Saturday, January 21, 2012

Our stories may be our children, but we don't always know what's best for them

Critiquers and fellow writers are often heard to remark: “These ideas are just for you to kick around, because this is your story and you know best what direction it should go in.” I disagree.

Well, sometimes I disagree. Thing is, as inexperienced and/or unpublished writers, we ask for critiques because we want help with our work. If several readers comment that the mystery seemed to be solved easily, or the main character’s motivation to uproot her family and move everybody to Tibet seemed weak, that means something. It isn’t only editors who can pick up an “off” vibe.

It’s nice that people can be polite enough to say they don’t want to change your work. Let’s face it, though: sometimes that’s exactly what it needs. As the author, we’re usually too involved with our work to see all the weak parts and/or how to fix them. Somebody coming into your project cold, without the emotional attachments that you have, is more able to see reality.

In my own WIP, I know the plot needs help. That’s why I’m trying to hash out an outline before delving into the thing too far. There are plenty of things I’m not aware of that others are able to spot. In my first couple of drafts, critters told me that Sandy was just too nice; where was his motive for wanting to help a gangbanger who’d just tried to kill him?

Well says I, I did show how Sandy spent a few hours with this gangbanger, then realized the guy was a just a young dude who never had positive role models. Wouldn’t anybody want to help someone living by their wits on the street?

—Uh, no. Truthfully, most people would have a very different reaction. It took me a while to come around, but I did realize that Sandy needed better motivation. I’d been trying to make a story out of basic scenes that were three decades old. Youthful optimism gave me tons of scenes that I fell so in love with, I didn’t see that they couldn’t hold water in a serious story. The idea of changing the characters and therefore, what they did, was like changing my own past.

I cried and carried on about it, then picked myself up and asked: Do you want to make this a marketable story? Yes? Then fix it.

Sure we need a basic, solid idea to build on. Publishers and agents don’t agree to take on a work unless it has potential and intrinsic value. If the writer is unpublished up to that point, the work is going to need revision. Plain and simple. Indie-published stories that are not *superbly edited* will not sell as well as they could.

Any number of things may wind up changed from the manuscript we submitted. Because we don’t always know best. Even many-times-published authors get rejected, and their accepted manuscripts don’t go to the printer without spending time with an editor.

Not every suggestion from critiquers needs to be taken, but you want readers to like your stuff, right? Their gut feelings are important. You don’t have to throw out previous versions, but don’t scoff when the people you asked for their opinion give it to you. If you’re not ready to make changes, drop me a line when you win a literary award for “didn’t need any editorial help.”


  1. Yeah, I find it to be sorta odd when people discount reader responses. I assume, unless someone is just writing for catharsis or something, that we care about an audience. The nice thing about sites like critique circle, is that (hopefully) a pattern emerges from the responses. The pattern is what I try to respect. :)

  2. Hi, JKA, thanks for stopping by. Respecting the pattern is a great way to glean the good stuff from crits. Write on, and hope to see you back here :)