This time, I feel the need to post something a little more informative for any fellow authors who may be reading this, just as a mental guide of sorts. These were things that occurred to me a few days back when I was commenting on a certain headline I came across on Twitter about some authors out there getting too defensive about their work against critics, and I think I made myself pretty clear with what my opinions were about it over there, so I won’t get too much into that. (I have a feeling I’m going to fail at doing so…) Instead, I’ll list some major factors or plot devices that always get my attention with a story. Some of these are things that I’ve always thought were basic knowledge, but with researching what these critics would say about some of the works of those authors who retaliated in response, I felt it would be somewhat necessary. This is also for any of those people like me who wonders about what ‘works’, or likes to keep mental tabs on where they’re gong with their own work.
Believe it or not, there are some times when I write just for the heck of it, without any care or thought as to how the reader can break it down. But sometimes, much later after that, I go back and reread what I had written and find to my horror that things don’t make any sense in the larger sense. Mainly, I think of the reader. I think of what they would want. I think of what would sell best.
And then I catch myself . . . eventually.
Not everything has to be broken down for an audience. In fact, I have to keep reminding myself that this is supposed to be a strong pet peeve of mine, and yet I catch myself doing it all the time.
Also, I have to be perfectly honest, I don’t like the idea of writing FOR an audience. That sounds crazy, I’m sure, but I really don’t think writers can get very far based purely on what they think others like. I liken this to comedian Steve Martin, and his passion for the banjo. You would think an old comedian playing a banjo in a bluegrass band would only attract an old and weathered crowd. You would think people would only want to see him doing what he has always been known for, and yet it seems like his bluegrass act attracts quite a number of people, both young and old.
Why do you suppose that is?
The root reason is passion.
He doesn’t do it because he thinks others have a passion for it. He does it because HE has a passion for it! In effect (or affect? Great. Now I have to go listen to more Grammar Girl Podcasts.), people get excited.
No matter how much people like me love to hate on Fifty Shades of Gray, it works on this principle because it has true passion as it’s driving force. (Not that I would really know first hand…)
You see, you can do nothing but work yourself to death trying to write that perfect novel you just think everybody would love. That novel itself won’t amount to a hill of beans if there’s not something the reader can really chew on. I don’t know about you, but I can definitely taste the difference between real meat and imitation meat. (Otherwise known as pink slime)
So that’s the first factor: Don’t write pink slime! Write something truly genuine, something that is you. (Yes, that sounds a little fruity, but just go with it.)
There’s always another thing that I always think about. I think about the importance of contrast.
Now, you may be asking, what do you mean by contrast?
Well, in a way, it’s quite simple. Most people refer to it as ‘diversity’. In any story, it’s always a good idea to have different characters with different habits and tenancies. It makes your story believable, but I personally gloss over such things. Diversity may be good for some, but what I look for is something much stronger than that: I look for opposing sides to everything! I always find that having characters who greatly differ from themselves to be something that really catches my attention. The world itself is littered with people who greatly differ with one another, and getting those sides together is always the fun part for me as an author, and overall, I think people prefer to see various different kinds of clashes. It doesn’t have to be between the protagonist and the antagonist. For the love of god, we know those two sides don’t get along! I think that goes without saying. I say dig deeper, and take up some dirt and mud from all of your characters! It will be a grand spectacle, I promise you.
Next up is the the issue of being overly pretentious. This is where I sometimes feel I have the most trouble, but it sort of goes back to the pink slime rule. Are you being genuine to what is needed to carry an emotional, heartfelt story, or are you filling it up with too much superfluous dialogue?
Most importantly of all, are you, the writer, really as smart as you’re making your story out to be? Please make sure you are.
In my mind, it also stems from the contrast rule. I don’t want to be bogged down with wild rhetoric all day long, no matter how much I love Radiohead, and that one crazy anime that went by the name of Ergo Proxy. (Good god, that anime was pretentious as hell!) Things sometimes need to be changed up. It can be unexpected things that shed a new and different light on people’s perception on the story, something simple and easy to digest, or something incredibly ridiculous that it leaves me stupefied about how you came up with that crazy plot twist, but it still makes sense in the world you make, and abides to those laws.
Which leads me to the next factor, and I have to admit, I got this idea from reading a certain book full of neat magic tricks…
Surprise me! Kick my suspension of disbelief up in the air!
If your story involves some sort of mystery, think of your book as a magic trick, a magic trick being pulled on your audience. People keep seeing one hand do all the work, but they never see the slight slip of hand with your other. They don’t notice it. Maybe they thought it was a muscle flinch or a simple spasm. Then the trick is pulled, and the audience reacts wildly! They had no clue what just happened, and the plot thickens, and the audience becomes invested, wanting to know how you did that.
Last but not least, my final piece of advice from someone who is completely and totally unpublished as of yet, and yet I know I’m not any more out of the loop on this rule than anyone else:
Finish, and let it all go!
Yes, I’m talking to you authors that get your panties up in a bunch over criticism!
Just let it go.
Period. (I told you I wasn’t going to be able to hold myself!)
Guess who once wrote the following:
“…Some who have read (my) book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer. But even from the points of view of many who have enjoyed my story there is much that fails to please. It is perhaps not simple in a long tale to please everybody at all points, nor to displease everybody at the same points; for I find from the letters that I have received that the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others specially approved. The most critical reader of all, myself, now finds many defects, minor and major, but being fortunately under no obligation either to review the book or to write it again, he will pass over these in silence, except one that has been noted by others: the book is too short.”
This was written in a forward to a second edition to a fantasy book. The fantasy book was called The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The author was J.R.R. Tolkien. Perhaps you heard of him…
Not everybody is going to like your hard work! Hell, some people don’t like The Lord of the freaking Rings! If you’re a woman, you may prefer to watch that movie called The Notebook. I wouldn’t. No, I am not cold and unemotional. I just prefer to watch The Big Lebowski. That is my kind of movie.
Crazy thing is though, I can give my thoughts on The Notebook out to the internet for anyone to see, or I can openly talk about it to my friends, saying whatever, and it’s my right to do so! If you break up with me because of my disliking of The Notebook, well then . . . okay. It sucks, but those are the breaks. (But just know you are acting sooooooooooooo immature…)
Yes, I know it’s tough as nails to be noticed in the indie world, but just know that if there’s one thing that I know from studying the internet as long as I have, it’s that it will never forget that little stupid fit you had with someone who left a negative review on your Amazon page. It’s like a permanent record. It like the Star Wars Prequels. They will never go away. (Plus ten points if you know who I’m quoting there!)
And please, for the love of god, don’t ever Google yourself! Who the hell would do that? That’s the last thing I would ever want to do! Whatever is out there about me, it doesn’t exist. It’s not me. I’m not there. In fact, I’m not even sure if I exist now…
Alright. No more ranting! BACK TO WORK!