Categories
Writing Life

Musings on reviews & reaching readers

I don’t go looking at reviews often, but when I do, sometimes I find pure gems. Take this observation, from an unverified 2-star Amazon review left in June. (Why am I posting this now, when it happened in June? HI HAVE WE MET? HAVE I NOT MENTIONED MY ABILITY TO OVERTHINK THINGS FOREVER?)

But I digress early this time.

The reviewer found Controlled Descent unappealing in large part because there were repeated instances of “characters dealing with physical suffering and acting like jerks.”

Friends, I confess THIS IS A VALID TAKE, and that makes this a valuable review.

Not sure where the reader got their copy. Since the review is unverified & not linked to a Goodreads, it’s not an Amazon purchase. Might have been a convention? This means someone cared hard enough about their disappointment in a book they bought at least 2 years ago to hunt it down online & vent.

I admire that kind of dedication, and I’m (perhaps perversely) pleased I was able to inspire that passionate a reaction.

I mean, sure I’d rather inspire excitement and joy and other positive responses like loyalty and enthusiasm, but the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. I’d rather fifty people passionately but thoughtfully hate my writing than five hundred think it’s too MEH to bother rating at all.

I’ve learned over the years that my perspective on this is far from universal. Your mileage may vary, etc.

That same review complained about an “obligatory intertwined love story” and that remark kinda underscores that the book was a bad fit for them. Which happens. But not because there’s and intertwined love story.

There isn’t. Pinkie swear. There are multiple characters who are sexually attracted to others, yes. That’s hardly unrealistic. And there are comedic elements involving one character’s obliviousness, because that’s my lived experience & fun to write. But it’s a group of people who all respect consent & accept responsibility for their own attraction, so that’s that. There;s a straightforward pair-up within the embrace of a supportive, approving friendship group, and nothing more.

But!

If a reader was braced for/expecting matters to fall out as a Typical Tropey Lurve Triangle, well, I can see why they might read the interactions differently and not appreciate it. I’m not a fan of love triangle angst myself, so I can respect others being sensitive to it and having a different perspective.

I’m sharing all this as an example of why an unfavorable review can still be a good one — nay, even an excellent one.

Now, there are bad reviews aplenty out there. Vicious, vitriolic, meanspirited, hating, hateful ones. Getting a lot of those can sink a beautiful book into obscurity forever. I’ve seen stories smothered that way on Goodreads, on Twitter, on…well, anywhere readers are gathered together. Like some other authors, I fear attcks like those. So far, my obscurity has protected my writing.

(Low-star pile-on attacks have little to do with the quality of the book. Even in cases where problematic elements offended and enraged people, the massive inundation of bad reviews come from people who never. read. the. book–which is a little piece of proof that a review reveals something of its author along with its analysis.)

BUT I DIGRESS AGAIN. QUELLE SUPRISE

As long as the review is a good, honest, thoughtful one, the reasons one reader did NOT like a book inform other prospective readers about things they WILL like. That’s why I welcome good unfavorable ones. I’m grateful to all the people who took the time to share why they didn’t like my books.

Some provide insight into choices I made unconsciously about characters or style or themes–the kind of choices beta readers and editors might not question, but ones which I would rather make consciously. Other “bad” reviews highlight imperfections in plot or structure that are part of the craft ‘m always striving to improve. And yes, a few of the reviews are pure entertainment in a classic “WTAF, did they read the same book I wrote?” way.

But anyway. I thought I’d share my ponderings on this topic, and now I have done so.

That’s all for now. Until later!

OOP! CAT TAX:

Categories
Whimsy Writing Life

Some personal word definitions. Because that’s all I have today.

After reading a dialogue-heavy book over breakfast (as one does) I pondered how much of every conversations consists of fillers, reflective phrases and “message received” acknowledgements, and that led to more pondering on perpetual nature of communication issues like:

“Are you even listening?”
“Yes, I heard you.”
“Then why are you doing it all wrong?/ “Then why don’t you understand?”

Oh, and by fillers, etc, I mean things like,

“Uh-huh. I hear that.”
“Go ahead, I’m listening.”
“Okay, I think I got it. Is this what you meant?”
“Got it. I can do that.”

All this pondering led nowhere useful of course, but it did make me realize that I look at the word pairs hear/listen, understand/comprehend as conversational dance steps. Think foxtrot. Or tango.

  1. Hear: physically register vocal input.
  2. Listen: attempt to comprehend that input.
  3. Understand: receive & recognize the meaning of the input.
  4. Comprehend: input processed and absorbed, ready to put into action

A good conversation can go through that progression many times. (Pretend the words are inside pictures of feet with arrows, maybe? I dunno. I’m not feeling graphicky today.)

I think most people learn that hearing is not listening, but maybe it’s equally important to grasp that not all listening is successful listening.

I’ve seen a lot of discussions dissolve into frustration and hostility when one participant mistakes passive hearing for listening but I’ve seen many more crash and burn when someone’s certain they’ve comprehended a new idea merely because they listened to someone talk about it.

That’s all.  Just thoughts for now. Until later!

Oh, PS/PSA for all any worriers in my circle, no this has NOT been inspired by any real conversation I’ve had with anyone. Srsly.  You’re awesomes, alla youses.

Okay, I also have this picture of a flower from a couple of days ago. View on Instagram http://bit.ly/2HNd4Vk
Categories
Authoring Writing Life

Getting comfortable in my writer skin

No writers were harmed in the creation of this skin, I swear.  The comfort comes from taking two big steps towards acknowledging that this writing gig is a Real, Permanent Thing.

1. I got Dawnrigger license plates.

Yes, personalized ones. Don’t hate. There’s a story. Of course there is.

A couple of years back, the state decided that it would be rolling out a new license plate style, and that when my turn came, instead of getting a sticker for registration renewal, my old plate would be replaced for free. Huzzah, I said, because the plates I was issued Way Back When had a letter/number combo I always hated.  I never replaced them because  the fee for title transfer was low compared to the exorbitant fee for getting new plates with a new car. The Awful Old Plates went through…four title transfers, I think? Yes, I am a cheapskate.

This year, it was my turn to get free new ones! The form arrived with the link for renewing title registration online, so up to the website I went, all excited about finally being rid of my Awful Old Plates.

Whereupon the state informed me that once I completed the registration renewal they were going to send me THE SAME AWFUL LETTER/NUMBER COMBO on entirely new plates. WTF, said I, with extra exclamation points. No. Nope. Unacceptable. HELL NO, even. Cussing out the computer screen may have been involved.

Then I spotted my salvation in a sidebar on the left. An option for personalizing plates. An extra fee in addition to the renewal, but not as much as new registration.

So I did it. What the hell. No, they are not vanity plates. (Seriously. They aren’t. Vanity Plate was a whole ‘nother  choice on the site. Who knew license plates came in so many different flavors? I didn’t.)

Now my little car has plates that read DAWNRGR. See? Maybe no one but me will ever know what that means. But I do know, and it makes me happy.

2. The other authoring-related thing I did makes me even happier, and was much easier; I listed myself as “author at Dawnrigger Publishing” in an official directory for the first time.

It wasn’t a government form or anything.  It’s just a member directory for a organization at my college.  I’m still working as Registration Staff part-time at the Mount Prospect library and as a volunteer at the Botanic Garden. Putting the word ‘author’ in the
Primary Employment” slot on this form changes nothing at all officially, but…

I felt comfortable doing it. That changes everything.

I’m getting there. Slow & unsteady, but I’m getting there.

Categories
1. Storysculpting Authoring Writing Advice Writing Life

Feeling Ranty About Writing (Again)

The next person who tells me The Best Way To Write That First Draft is to “just keep writing, don’t edit, don’t worry about changing anything until you’re done all the way to The End” will be figuratively hit over the head with all seven completed novels I successfully wrote while self-editing like a mad fiend.  I will grant two of those novels were hopeless dreck, but I got better. I know  how to finish. I know what the fuck I am doing.

Yah, sure, I sometimes piss and moan about my struggles with this writing gig, but I’m sick and tired of getting chirpy-happy brightsiding advice in reply. Gaps in my happiness are not openings through which to insert boilerplate one-size-fits-all Writing Advice. Do not poke my process. I will bite those fucking fingers off.

<deep breath>

I am not pissing on other ways of doing. I adore reading “How I Did It” stories. I enjoy peering down the roads not taken and trying new tricks and stretching my skills–at my on speed, and in my own oddball way. That’s discovery and exploration.

But slapping the same information into my online space as responsive commentary (or throwing it unasked in my face in person) is like reaching for a tissue and getting sandpaper instead.

Suggestions to “Try X, it works for me/my friend/this famous person” erode my emotional defenses. Those offhand remarks, however kindly intended,  carry implicit messages of disapproval of whatever I’m doing now. They scrape me raw.

When I gripe, I need comfort, not Perky Writing 101. Gnashing my teeth over uncooperative prose indicates desire for commiseration, empathy, and/or demands for productivity. It is NOT an invitation for correction of the many, many, flaws in my writing craft.

I already know the way I write best is not what’s recommended by successful/ commercial/ profitable writers or taught in any workshop. I have been to workshops. I have taken classes.  I’ve tried the tried&true. It. Doen’t. Work. For. Me.

And yet, hard as I march to my own rhythm, the drumbeat never drowns out Common Wisdom.  Why so stubborn?  My brain whispers in this annoying little voice it uses when it’s being a shit. Try it that other way. Do that other thingYes, last time changing up your writing stopped you cold and killed your spirit, but maybe this time it’ll be different. Why do you keep pretending you know better than all the experts and teachers, you egotistical hack?

That annoying whisper is hard enough to silence without unsolicited advice giving it a megaphone and amplifier.

I self-edit constantly, I don’t outline in detail or make character sheets or do ANYthing I’m “supposed” to do, and yet left to myself I can produce a clean, editable novel manuscript in as little as few months…

…or as long as several years. Why such a range? Here’s a confession:  I write only when I can delude myself into thinking that someone else actually-really-truly wants to pick up what I’m laying down and wants it RIGHT NOW.

The right now part is critical. I’ll likely miss every deadline laid down, but having them does motivate me. But I can’t set my own deadlines.  I’m good at deluding myself, but the idea that anyone else (in the larger sense of The General Public, not in the sense of my loyal couple dozen fans…) wants my writing NOW? That’s too big a bouncer for me to swallow.

So. I stop writing when being constantly hounded about process AND when I think nobody else really cares if I ever finish or not. Fragile, frail flower, that’s me. Piss, moan, stomp, stomp. Oh, look. I’m griping again. Life as usual.

 

NO I AM NOT ASKING FOR ADVICE. I am just sulking here in my internet corner, much the same way my cat grumbles to himself when he’s settling into his blanket for a nap.

This isn’t my first rodeo. When I’m bucking and and growling all over the ring to work off my temper, don’t step in there with advice. You’ll get stomped on like a baby chick. If I want advice on how to ride the bronco, I promise I will ask for it. I will even use interrogative phrasing and proper punctuation to make abundantly clear that I am making questions.

Otherwise cheers and hollering and applause from the sidelines is what I actually need. In case anyone was wondering.

Categories
2. Worldbuilding nuts & bolts Writing Advice

The devil is in the details

I love world-building. I hate being bogged down in lengthy explanations. Those two ideas seem to contradict each other, but they don’t. Constructing a whole reality idea by idea doesn’t have to mean burying the reader in excess information. It’s successful if it’s real. It works if it works.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how that gets done lately, and here’s the stream-of-consciousness result.

I like a sausage-making metaphor: massive quantities of information has to be smooshed into a compact, spicy form that looks, feels, and tastes nothing like the disparate ugly ingredients of its origin. I also like a phrase stolen from role-playing. “When in doubt, roll and shout.”

Research is critically important, but it isn’t narrative-friendly.  If I haven’t considered all the implications of every idea that I dream up, then I will write something idiotic or miss obvious contradictions. But if I don’t provide all that background I made up when I write about things that don’t exist, then the reader will drown in unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts.

It’s a tricky balance. Part of the problem is the difference between real life and narrative life.

None of us notice everything about everything in our daily lives. We take reality for granted. Most of us don’t ponder the intricacies of electrical power generation and distribution when we turn on a lamp. We don’t discuss historical origins and socio-political underpinnings of every news event. In conversation we don’t provide definitions to each other for nouns we use every day.

But stories are condensed life. Dialogue is more than conversation. Writers can make every interaction and description a springboard for adding information to the mix. But does can mean should? (NO)  How much of the sausage-making needs to be shown?

When I come up with some clever new idea, the first thing I must decide is, does it work? Do all the imaginary events, objects, people, histories, actions, and places I want to include in my world make sense together?  Then I have to decide does that idea need to be in this story? The last tricky hurdle: when I describe these ideas, do my descriptions feel plausible?  That isn’t the same as the descriptions being precise.  Far from it. 

There’s an art to achieving realism.  What’s the right amount of information to make a world feel real without boring the reader to tears?  Alas, the answer is it depends. There’s a spectrum of tolerance for raw information. Pleasing every reader is impossible. I wish there was a formula or even a rule of thumb, or an easy middle road, but there isn’t.

There are tricks & tropes to ease data delivery into a story: the newbie; the research montage; the fish out of water, the amazing discovery–there’s a whole kit of craft tools. (A new one I’ve learned: slotting critical facts around cliffhanger action.) But those still only cover the how, not the which or the  how much.

Texts thick with numbers, vocabulary, and dates leave me cold, so they aren’t what I write. I use the technique I like best as a reader: immersion. I describe my worlds the way someone living in them would experience them. Then I add the minimal explanatory material to that framework.

Enough and only enough: that’s my descriptive mantra.  Brevity entices the reader’s imagination and sets it roaming free.  If I’ve done the does it work part of my world-build properly I don’t need to show much at all. My readers don’t nee a treatise on economics with every passing place name reference.  I can even leave details vague in my own mind until I need to write about that place.

A last phrase I keep in mind when dealing with world backgrounds is one attributed to several classic showmen, “Always leave them wanting more.”  If I build my world in broad strokes and use sharp wordcraft on the little I let into my story, readers will know there is more and come back for seconds.

If the devil is in the details, then get thee behind me, details.