Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who Do You Love? Or, Reader Obligation.

Write the story you love.

Don't write to the trends.

All that matters is that it's done well.

As writers, we hear these three phrases quite a lot, don't you agree?  All three, sound advice.  BUT.  And there's always a but...what if you have written what you love, not written to a trend, and even written it well, but your critique partners/agents/editors (depending upon where you are in your journey), are just not in love with the story?  Maybe they're not even in like with your story.  *GULP*


"But, but, but," you say, "WHY?  This is the story I LURV.  I've written it well.  I didn't chase a trend.  It's different.  It's unique."

"I don't like it.  Do it differently," CP/A/E says.  "The way you have Lord of the Tree People getting pulled up by the roots is going to frustrate readers.  It frustrated me."

"But, but, but...It's the story I wanted to tell.  Lord of the Tree People HAS TO be pulled up by the roots."  *Stomps Foot*

So, who do you owe here?  Are you obligated to yourself to tell YOUR story YOUR way?  Or, are you obligated to tell a story that your readers (CP/A/E) wants to hear? 

I'll throw out my opinion and ask for yours in the comments:  Personally, I feel if you're writing to get published, you leave your ego at the door.  Embrace being as flexible as you can and write what the people want from your story.  Many times, it only makes it stronger. 

Happy writing,



Tami said...

"You can't please everybody all the time," as my gramma used to say.

Of course, she also used to say "Anyone looking that close ought to be shot" when I asked if she'd cut my hair straight.

I would say that "Leave your ego at the door" is accurate advice, but I'd temper it with a recommendation to find out WHY readers found it frustrating.

If they found it frustrating because the very idea of Tree People is ridiculous ... then perhaps you have the wrong sort of critique group for what you're writing.

Typically, that happens when your critique group is your buddies or the first folks who happened to show an interest in the fact that you're a writer.

IF, however, they found it frustrating because the environmental allegory was strained by having him pulled up by his roots, and they felt it would be better served if he was bulldozed or poisoned - examine your reasons for wanting him pulled up by the roots. Perhaps you didn't write it in such a way that your intent was fully communicated.

Or if their emotional ties were to the person DOING the pulling rather than to the Lord of the Tree People, then again, that's a writing issue. If you intended that scene to have the reader rooting for the tree, and instead, they're rooting for the puller - that's another writer communication problem.

In general, either agreeing or disagreeing completely with your critique group can be dangerous. Know why you want the scene to stay the way it is (and not just "cuz I wanna!") and know why your critiquers didn't like it (and not just "I didn't like it!").

Evaluate the two. Seek the disconnect between what you intended the reader to feel and what they are actually feeling and find out how you can get them back in synch.

If you are writing to share with other people (whether than be publishing or friends), writer ego shouldn't be a factor. *nod*

Jamie B said...

You said it! I agree with everything you said, Tami. Thanks for sharing!

Tere Kirkland said...

Tami, that's exactly what I was going to say only clearer and more to the point. Which is usually where I have problems with my manuscript, go figure. ;)

If I am at loggerheads with a comment from one of my crit partners, I try to examine exactly what it is that bothers me about what they wrote.

Am I just being defensive? Or is it a case of ill communication on my part? Has something I wrote earlier caused the reader to envision a scene differently from the way I pictured it?

The best part about betas and crit partners is that they are usually more than happy to have a discussion about WHY something didn't work for them. I find this usually helps smooth down raging egos!

Kaiser said...

I once read that Jim Butcher wrote his epic Codex Alera after a bet. A person dared him to write a novel mixing the Roman legions and... Pokemon. The result was a completely awesome series, well written, and very original.

The point of Jim Butcher was that a good writer is able to take a concept, any concept, and make a good story out of it.

And if you haven't read the Codex Alera yet, do so! =D

Becca said...

My opinion? Embrace being flexible. However, if people are asking you to change it too much, it may not be worth it. It may be time to direct your work elsewhere.

Elena Solodow said...

I usually follow the rule that if I hear the same comment from more than one person, something ain't right. But it always helps to have a beta you can discuss with. Sometimes they like the concept you're trying to explain, but not the scene that you used to explain it.

Really fine line though. I suppose all authors have egos (or else they wouldn't think themselves capable of writing a novel), so it's always good to be aware that you do have one to keep it in check.

Krista Ashe said...

Coming from someone who has revised, revised, revised their YAUF, I have to say that sometimes it can be better, and you need to listen to others. Some books can be improved more than others. I mean, I'm amazed sometimes how far I've come, and I'm grateful to the people who pushed me before my agent and then my agent for pushing me even more!

I know I usualy weigh several options when taking constructive criticism from beta readers. I guess I look at the overall comments. If I've got several beta readers saying the same thing, then yeah, it needs changing or tweaking or whatever.

Nice post, Jamie!

Catherine Stine said...

After you've written that piece that you love, you should always be careful who you get to read it. Only have first readers who you implicitly trust. And if an editor reads and critiques, change those elements that you truly believe would make your work a better piece. Yes, be open to good critique, but not so open that you revise the piece into a nonsensical mess. TRUST YOUR GUT.