Found my first negative review of Doppelganger today. (I knew there would be some. No book ever pleases everybody.) As I’d hoped, though, I find that I can take negative commentary in stride if what the person objects to is something I chose to do deliberately.
In this case, the reader put the book down after about twenty pages because, although they liked the swift opening, they soon found themselves confused about who the people were, and felt I was doing a bad job of introducing my characters (and the world in general). It isn’t quite true to say that’s an approach I took on purpose, since when I first wrote those scenes I wasn’t yet experienced enough to make choices like that on purpose, but through the various passes of revision, I chose to refine it in that direction. Why? Because the characters in those first twenty pages all know each other very well. Ergo, I chose to show through their behavior that they are familiar and either friendly or hostile by long habit, and to convey why and how they know each other through an accretion of brief comments, rather than an outright explanation.
For a lot of you reading this, that probably evokes a “well, of course” reaction. Not for everybody, though, and maybe not even for everybody reading this journal. Some readers prefer clearer explanations. It was a point of negotiation with my editor when I was revising Doppelganger — not the character introductions, per se, but the introduction of other information; I don’t always explain things when they first appear. Sometimes I drop them in and hope you’ll stick with me until the explanation arrives (which it usually does not long after). This is a technique that doesn’t work with every reader, and I know it. It’s my personal preference, since I find it more graceful. But it also means some people may get confused, and of those who get confused, some (like the reviewer) will not choose to stick with me.
You win some, you lose some. One of the commentators on that post went on to write a very positive review of the novel on her own blog, so hey.
(The negative reviewer also didn’t like my writing style. That aspect of fiction, more than anything, makes me roll my eyes and chalk it up to taste; you can try to make arguments for objective standards of plot or character or whatever, perhaps, but not writing style. I’ve gotten people telling me they love my writing style and I should never change it. There is absolutely no style I can use that will make everybody happy. Which is probably good, since it means I can stop worrying about it and just write in the style that the story feels right in.)
So, first negative review successfully survived. The choices I made didn’t work for that reviewer, and I’m more or less fine with that (“more or less” because, let’s be honest, I want everybody to love my book — what author doesn’t?). We’ll see what future reviews bring.