My wife finished The Long Chron this weekend with an interesting noise…She turned off her Kindle and said, simply, “Huh”.
I, of course, made some joke about the noise, but honestly, I have to admit, right here and now…it made me smile. Yeah, partially because she made an audible noise while finishing the book, but more so because she finished the book with a thought on her mind.
After a few minutes, she started up a conversation about the book, recognizing the questions that started growing due to the way the book ended and gave her thoughts on a couple pieces that could use improving (I’ve been promised more), but ultimately, the discussion became a realization of all the little pieces that started fitting together (or not…) after finishing the book.
And I liked that.
But, of course, with that comes that pieces that weren’t as enjoyed, the sections that didn’t work, and discussions about how things might need to be changed, at least for her benefit. Of course, she didn’t hit on them too hard at that point. She doesn’t like the way I drill her afterward in order to get down to the real reason that something doesn’t work…she claims it sounds petty (my words, not hers). There’s this fear of telling me what’s wrong with the book, one that I feel changes from book to book. Possibly because of how animated I get about talking about my work, and how sometimes that can be contrived as aggressively defending my work (which I’ll openly admit can happen from time to time).
I’ve found this all rather interesting as more and more people have joined the beta reading group for me, and I’ve become more and more prolific. When I first finished The Legend of Buddy Hero, I couldn’t get the bad statements to come out. Sure, it was always things like, “Oh, it’s okay” or “Yeah, I liked it”, but I knew something was off. I knew that I wasn’t as confident about the book as I’d like to be, and I could tell that the folks who were reading it had thoughts, but were afraid to give them…possibly with good reason, I’ve been slowly growing my skin thicker over the years.
In fact, once I finally started recognizing my issues with Buddy and doing the rewrites, that’s when the comments would start coming in, like, “Yeah, I had kinda thought the pacing was a bit plodding” or “oh, I had always thought that character was supposed to be flat” or “I’ll admit that there were whole chapters that I kinda glossed over”, but they didn’t come in previously.
Now that people are realizing that I’m going to keep making them read my books, they’re a bit more open with their criticism, telling me things as tame as, “I just didn’t get a good visual of this character” or “…this scene” or “there’s no way that person would ever say that”, to the much more extreme, “if you put this piece into print you might as well be digging your own grave” (for the record…I did put it into print and it has been noted as a favorite part of the book by more than a couple readers).
And whether or not I’m great at immediately receiving the news that you don’t like something, I heartily appreciate it…a fact that I try my hardest to express, but I know, especially in the case of my wife, doesn’t always read on my expression as I strain to think of how I could possibly rewrite entire sections of the book simply because she doesn’t like that the character used the word “dude” too much (not an actual complaint, but I fear it may come up someday….
In fact, there are many times where I immediately read something and immediately toss the idea out as completely worthless, as something that is totally a misunderstanding of what I’m trying to do, of the entire purpose of the work. There are things that are told to me about my books that I instantly consider completely anathema to the piece of art I’ve attempted to create…until slowly realizing that they are entirely correct and I could do something to get my point across in print better.
Actually, I’m proven wrong so often that I sometimes wonder whether or not this writing thing is something I should be all about (quite a bit of hyperbole here, but there’s truth somewhere in there). I’ve killed off some of my favorite bits of my books simply because of how frequently I was told they didn’t work. The beginning to The Legend of Buddy Hero was initially a lovely bit of poetic prose which was my taken on the what folks consider to be the worst phrase an author can start a book with “It was a dark and stormy night”. I thought it was a brilliant jab at the novel in general as it continued on with that concept before moving into the story proper. People just didn’t dig it. Of course, those same people had issues with the character waking up at the start of the story, as it’s another cliche that I stole…but I kept that one in…partially because although I was using a trope (as the rest of the book does as well), the scene was an important part of the story, or, more importantly, of the character development of Buddy himself. I did tone down the connection to the trope a bit, allowing people to be moved into the cliches of superhero tales a bit more slowly that I had initially developed it. All because it just didn’t work.
There were something like 5,000 words of the beginning that were absolutely killed, things I had been working with since the earliest stages of the book, things that were on handwritten notes from a decade before I started, that will never see print.
That was one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn, that no matter what you might be crafting, this is still an entertainment that has certain restrictions in place, especially if you’re an unknown author. People had difficulty reading through the first few pages of the piece because they thought I was an author simply falling into the same traps as multitudes of authors before me…and, in a way, I was…even if it was somewhat intentional.
I’m getting better at taking criticism…I really believe I am. Although…sometimes you might want to prefer to send the notes to me electronically or on a piece of paper…I might get a bit more vocal when they are in person 😉
Alright…speaking of which, I’ve got a ton of writing to get done. I’m really digging my new work in process and want to fly through it quickly so I can move into the final editing process of The Agora Files. Exciting times ahead for this guy…you know, if exciting means fingers flying across a keyboard…It does to me…a little.
Have fun out there!