Last Friday I received my first rejection with feedback. 'Twas not positive feedback. In fact, it was the very first time any of my characters have ever been called 2-D (the actual words were "cardboard cut-outs"). This is not to say the feedback was in any way overly harsh or vitriolic. In fact, the rejection made me do a lot of heavy thinking about just what I was trying to accomplish with the story anyway.
So after I swallowed the first sting of "No," I started assimilating the feedback. The critique focused on several details I had used that seemed to the editor to create very generic characters. Aside from one of the details mentioned, the others were not character signifiers but societal and class markers. More like brushstrokes to paint the background. So I was very confused with how they had been taken as character details. This has resulted in my logic twisting itself into pretzels as I try to figure out how much I agree or disagree with the feedback.
I moved away from the details as quoted and got to the characters he said were flat. I approached them more in terms of how I would usually determine whether or not I had well-rounded characters in my stories. What was the motivation? What was the background? I didn't get far for two of my characters (the two involved with the majority of the details quoted). So I agreed with the feedback and started to look for ways to flesh these folks out.
Then I stopped because it seemed like adding more details to distinguish these characters would detract from the point of the whole scene, which was to describe in an entertaining, everyone can relate to this fashion how something wasn't happening (with the lead-in scene keeping folks suspicious as to why the certain thing wasn't happening). Then I stopped and took a bird's-eye view of that thought and realized that I had just owned up to writing a plot-driven scene. This necessitated a closer look at the purpose of the scene, which was really an exercise of showing not telling the actions of a different character in carrying out the wishes of yet another character. All the character-driven aspects of the scene were there, just not for the characters actually in the scene. If that makes any sense.
By this point I'm feeling good because I've re-assured myself that I'm not a plot-driven writer despite that seemingly plot-driven scene. In fact, through all this hamster-wheeling, I realized something I do have to look for during revision for my short fiction. All of my writing is idea-driven. That is, I get an idea that involves both plot and character (usually a small piece of each that I then have to build on). In my novels, in order to make sense of the scale of the idea, I have to figure out why these characters are doing these things, and the writing of the book thus shifts from the idea to the characters. In my short fiction, I basically purge the idea, making sure I get from A to B as it came to me, thus shifting the idea to the plot. I'll have to be very aware of this in my revisions.
Speaking of revisions, I was back where I started with this feedback. How much do I agree with the comments? Do I flesh out the two characters and hope the details don't detract from the purpose of the scene? Or do I leave them as "insert yourself here" placeholders and acknowledge that such a device is going to make it nigh impossible to get the story published? Or do I take the feedback very literally and just adjust the details as quoted to something more unique even though that wouldn't be true to the characters and probably not even to the intent of the critique itself?
I'm going to have to leet this one stew for a bit. But it helped me figure out a few things about revising my short stories.