Worldbuilding Through Characterization
 

Worldbuilding Through Characterization

Article

 
One Way by S. J. Morden
 

One Way

Review

 
#SPFBO 5 Cover Contest
 

Cover Contest

#SPFBO 5

 

In the Face of Adversity: When Loved Ones Don’t Love Your Book

About fifteen years ago, I sent my mom a copy of my manuscript – my very first novel. It was 973 pages long, and was, looking back, pretty much a mess. At the time, however, I thought it was perfect, and I was very, very, very attached to it. To every word. While she was reading it, she’d occasionally call me to tell me what part she was at, and I knew without looking what page number she was on. While she was fairly enthusiastic, her biggest comment upon finishing was, “Cut the first 300 pages.” She didn’t like it because it was dark. There was drug use, some child abuse, and a generous sprinkling of the F-bomb. But she didn’t say, “Maybe you should cut the first 300 pages,” or “You know, I really liked it but have you considered toning down the first third?” She simply said, “Cut the first 300 pages.” Like it was God’s law, or that her opinion was the only one that mattered.

This tripped me up much more than it should have. I knew rationally that she was objecting to a personal taste, and that it wasn’t necessarily a universal opinion. But I couldn’t shake it, mostly because I’m sensitive and have wobbly self-esteem. I did stage acting for a number of years and can still quote every bad review I’ve ever gotten; the same goes for my novels. But at least I can recover – mostly – and continue on. That initial criticism, however, almost shut me down for good, and right when I was getting going. Thinking about it always makes me worry that there are many writers, or would-be writers, out there that have stopped writing because of a comment someone close to them made.

When we write that first novel – or any novel for that matter – our initial impulse is to give it to immediate family (when we’re ready to have someone look at it, that is). But what happens if our parents, significant others, or siblings simply didn’t like it for whatever reason? I would venture to guess that many writers don’t make it past that point. They might simply shut their manuscript up in a drawer and say, “I guess Dad was right. I better keep my day job,” and never write again. What is so important to remember is that everyone’s opinion is different. This is an obvious statement, but when staring down the face of criticism, it’s easy to doubt.

Looking back, it’s a miracle I ever found the courage to continue writing, and send that manuscript out to agents and editors. Over the years I did do significant rewrites to it, but instead of cutting the first 300 pages, I simply cut the book into three parts so that the first third, essentially, was its own story. My mom still doesn’t like it, but it was the first novel that snagged me an agent and a publishing contract. Not only that, but it’s gotten some fairly good reviews and won Novel of the Year last year from my publisher. Ironically enough, some people only like the first part, because they enjoy contemporary and dark stories. Once the setting changes to a fantasy setting (the part my mom did like), they lose interest. I’ve also written several other novels since then, but my mom wasn’t my only opposition.

My husband hasn’t read any of my fantasy novels, and he’s my life partner, whose opinion matters the most. I spent a lot of years (and still, on occasion, fall prey to self-pity over it) feeling devastated that I wasn’t good enough. He did, however, read my historical-fiction novel right away and loved it. He simply doesn’t like fantasy. Thank goodness I didn’t let that stop me from writing three fantasy novels.

So the moral of the story is, in case you couldn’t tell, don’t let the opinions of those close to you shut you down from writing. Their voices are going to be the hardest ones to shut out, as I know from experience. I’m still smarting after all these years over the first 300 pages with my mom, and it still hurts when cousins and friends say on Facebook, “Oh, my gosh! I just bought your novel and I’m SO excited to read it!” and then I NEVER hear from them again. I have a revolving rolodex in my mind of the people that did like it, and when these things happen, I bring out their positive comments and let them wash over me. The problem is that to get the good comments, sometimes you have to move past the bad ones and keep sending it out. Regardless, you have to stick to your guns. Many years (and novels) later, you may decide that you want to make significant changes to your first manuscript because of all the things that you’ve learned. And if you are willing to take advice, take it from a writing professional who knows what they’re talking about – someone who will give you tips to make your writing better, not just some general disparaging comment. Never simply toss your manuscript and give up because of something someone said. When your baby is new and feels perfect, then it is perfect, in that moment, for you. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Share

23 Comments

  1. Good article and great point to this all. If you have the desire and drive, letting those you love trip you up because they don’t understand doesn’t help you. Sometimes you have to go with your gut instead. Thanks for sharing this with us, I hope more people get something from your work here today.

  2. Avatar Stacy says:

    I mentioned this on Google + but I’ll say it again here: After dinner last month, I was showing my novel off to the family and when we were ready to leave, my husband’s grandmother said, “Don’t forget to take your demon book with you.” LOL! She’s convinced that Shepherd’s Moon will curse her home. Moral of the story: you have to maintain that wall between you and your family, as well as the public. Some people will love it, others will not. The important thing is that you love it…

  3. Just for the record, my husband has never read my novel. He says he’s waiting for the movie and that works just fine for me. 😉

    My daughter, on the other hand, has really helped me with plot issues and characterization. I encourage her to write and to seek out her own writing support group, because I know no matter how I temper my words, it’s still coming from mom. Although if she does ask, I do try to help as much as possible.

  4. Avatar SS Bazinet says:

    Great article, Ashley! I’m so happy that you preserved in spite of the remark. To stand alone and be happy with and appreciate oneself is a mighty goal, but one that brings great rewards from where I’m standing. You’re an amazing writer with an incredible talent. Always keep that remark in your pocket if you need a second opinion.

  5. Avatar Ivory says:

    I hear you. My other half just isn’t interested by fantasy and it’s tough: I am unable to share one of the biggest parts (and some of the biggest joys) of my life with him.

  6. Avatar Mazarkis Williams says:

    A few months ago my uncle asked me to send him a copy of my book. I told him straight up that he would not like it, but he asked for it anyway. I sent it, and never heard another thing 🙂

    I knew going in that my friends, family and I have different tastes. I wrote the kind of book I like to read, so it’s not a given that everyone I know will also like it. They have been fantastically supportive, though – people I love who never touched fantasy before were bravely slogging through, confused but determined- and that’s what counts for me.

    Ashely, I’m so glad you got past the “300 pages” issue and ended up getting it published. Fantastic, encouraging post.

    • Thanks, Mazarkis, and it’s still hard, no matter how many people tell you they like it, when a family member drops off the face of the earth after asking to read your book. We know they don’t have to like it, and that it’s nothing personal, but still…it’s hard to forget! ; )

    • Avatar Fran says:

      I know my family and a lot of my friends won’t like the stuff I write, so I don’t show it to them. They ask how it’s going and I just say ‘it’s going’, I know they’re not really interested, they just want to know if I’m ever going to sell anything.

      Being a parent I know too that if I showed my Mum or Dad they’d feel like they did when I was little; bringing home messy pictures, and them feeling forced to say they were wonderful.

      In my opinion the people close to you are probably the worst judges. If they say it’s good you doubt their sincerity, if they say it’s crap it just hurts too much.

  7. I loved this blog post and will heed your advice. I haven’t got a very positive response from my loved ones but will keep on writing!

  8. Avatar Christine says:

    What a well-written article. I was desperate to find someone who understood what I’ve been going through lately. I’ve been working on my first novel for almost 4 years (not as long as many novelists, I know), and my husband’s never gotten past Ch. 2. Our 3 children mean the world to us, but he has no idea how much I’ve “birthed” this MS…or how much it hurts when he says he’ll read it and then never makes time for it. He may not enjoy the genre (middle-grade fiction) but I’m having such a broken heart over his lack of interest. He’s an attorney who reads voraciously…but somehow he just can’t get through this. He’s also avoids conflict, so my fear is he hates it and doesn’t have the heart to tell me. I go through waves wondering why I care so much and others wondering why he’s such an asshole. I feel pathetic.

  9. Your balance, pesistance and passion for writing shine through, Ashley. Your article really resonates with me. My husband and son are happy to support my writing efforts/career in principle, but politely refuse to read the ms. DH reads thrillers (mine’s a thriller with an alternatate history setting!) and DS says he doesn’t read fiction.

    But I have a clever, brutal and supportive critique partner which makes all the difference.

    I’d always encourage people to keep writing and to write beyond current reality. Who knows what’s really out there?

  10. Avatar Cat says:

    I’ve been writing since i was 14 and mostly just for fun, I never intended to publish anything. When I was 25 i first got it into my head to actually try a novel. My mothers reaction crushed me and i stopped writing completely for a few years.

    But I couldn’t stay away, I had to start writing again because it’s an actual, physical need.

    Though she doesn’t like fantasy, she still reads everything I do and surprisingly, often tells me how much she’s enjoying them! She’s still never picked up any other fantasy books, but she does seem to genuinely enjoy my stuff (though she makes no bones about preferring my historical books to my urban fantasy ones).

    Conversely, i never intended to tell my dad about my writing attempts because he just isn’t that big a part of my life. I hardly know the man and he just doesn’t seem interested in either of his children. My sister told him and gave him her copy of my first book, then quite out of the blue, I got such a lovely email from him that it made me cry!

  11. Avatar Lionwalker F&SF says:

    Thanks for the article, sentiments I most definitely agree with. Fortunately I have friends and family who are almost too supportive, and I sometimes think they are not being critical enough. But, hey, that’s what writer’s groups are for 🙂
    I thought I recognised the opening paragraph of this article and then I saw that some of the comments are from January.
    Is this a ‘reprint’ of an old article? It is useful and has value, which is why I hope you ‘reprinted’ it, rather than running out of ideas! 🙂

  12. Boy, can I relate to this! About two years ago I gave my novel to a family member to read, and was devastated when they didn’t make it past the first chapter. I literally gave up for about a year and a half. I was crushed.

    I’ve since picked myself back up, I thankfully couldn’t stay away. I sent out a call for beta readers a few months ago, and I rejected any family members and close friends who volunteered. I won’t go down that road again. Plus, I have some readers that are more acquaintances than friends, and I’ve given them permission to be brutal when I need it. So far, they have been, and it’s been great for my revisions.

  13. Avatar Renee says:

    Great article. I have people who are supportive of what I’m trying to do but most of them don’t really get it. I’ve also had people promise to read my book and hear nothing back from them. My best friend and my mom are bugging me to find another job and send me information about different positions but none of it is very helpful. It’s like they think I’m stupid or something. But I don’t plan on stopping what I’m trying to accomplish, if only to shut people up once and for all.

  14. Avatar BenGalley says:

    Great article Ashley, one that I can completely agree with! My own mother has only just finished my debut, and it’s been a year and a half since its release. My girlfriend of three years can’t bear to hear me talk about my books because I tend to rabble on and on.

    Really good to see that you powered through! Family and friends are often the hardest to show your work too. They know how to pluck the chords and their opinions matter most, as you said!

    Great article, and keep up the good work 🙂

  15. Avatar Elfy says:

    Ken Scholes said at Worldcon last year that after his first book was published he sent a copy to his father, and got a call back saying ‘Kenneth! This is pretty good.’ He said it was the best compliment he’d had, because up until then his father had told him that he was wasting his time with this fantasy rubbish. My parents didn’t read a lot of my work, my mother read some, but always complained if there was any swearing. Most of the time they referred to it as ‘that stuff you read’.

  16. Avatar BB says:

    I can relate. I’ve had similar experiences, especially with my husband who has read little of my published work and has no interest in it. It’s a common thing I’ve heard writers say over the years. I too sometimes get down about it.

    I also write historical romance and there’s a lot of prejudice against the genre. Some people, especially men, will tell me straight-up that they’d never read a romance novel. At times, it makes me feel shunned or embarrassed about the type of material I write.

    I’ve written professionally for years but only just published my first novel a few weeks ago. After I announced it on FB, most of my family and friends suddenly got quiet–including the ones who bought it. Does the silence mean that they didn’t like it? I’ve asked myself that question a zillion times.

    Since I’m experienced, I’m thick-skinned, but the lack of support and feedback has made me uncomfortable, a bit uncertain about whether I’m on the right course, has had me wondering if something is wrong with the novel. But I’m no less determined to continue editing book two, and I’m making progress. I’ve also received some glowing feedback from readers, and really, when it comes down to it, they are all that matters.

  17. I have to get across my passion for your kind-heartedness giving support to persons who really need assistance with this one subject. Your special dedication to getting the message around ended up being rather practical and have constantly made folks like me to attain their targets. The informative recommendations implies a lot to me and much more to my fellow workers. Thank you; from each one of us.

Leave a Comment