Terrible Plot, Critique, and Taking Advice
In a moment of weakness (okay, it took me more than a moment to write it), I decided it was best for my characters to miniaturize themselves to avoid detection. It was all very “Hollywood”, and in this case, that’s not a good thing. I’m claiming that I wrote that bit during a NaNoWriMo where my judgement was flooded by “getting the novel done”. Regardless of when I wrote it, it was still a terrible, half-considered idea.
But my writing group had an opinion about it. They came together and voiced how it was a pretty weak point in the plot. They were really nice about it, but their message was clear. I emerged from the meeting mostly unscathed. I was a little embarrassed, but I knew that I had a decision to make.
When I started revising it, I had two options.
1. Listen to them.
2. Completely disregard them.
The Matter of Trust
When you share your unreleased work with people, you have to know that you can trust them. Assuming you want feedback, of course. If you need to hear what a real person other than you thinks about your writing, trust is the key. You have to trust that the other person isn’t just going to be a jerk about it because they prefer biographies. And really, you have to believe that the person is going to tell you what you need to hear, not what you feel like you need to hear.
The first point there is easy to get through. Where we fall down with trust is that sometimes we ask people who will always be our biggest fans. My mom offered to read my book, and while I have no idea if she’ll like it, I know she’ll encourage me. That’s awesome, and I absolutely adore my mom. (My dad, too, they’re just really important people to me.) But sometimes, I know that her perspective isn’t what I need to hear at that moment. She doesn’t really care much about the fantasy genre. And while she can tell me what she thinks about it as a whole, occasionally I need to hear about something particular. The miniaturization of humans, in this case.
Ask people who have a perspective you trust, and that will also tell you when you’re being lazy.
And Then There’s Pride
I think that I’m a decent writer. How good is completely up for debate, of course. But I don’t overly care about that debate. I want to release what I think is my best work. But sometimes I get caught up on that very same work. I think it’s solid, but then, six weeks later, it’s weak again.
If I’m talking about a point that’s fresh in my mind, it’s very likely that I’m going to think it’s the best thing I’ve ever penned. In some cases, it’s not even a good idea to tell people about the idea until I’ve given it some time to settle down.
But we also have to put ourselves aside. We are more important than our best work, and yet we have to be able to tell ourselves that our work is bigger than a single thought.
When someone disagrees with me, is it because I’m right, or is it because I can’t see past the disagreement?
Luckily for me, this was a fairly easy conversation. The shrinking people angle felt off as soon as they started talking about it. (Okay, it felt weak when I wrote it.) But on larger themes, often more important to the core of a work, it can be harder to separate. And sometimes the other person has no idea what you’re going to do with that thing that feels cliche at the moment.
You’re reading my work. I have this scene in a cave where a main character finds treasure. Now this treasure somehow has a magical enchantment on it that will alter the rest of the book. That coin, we’ll say it’s a coin, is now a central point in the book.
There’s a thin line there. It could be a really good idea, depending on how I spin it, or it could be a terrible knock-off of The Hobbit. As the critic, it’s your job to tell me that kindly. But as the writer, it’s my job to actually listen, to consider that you might be right. Maybe I have some amazing reason for not taking your advice, but completely ignoring it probably means I’ve fallen into a trap.