm noticing that my mindset is starting to slip towards "it's badwrong" simply because the reviewer said it was bad rather than based on any coherent argument.

If it's important, keep it. As you had said, they only saw the event, not what happened afterwards. It's not good to listen to a judgement that hasn't heard the whole story.

I think if I had an issue where one beta reader hated a particular plot point and wanted it removed and another thought it was great and demand it be kept I would probably short-circuit.

Honestly, same.

But if that happens, just weigh witch critique is better and more of an improvement.

I don't think the problem is any specific plot point, it's that I see it as a symptom that if I made every change beta readers suggested I would end up with a work that doesn't take any risks and loses it's impact. Though at the same time I want to write things that are enjoyable to read rather than making a didactic point.

Then have them read the aftermath too. You'll get better advice that way.

To clarify, I’m not asking how to shut out criticism entirely, claiming that my vision is perfect and must be protected at all costs. This is the entire problem, I know that feedback is critical for improving a novel and ironing out the areas an author might have a blind spot for, but this also makes me liable to incorporate every change someone insists upon regardless of how it affects the plot. But if I bend over backwards to incorporate every change that people ask of me I’ll end up with a bland, unfocused mess, especially if it involves cutting out plot points that set up later conflict.

It's only good to the point that it doesn't break you or the book (Unless if you do have a problem that you can't fix, and it's because of you, then you need to be broken; but if it's not, and you're bending over backwards, then you don't). Here's what to do:

  1. Weigh the critiques. Which ones are the best, the worst, in the middle, etc.? Separate these into groups.

  2. Look at the critiques that were "in the middle." Sort these into the best and worst.

  3. Take a look at the worst. Are there any that you feel would be better? Or are they the same? Move them accordingly.

  4. Take a look at the best. What works? What ones were you wrong about? What would adding these critiques in do to your story?

  5. Once you have gotten the best, now it's time to take one last look: which ones would be useful to the story? Which ones would be good for the plot? Etc.

  6. Incorporate the ones you felt were best.

  7. If you don't like how it turned out, change them.

Hopes this helps.

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It's a very good thing to pay attention to what your readers tell you, at least it gives the impression that you are a rather open-minded person. It seems to me that your reaction to criticism is rather a symptom of a larger problem. I'm just guessing, but maybe the reason you don't know whether to incorporate a plot change or not, is that you don't have a very clear vision of what you want to achieve.

It will be easier for you to distinguish between valid and invalid criticisms if you have a very clear vision of what your story is about (I'm not talking about the plot). What is the main message of your novel? Who are the characters? What kind of people are they at the beginning of the story, and at the end? What were their dreams and desires before the story began? What events will change all that, or give them the means to achieve it? What sequence of events will make them different persons between the beginning and the end?

If you know the exact steps your characters have to go through, you'll be able to spot the scenes that are unnecessary or inappropriate for your story more easily, and you'll be able to assess whether a change is useful or not. A reader who can explain why he or she thinks a scene slows down the story or betrays a character's spirit is doing you a favour. A reader who tells you that he or she would prefer more explosions or just says "Don't like it", much less.

Don't try to please anyone: you will always get criticism, even after fifteen revisions. Write a story in a world that you are passionate about, to say something that you find true, and there will always be people out there to cherish it.

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I would echo other posters' sentiment. It sounds like you have a beta reader instead of several. I would encourage you seek out other beta readers. Or, I would suggest a developmental editor, if your current beta reader is not a professional.

A friend of mine beta read my first novel. He had beta-read for a lifelong friend who was a well-published author. The author so trusted my friend's opinion that if my friend told him to change something, he would. But, they knew each other for decades, and my friend was the perfect persona for his target audience. I would argue that is the exception.

His advice for me? "Developmental editor."

My developmental editor gave me 6 major thing to change. It caused me to rip out a sub-plot so I could substitute another. Much better.

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