Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Lesson for New Writers

It was only two or three months ago I was comforting a fellow writer friend who'd gotten a really nasty book review. I felt really sad for her once I went and read the review, because to me it sounded like an almost personal attack on her writing style rather than the content of her book. I've seen far, far worse reviews than that, don't get me wrong, but the review was enough to send the woman--who has a very sweet and quirky nature--crying into a pint of Haagen Daaz.

Even then as I watched all this happening around me, I thought: Buck up, Cora, girl. Your day is coming.

And it has. I received a truly scathing review for Crossing Borders yesterday. I received it by email and when I read it, I sat and stared, feeling numb for several minutes. I'd never heard of the review site before, but that didn't matter. It wasn't even so much that the reviewer hated my book. I knew from day one I was not going to be spared that little speed bump of the trade, and I've said as much publicly and privately. Just like rejection letters, I know bad reviews are part of the job. Not everyone is going to like what I write, or how I write, and they are not going to be shy about saying so. But it wasn't so much that this person didn't like my story than it was the little critique that came following all this about how my story might have been better.

Now, I am all about constructive criticism. It's necessary to better yourself as a writer. In fact, I've taken constructive criticism before with Crossing Borders. Although most people don't know it, Crossing Borders was originally a contest piece. The requirements of the contest were that the entry be of erotic romance genre and I think, between 5 - 12k words. Well, C/B didn't quite make the cut, but it was offered up a second chance after revisions. Although I didn't take the second chance offer, I did rewrite the story according to everything they listed on an attached sheet. And I feel I learned a tremendous amount from the short critique. The warning about passive sentences made the entire experience worth it. I think that, above everything else, has changed my writing for the better.

So with this review, I took note of the contructive criticism at the end. If I would have taken part C and placed it in front of part A and added more story here, it might've been enjoyable. That was pretty much it. I stared at this and felt a little sad, but none for the worst. Then doubt started creeping in. Had I really written something so terrible?

Crossing Borders takes place over a grand timeline of about an hour and a half to two hours tops. From start to finish, the hero and heroine, who have a long history together, do not have time to really sit and consider their actions. The story is a fast-paced, watershed moment in their lives. It's a turning point for both of them. They finally have a chance to be together again. Will they take it, or won't they?

Taking a cue from the review, I tried to picture my story written in the reverse. The backstory at the beginning, instead of fed in little parts throughout or told through dialogue. I tried to picture my characters curtailling their love-making after not seeing one another for two years. I took all these elements and did a mental rewrite of the story.

You know what I discovered? I decided if I had written my story like that, I wouldn't have liked it. Even more, I wouldn't have read it. I would have skipped through all the backstory at the beginning to get directly to the meat, the action. That's what I like, a story that moves. If I reach a flat section in a novel, I skip ahead and make a mental note to go back and read it later. Sometimes I do, but most of the time, I have to admit, I don't go back. Those books that read like that never make my keeper shelf.

I write stories that revolve around my characters. They are the story, and they are largely developed through dialogue, just as real people are. We as humans are mostly perceived to be who we are by what we say and what we do. How we project ourselves. If that's not true, then why would so many momma's out there say to their kids: Watch your mouth! I like to show action and reaction to both events and dialogue. That's how I function, and that's what I do with my characters. Everyone has a past, and it can help determine how they will react, but it is just that... the past. I want to know what's happening with Dick and Jane right now. If I have to spend 9 pages before the story starts explaining their past, I'm not gonna write that story. But then, that's just me.

I am not explaining the bad review, or trashing the anyone's opinion. I'm not snarking in self-defence. This reviewer didn't like the book. I gotcha. I accept that. There are more bad reviews to come, I'm sure. And I can only imagine the horrible, nasty reviews I'll get when I finally make it to a print publishing house. This is one more chink in the armor. Good practice for the road that lies ahead.

After all this, I feel like I've had a major growth spurt as a writer. I've realized that despite what other people think, I write what I write. Erotic romance. It is what it is: lots of steamy sex. I don't write suspence or mysteries or cozies or thrillers. I don't read those genres. I write "people" stories and after imagining Crossing Borders as something other than what it is, I know I wouldn't be happy writing anything else. And that's really the main thing, isn't it? Being happy with what you write. Loving your characters and missing them once you finish your story. That's what makes being a writer so great. You can't please everyone all the time. But you can write what you love and respect yourself for it. Love it or hate it, there it is.

6 comments:

  1. Well, reviews are other people's opinion. Today I got one who loved my story but thought it was a pity that it was too short. *wg* Yep, you can't please everyone, can you? All we can do is write the best story we know how and hope that someone out there loves it. :)

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  2. I've had far more good reviews than bad. And it seems the reviewers either really love my stuff, or absolutely hate it. Since I write for my own sanity, and because it's what I love to do, they're welcome to have whatever opinion they like. I'm a small fish in a very big pond. Things like that don't get much notice.

    However, for big authors like Anne Rice and MJD... oh, those reviewers can be ultra viscious!

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  3. Tempest is 100% correct! I've had a couple bad reviews. The one got my characters names wrong AND the sequence of events, so I laughed that one off. The second upset me because the reviewer took everything out of context. (A fan even pointed this out to the reviewer, bless his heart.) It gave potential readers the wrong impression because of the out-of-context review. I think someone may've peed in her coffee that day and I got caught in the crossfire, ROFLMAO!

    See? Laugh it off, shrug it off, but never give up. And never let anyone dis your writing. Besides, I don't put any stock in online review sites. Too many cyber cliques out there for my taste, and nowadays, you never know how many online ID's one person might have. So if your work shows up at review site A and the reviewer also reads for review site B...

    Hell, look at Stephen King. Critics hate him, readers love him, and he's filthy rich from his novels!

    Glad I made you laugh today. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. You have the right attitude. Don't let it bother you, everyone has different opinions and you can't please everyone.

    And of course you doubted your abilities and wondered if you should've done it differently. We're writers - doubting ourselves is what we do!! LOLOL ;)

    My opinion is this - if people really LOVE your work or really HATE your work, I think that's ok. Cos you got a reaction out of them no matter what. But that's just me.

    :)

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  5. Like Tempest said, a review is one person's opinion. Sometimes people just don't "get" the story, and other times, they'd rather it have been what they would've written. (I find this especially true in reviews by other writers.)

    Sometimes you just gotta shrug and let it slide. :)

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  6. CB was a damn good book. I'm a picky bitch when it comes to reading so for you to hook me, says it all really.

    :o)

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