Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's all about perception

I had a funny encounter with one of my fellow critiquers last night that really brought home a big concept for me. One of the issues I struggle with during any critique is being able to look at the feedback objectively. Typically that involves setting my own biases aside to determine whether or not I think the feedback is valid.

We were discussing a character in my manuscript that had just gone through a scene of trying on clothes. In the scene, she complains because none of the clothes fit her right. The group debated what they thought she looked like - some people thought she was tall and lanky and wouldn't have felt fat, some thought she was heavier and would have, some people wanted more character description. All of that is fine and good, but as we continued the conversation one girl said something that shocked me.

"She could be curvy," she explained to the others. "Even if she were a size 8, she could still have nice curves."

Now, we're not supposed to talk during these things when we're being critiqued, but I couldn't help myself.

"I'm sorry," I interrrupted. "I have a question. Do you think size 8 is large?"

Her eyes got big. "Well, yeah."

This was a moment for me, gentle readers. Because I happen to be size 8, and I have never in my life heard anyone refer to size 8 as "large." It's pretty solidly average in my book, and I am pretty solidly average myself. I ran through all the logical scenarios I could think of in my head for a moment, and asked the first question that came to mind.

"How tall are you?"

"Five two."

Uh, yeah. Me? Not five two. Not even close to five foot two inches tall. And then it made sense, in a way. If I were about half a foot shorter and the same proportions, I would probably be considered a lot curvier than I am now. But having never been five foot two (well, at least not for a good fifteen years), it would have never occurred to me that my size could be considered large.

What's the lesson for me in this? That sometimes, no matter how much you edit or how many people weigh in on your manuscript, someone will have a bias that you'll  never even think of. So as much as I'll continue to worry about making myself as clear as possible, I've also relaxed about capturing all of those butterflies with my net.

What about you? Have you run into issues of perception with beta readers? How did you choose to handle it in your manuscript?


Tere Kirkland said...

Interesting! It really is all about perception, isn't it? I once heard someone say that the writer only brings 50% of the story, and the reader adds their own 50%, colored by their own experiences.

Great post!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Great post! I so agree that perception changes everything, but a skilled author can anticipate and direct at least of few reader perceptions. Not all, of course. My friend and I talked about a character in a book we read and how neither of us pictured the character as the author described her. Pretty interesting.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Well, heck. I'm five foot two, and I'd like to slap her. I think a size 8 AND a size 10 are average.

So, yes perception is everything, and you cannot account for what prejudices other people bring to your story.

I still want to slap her.

Lola Sharp said...

Height and bone structure definitely have a lot to do with size...I mean a size 8 on a very tall person would be very thin. On me at 5' 5" it's a curvy/average...I look better around a 6, skinny at a 4...but I can pull off a slightly chubby 10, if I don't wear shorts or a bathing suit. At a 12, I'm fat. Like, FAT. I have a neighbor who is 5' 9" and a size 12 and she's thin, toned, all legs and gorgeous.

Yeah, perception, it's interesting.

Christina Lee said...

Huh...WOW! You are so right. Fellow size 8--ers UNITE!! :-)