Friday, 10 July 2009

How Much Is Too Much?

Good morning, Novel Racers. The kettle has just boiled, so let me know what you’d like to drink and I’ll get pouring. Help yourselves to a slice of home-baked bread, toasted if you’d prefer, and please make yourselves comfortable. Sorry for this being a little late, but having written my post last night, I re-read it this morning and decided to change it completely at the last minute.

I don’t have a problem with criticism, and am grateful for any suggestions made to me about my writing, as I feel I need all the help I can get if I ever want to be published. Last year I received a critique of my book which, although gave me detailed reasons why I had to make certain revisions, also said that she/he thoroughly enjoyed reading it, that it was very close to being published and a fine novel.

However, amongst other points made, the reader thought my protagonist’s character came through very well, however, there were points where she came across as bad tempered and bitchy. So, among many other changes, I amended this problem too, or at least I thought I had. The report this year stated that my protagonist could be rather too much of a ‘doormat’.

I honestly thought I’d covered all the points mentioned last year, but it seems that I’ve missed the point and either gone too far, or something, as it appears that my book reads worse this year than it did before I spent nearly a year working on it.

So, my question to you is, how much is too much? How do you know when you are improving your book, or simply ruining it?


Annieye said...

Oh Debs! I so know that feeling. It's so confusing, isn't it? I think it's a real contradiction - on the one hand we have to create believable characters - so we do this and give them their little shortcomings and make them real. Then, along comes an expert and decides they don't really like your character very much and suggests changes. Who is to say that the reader wouldn't like him as he was? Just like in real life, people warm to each other, decide they have nothing in common, fall in love, have constant arguments, etc etc.

It's happened to me too. I've created an unusual character that my agent likes, but the publishers don't seem to warm to. So it looks as if I have got to make him into a different person, which I'll find hard because I've grown to know him so well.

Rewrites, edits and changing things are all part of the game though. I sort of think it separates the men out from the boys. It readies us to accept criticism (after all, if we get published we'll have to take bad reviews on the chin).

Anyway - we'll lean on each other in Caerleon if you like. What's the bet we'll have loads of things in our novels to change! Let's just hope it's all for the better.

Leatherdykeuk said...

This isn't a question I can answer. All I do is have the characters act as if they were responding to real life situations. I'm editing an old novel atm and caught myself thinking 'ouch1 That was a bit harsh, but it was in character.'

Lane said...

Sorry you've had a disappointing crit Debs. It's all very confusing isn't it but I suppose we just have to remember that critiques - especially concerning character - are subjective. We've all read novels where we didn't 'warm' to the m/c but others obviously do. I think as far as possible you have to go with what you think is right.

Have fun in Wales.

NoviceNovelist said...

Hi Debs, The bread looks yummy! I'm with Lane on this one with regards to feedback being subjective. It can be so difficult when someone you respect gives you feedback which you then follow up and are then told you've gone too far. I try (where possible) to get a couple of valued opinions when I'm ready to ask for feedback and if they both came back hilighting the same issues I'd seriously consider how to address it. It is all so subjective- this is what drives us crazy! Ultimately you have to trust yourself at some point don't you? Not always easy though! Best wishes with it Debs.

Debs said...

Thanks for your comments. I think I need to step back from it - again - then do what I think best, after all I write what I would like to read. So confusing though.

I'm hoping that Marina Oliver's course in Caerleon will help point me in the right direction, as she's seen the same m/s too.

Fia said...

Debs, is it just one person who said your character was a bit of a doormat and is she/he the same person who found her too strong orginally?

I think with characters, it is as others have said, subjective. Personally I've grown a bit weary of prickly protoganists but other readers find them fiesty and inspiring. Why don't you send a few chapters to other writers? (I'd be more than happy to read them as I'm always interested in how others build characters. Wouldn't be of any help with grammar and stuff though).

Rowan Coleman said...

Helllo guys. This is a tricky one. Feedback from trusted readers is important, there are so many things you can miss when you are up close and personal to a work, but on the other hand you need to be strong and true to your vision otherwise you risk diluting your work. So make sure you utterly trust your readers and if you don't agree stick to you guns. its your vision after all.

ChrisH said...

Don't be disheartened, Debs, although that's a bit rich coming from me when I chuck my toys out the pram everytime I get a rejection. Having made FTT 'bigger and darker' for an agent, it was turned down by a publisher for being too big and dark. Grrrr! However in rewriting the novel twice I've come up with the version I like best. I think it's more about doing what Lane suggests and listening to your inner voice, in the end I think you do know in your heart whether or not you've written something that other folks might want to read. Good luck and enjoy the course.

Flowerpot said...

I've had this as well - one agent said they particularly liked one character; another said he wasnt real enough. As the others have said, it's so subjective. It's very difficult isnt it? I do so sympathise.

ChrisH said...

Just wanted to add that I have a 'full' script out there at the moment and I'm bracing myself... Any positive thoughts would be appreciated. Cx

Anonymous said...

First off: Happy Birthday Ellie!

Next: I want that bread. I want it.

Now on to the question...

You can please some of the people all of the time.
You can please all of the people some of the time.
But you can't please all of the people all of the time.

Abraham Lincoln - I think.

One thing to note about a review of any kind, whether written fiction or any other piece of work; whether done by an expert or just an interested party, is that it will be subjective. There's no such thing as an objective review of a novel. The craft, the process, the market and the business are just not that deterministic.

So what can we do, as authors? My recommendation - unproven, I hasten to add - would be to collect as much feedback as possible from a wide range of people and then to consider it carefully before taking any action. You can't apply all of the fixes to issues raised by all of your reviewers (see quote above), but you can get a feel for the more important and/or commonly occurring ones. Obviously, reviewers who are "experts" in the field should carry more weight than your well-meaning family and friends. You also need to be prepared to produce different drafts if necessary, and to back-track and reverse changes if they turn out not to work. The trick is not to throw anything away, even ones that aren't used. Did I say version control?

I think it is possible to over-edit and to lose something in the process. Getting the right balance is something I've yet to master. I guess taking a break between each draft/edit is a useful tip.

ChrisH: Good luck.

Debs and Annie: I'm looking forward to Caerleon too.

Right, now everyone look the other way, while I steal that loaf...

Graeme K Talboys said...

I had an experience like this with a novel some years ago. A publisher liked it but could I just do this. So I did 'this' and sent it back in. Very good but can you just do that. I did 'that', but could I now put 'this' back the way it was. I took it for a while because the prospect of being published was being dangled in front of me. But in the end I realised that whilst I was happy to correct typos and tighten up sloppy language etc, I could see no point in making major changes to plot or characters. Either it was publishable or it wasn't. If one editor didn't like major elements then I couldn't understand why they wanted the book in the first place. In the end, I told them to stuff it and write their own book.

As the Captain says, if a dozen or more people all point out the same flaw (plot hole or something) then think about changing, otherwise stick to your guns or you'll end up writing someone else's book.

Debs said...

Thanks for the feedback, I shall take it all on board and do as you suggest.

Chris, positive thoughts winging their way to you right now.x

KeVin K. said...

Okay, I'm on record about this in a couple of places.
It's your story. Trust your instincts. They're what make it your story.

Before I made my fist sale, a Star Trek short story called "Personal Log," it was read by two published Trek authors.

One was Ann (A. C.) Crispin. She wrote me a pretty detailed letter explaining all the things I did wrong, from basic premise on up. She'd put a lot of thought and time into that lettter.

The other was Dean Wesley Smith, who was also the editor of the anthology. He rejected the story the first time I submitted it with one scrawled line: "rough transitions lose reader."

What did I do? I reread my story, saw what Dean meant about my fondness for dramatic/abrupt transitions, tore out 400 hundred "surprise" words, put in about 120 "smoothing out" words, and sold the story.

I would listen to technical advice. But beyond that, it's you and your story.

L-Plate Author said...

God, Debs, you know I am the queen of redrafting. My first novel, abandoned now, believe it or not, I have 18 drafts. That is 18 drafts with an agent who just wanted this changing, then this, then this, then this, you get the picture? That's why I let it go in the end, it had been messed with too many times and also it had lost its freshness to me as the author. I was a bit like Graeme (well, after this rewrite it's got to be to a publishable standard!) but in the end it lost its sparkle because she meddled too much.

When I started to write a new novel and a new genre, the work flew out and I've done about two rewrites and a couple of edits on book one and it looks like it is ready. What I will say is that I learned how to write better during the process so no rewrite is ever wasted, although you tend to think so at the time.

Go with your gut, you will know what's right and what's wrong. But please don't learn like I did from bitter experience. Don't listen to one person who keeps on reading it. They will alway remember the last draft. Fresh eyes will read the story you are working with now. Good luck (and you too Annie). And positive thoughts winging over to Chris as well! x

Anonymous said...

Great question; I'll have to let you know when I start editing!! But I think what one critique says won't always be the opinion of another.

I don't think any of us really like to be criticised too much, praise is always nicer, but constructive feedback is an excellent way to learn about our own writing. There have been some stories I have written which I have really enjoyed reading back and others which I have thought, "blimey, bin it!"

Lovely bread, with a spread of strawberry jam.

CJ xx

Debs said...

Thank you very much for all your comments.

Sorry Captain, I think our comments must have crossed somehow, so thanks for all the advise, very useful.

Thanks too, Kevin and CJ.

Graeme and L-plate, your experiences sound horrendous, how awful to be asked to keep making changes and still they want more.

I'm definately learning all the time, so I suppose none of this experience is ever wasted.

B said...

I would want to scream Debs. You have my sympathies.

I don't know the answer. I wish I did. But I think Graeme and Kev are on to something. Don't change anything you don't agree with - unless it's a hole that's being pointed out consistently by people you trust. And even then only change it if you really feel in your heart that they might be onto something.

I have no idea now if some of my short stories are any good. They've been with me so long that I can't really tell any more.

HelenMHunt said...

Positive thoughts to everyone who has work out there, or about to go out.

Debs, I guess I'm about to find out the answer to your question. I've just finished my first draft and I know there is a huge amount of work to do on it before it goes out anywhere. What I don't know at the moment is how I'm going to get there.

I can imagine how frustrating it must be to get conflicting advice, so I hope you manage to navigate your way through it.

ChrisH said...

Thanks for your support - I just needed to get it off my chest to people who know what that holding-of-breath feeling is like.

Best wishes to all.

Liane Spicer said...

Debs, I'll definitely have a piece of that bread! Oh, it's all gone? Captain!!!

I've been thinking about this very issue recently - as a matter of fact I've written a (not yet published) blog post on it. It's really, really difficult to know when to stop tweaking, and which advice to take seriously. I've seen so many instances where different editors made diametrically opposite comments about the same manuscript. What this means is: never mind your friends and critique partners; even the experts can't agree.

I'd say: you are the creator of the story. Consider the feedback but go with your own vision in the end.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Ooh, this is a really difficult question, and I'm not sure I know the answer.

I never feel like a book is finished, and I always want to make changes. For me the finishedness has always been determined eventually by external factors, ie I stop working on it when I run out of time. Also I have a habit of being impatient and sending early drafts out, so then it gets published even though I don't (because I never do) feel it's finished, so I end up doing hasty edits pre-publication. Also I get bored after a while. This is probably just as well, as otherwise I'd edit forever and ever amen.

So... um... my answer is that it's finished when you've run out of time and/or you're so sick of the sight of it you can't bear to do any more?

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

PS You have to really agree with any changes you make. Never make changes because it will make the book more into something that somebody else will like better. You have to think that YOU will like it better after the changes, otherwise you're bound to ruin it.

Sadly if you're suggestible like me, you find it very easy to convince yourself that what somebody else thinks best is also what you think best. That's the hard part. Identifying what the essential nugget of the book is, what your original passionate vision was, and then maintaining / enhancing that, no matter what.