Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Protecting what you love

No, this isn't a campaign against the (brilliant) advice to kill your darlings...

I think, especially for writers who have never had their work torn apart by CP's or beta-readers, this topic is important.

There's a difference between killing your darlings and killing what you love about your story. A 'darling' is when you love a specific string of words on the page. What 'you love about your story' is the heart of it, why you wrote it, the *idea* behind it, the parts that get your excited/passionate about the story and the characters.

I've written about my thoughts on beta-reading before.

The key point of that post was to suggest that beta-readers keep three things in mind:

1) what they, as a reader, want
2) what the author wants
3) what the story wants

...and this is especially true if you, as a beta-reader, are suggesting significant changes, or, as a writer, your CP or beta-reader has suggested big changes.

Let's use my own writing as an example. Project #1, which no one (other than my writing group) is familiar with.

It's on hold for the moment because my group suggested I re-write the entire first 1/3 of the story. Well, they were more detailed than that... essentially, there were a number of problems:

- I was *telling* them at the beginning that Jess behaves like 'A', but on the page, she was behaving like 'B' the entire time (so, no transition)
- Because of this, it made no logical sense for Jess to bring Roan into the group
- Jess also had little-to-no power within the group dynamic (which contradicted some plot points)
- So it made much more sense for a different character, Ray, to bring Roan in
- But Ray's backstory/etc would then need to change, and that would change later plot points as well as other character dynamics... which then snowballed...

...and that's why it's been set aside for now :)

When you actually get down to it, probably about 1/2 the story will have to be re-written. But that's what the story wants. I, the writer, didn't necessarily want it... and my writing group disagreed strongly (with each other) how to handle the problems they uncovered... one suggested I keep the plot as-is, but re-write/re-imagine Jess so she was 'B' the entire time. That was what she, as a reader, wanted. And though that would have worked and could have been what the story wanted, it wasn't what I, the writer, wanted.

Jess's transformation from 'A' to 'B' was one of the major things I loved about the story, and I was (am?) willing to re-write half the book to make that happen.

Jess's character arc through the story is not a 'darling'. It's at the heart of what's important. I may love a lot of the scenes with her in them, but I'm willing to dump/delete/re-write them without a second-thought. Even huge parts of the plot can be discarded/changed because staying true to the characters is far more important to me.

As a writer, and as a beta-reader, you must be aware of the story's *heart*.

As a beta-reader, you may uncover a huge problem, but be careful how to point it out and suggest solutions. If you don't understand the *heart* of the story, ask questions. Don't assume you know the writer's intention because, without meaning to, you might destroy what they love about their story or make them feel it is not worth pursuing/re-writing. That's not your judgement to make.

As a writer, think about what you are willing to change, but more importantly, think about what you're not willing to change. Usually the *heart* of the story is emotional and has to do with how you perceive a character, or a certain relationship between two (or more) characters. If your CP or beta-reader tells you it's not working, don't shut them down, and don't just rewrite it like they suggest. Talk to them. Tell them your intention and find out what actually worked and what didn't.

As a writer, the entire story is in your head, but a lot of it may not have made it onto the page. Often, it's what you didn't write that's the problem.

Don't get attached to your words and dig your heels in. It's far more important to get attached to the *heart* of the story, for that is what readers will remember, not a clever turn-of-phrase on page 187.


  1. Ref: "If your CP or beta-reader tells you it's not working, don't shut them down, and don't just rewrite it like they suggest. Talk to them. Tell them your intention and find out what actually worked and what didn't."

    That right there...yeah, that about sums it up. Very sage advice.

  2. Criticism is a double edged sword. You've definitely highlighted why I say this here in your post. I think each comment needs to be weighed in the author's mind to determine if the change is necessary or if it will damage the story in the long run. Only the author knows the truth of it.

  3. Hey, haven't we had this conversation before? Like just last week?

    Yeah, digging down in to the heart of the story is so important. And as a writer being able to identify that heart will help once the critiques start rolling in. Much easier to know ahead than to try to sort it out once you are told nothing works and not knowing what doesn't work or even why it doesn't.

  4. @ Angela

    If I want people to understand my story, then I have to do my best to do the same :)

    @ Michael

    The unfortunate problem is, often the beta-reader/CP sees a major problem that the writer isn't aware of... and it feels like being blindsided by a baseball bat. I've been there on both sides of that... but yes, ultimately, it is the writer's job to pick and choose what is best for their own story.

    @ writeidea

    ...what can I say, you're an inspiration ;)

  5. I've shown my work only to a few because I am worried about removing the heart of my story or my characters. I'm a pushover.

    Thank you for the post. Have to read it again when me and the story are ready for criticizing.

  6. @ Emilia

    ...then you are exactly the reason I wrote this post :)

    My mother was once given the best advice in the world. I think she said it was from someone she knew who was a teacher.

    "If you don't stand up for your child, then who will?"

    ...and I think this holds true for anything that is important to us.

    Emilia, if you don't stand up for your story, then who will?


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)