Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's like a Zen moment... When a writer realizes they don't really want to rewrite every other author's work.

It's like a Zen moment...
When a writer realizes they don't really want to rewrite every other author's work. That second we realize that rewriting other peoples novels is not a viable profession, that we really don't have that much time on our hands.

Unless we are ghostwriters.

As a writer, I've fallen victim to at least the passing thought that I could write something better. That the author chose the wrong style. That this piece of crap is annoy the daylights out of me and I can't continue it. I should make it better.

So when someone approaches my work from that level I realize that it's something that will happen. I try to step back and try to to absorb the parts of the critique that have been helpful. After all, if they sent you any sort of note that means they care enough to say something.

When we publish something we invite criticism.

That's why we employ editors, to minimize the number of events. Unfortunately there are some subjective elements to style that make it impossible to please everyone. Someone has to make decisions about those and that means that it will go well with a percentage of people, though not so well with another percentage.

The key is to invite criticism. With this, should come the realization that you will be sifting through that to find the key pieces that will help to hone your work.

As a writer one of the main tools I've found that I use is reading other peoples work. I don't read for ideas. I read other work for views on experimentation with styles. The biggest stumbling block to this tool is those few times when I have difficulty finishing because of something I perceive as a problem.

I would like to think I'm getting better at it. Although, I will admit to recently upsetting at least one author by suggesting I hadn't finished the novella because of a few minor details. That didn't go over well. The trouble came when they decided to write derisively about my critique not being a critique, and their fans descended upon me with overpowering abuse.

The evil part of this is that I did read it; I just wasn't honest. If I had been entirely honest, perhaps it would have gone differently.

There were some major inconsistencies in the timeline of events which caused me to reread it several times to affirm that those existed. The plot was otherwise simplistic so there really shouldn't have been any need to lose track of the time of events. The characters were more one dimensional than anything else, which may or may not have been a plan since this was a pure science science fiction blended with a small element of slight fantasy but chock full of acronyms and quite recognizable descriptions from out of today's space program.

The bottom line here is that I should have said what I saw instead of a short bit about how I thought he should have at least spelled the difficult words he was using correctly and he might want to chose more recognizable words that make sense in the context.

I have been striving to improve.

To that end I have been completing books despite the level to which the author sets to annoy me and attempting to only place my annoyance in as a passing thought without allowing it to affect my overall review.

The point is; I give a review.

I attempt to be helpful and demonstrate what I like and mention what annoys or perplexes.

So, when someone tells me that a specific style choice of mine annoys them I try to listen. What is annoying to me is that sometimes people don't approach me at all about the things they find annoying let alone what they might like.

It should be mentioned that, especially so with style choices, I say I listen, but that does not mean I will change or alter the style I use. There are times when the style choice made has been decided after a lot of thought. That never means it's the best or most correct choice, but it does make it's more difficult to say I will fix that.

To name a few that I've heard.

Oh, you used first person- I can't read that - it's too much young adult - self published and first time authors use first person and don't know how to do it well.

Oh, you use present tense. Present tense always creates an urgency and immediacy in the narrative that become tiring and has no break or pacing.

Oh you use Said or Says all the time and its too annoying and I'm bleeding out of my ears eyes and nose from it.

Not all of these people have thrown the book down or quit reading, but I thoroughly understand the bleeding part and there is no reason to go on only to end up with a 911 call.

These are valid complaints, to an extent, and sometimes when I'm reading other work these things annoy me. Although, I somehow have reached a point where I can now look past them and that might be bad, but I've come to enjoy my reading much better. If the author uses too many of the generic dialog tags I just sort of block them out as long as I can keep track of who is talking. Tenses and POV even when handled poorly are really not that annoying when I begin to understand the style of the person writing.

I understand that not everyone can manage that and I know of quite a few who do throw books down and in the trash after a few pages.

When I give a review I give merit to the story and I'll often mention that it would be easier on the eyes and the mind if the POV was not so much head hopping, or the tense of the narrative could be more secure.

For me the truth is that these are not rules as much as guidelines and they are not laws as much as style guides. When handled poorly, they are also not things that are considered good writing, but they have to be consistently annoying before they affect my star ratings.

On the other hand if someone is using a difficult possibly less used word, then I expect it to be spelled correctly. That means the writer should look them up no matter how much a master they think they are at that word. And while they are there they should check and see if its common usage, the way they used it, or if it might be more of a colloquialism. God forbid they might not even know what it means. So when you use susurrus it should be spelled susurrus and not sussurus. If you don't spell that one correctly how am I to look it up or even know if you know what it means if you can't spell it correctly.

There are spelling mistakes that make sense in the sense that they might even get past an editor because the mind and eye might fool one into believing they spelled that correctly because it's such a common word.

The question would be; is susurrus a common word for you? Because, if it is I still think it should be flagged and checked because it wasn't common to me and the way it was spelled was not something common in my dictionary.

By the way; the author didn't think that was very helpful criticism.

All that aside, when someone asks how I handle criticism:

I try to point out that if I didn't want to invite it I wouldn't have published. And thank you for the input and thank you even more for having finished reading my entire novel despite the flaws that were found therein.

If you didn't finish it because you were too frustrated or pissed off then thank you again and at least I know I evoked some sort of emotion from you although not the one and the way I had hoped or intended.

J.L. Dobias

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