I tested the right things in the beginning, but I didn't look for the results I really needed. I don't test stuff like this with friends, but he was different because he was a potential boyfriend and I needed to learn the truth about what I was already worried about - that he was happy-go-lucky and I'm not and we just weren't compatible. The way he dodged the issue of my 100 Facebook notes on Colby got me nervous, so I wanted to test the waters further. I wouldn't do this with someone I already trusted.
First I asked him whether I should call my novel "Submersion Learning" or "The Picnic Game." Everyone I had asked at the time agreed that "The Picnic Game" was the better title. I agree too. So I didn't expect any different from him. But it's the reasoning that bothered me a little. Everyone else told me that "The Picnic Game" just sounded more like a fun novel to read, whereas "Submersion Learning" sounds more like a textbook title. He told me that he liked "The Picnic Game" because it sounded more upbeat. Nothing wrong with that answer - after all, it's not like he knew anything about the book. But then I told him that it wasn't really an upbeat story - I explained that it involved a cult and manipulation and someone literally almost getting killed because of social pressure to do something dangerous. Even though I was leaning towards "The Picnic Game," I told him what I liked about my other title, why I thought it fit the story. And he basically kept telling me that the reason he liked "The Picnic Game" better was because it sounded more happy and light and fluffy, even though I kept insisting that the story wasn't like that.
[Content: Suicidal thoughts in a fictional story]
Then I asked him for advice on my second novel (not the one I'm working on now - I shifted the order). My second novel at the time was going to be based on my Colby story. The story begins with the first part of a suicide note. Each new chapter begins with another paragraph of the note, and the issues described in the note are then played out in the chapter. The reader assumes that the character is going to kill themself at the end. But when we reach the end of the book, the final paragraph of the note, the person explains that they decided to live because what they had to say was too important to leave in someone else's hands. At that point, you really feel like the person is talking directly to you, the reader, like the entire book is their suicide note and they chose to live just so that they could put it in your hands, because that's how important the message is. I asked my boyfriend the same question that I had asked two of my writer friends - I asked him if it sounded like a cop-out to have the main character talk so much about killing themself and then not doing it. See, I wanted the ending to really pack a punch, to show just how important everything was that happened to her. But I was scared it wouldn't come off that way. There aren't a ton of college angst stories like there are with middle school and high school. Those are the times that are "supposed" to be bad, that lots of people agree are bad. No one writes dark angst stories like that about college. What I was afraid of was that my ending wouldn't pack that punch about how important her experience was, but rather, it would just come off as an anti-suicide message, indicating that it was good that she stuck it out and learned from the experience. That was the absolute last message I wanted the story to have. So from that point of view, I wondered if it would have been more effective to have her kill herself at the end, if that would be the best (or only) way to make people take her story seriously. When I asked my boyfriend about the issue of it being a cop-out, he basically said that he didn't see it being wrong that she chooses to live because most people would want to see her live. He was very tired because we were seeing a movie late at night, so I cut him a lot of slack for that. I actually thought it was sweet that he was trying hard to come up with an answer for me when he was so exhausted. But, while I don't remember his exact words, he was basically saying that the ending was fine because people would rather that she live and no one would want her to kill herself. There were (and still are) only a few people I can really talk to about the issue of it being a cop-out who really understand and accept what I'm trying to do here. I know my boyfriend isn't a writer, and I'm not expecting him to give me the kind of response I'd get from a friend who is, but I felt like I had confirmed that he was just like everyone else. He wasn't the kind of person I could talk to about this - he was the type who would just rather have the character live at the end because it makes him more comfortable even if it doesn't get the message across (not that there's anything wrong with this preference, just that it wasn't really answering my question about the cop-out). But I didn't see this. I just saw that he didn't completely freak out over the fact that I mentioned a suicide note.