Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Learn to hurt yourself... and love it

sadism |ˈsāˌdizəm|nounthe tendency to derive pleasure, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others.• (in general use) deliberate cruelty.
masochism |ˈmasəˌkizəm; ˈmaz-|nounthe tendency to derive pleasure, from one's own pain or humiliation.• (in general use) the enjoyment of what appears to be painful or tiresome.
So, we did S on Monday. Now it's time for M.

For those writers who claim they love editing, congratulations! You're already a natural M!

For those who hate editing, don't worry. No razor blades are involved. Editing is a whole different kind of self-inflicted pain.

When you learn to do it right, you'll get an unbelievable rush of pleasure when your critique partner or writing group tells you your characters are flat, they inhabit a *white room* world and your plot is deathly boring.

So how do we get pleasure out of editing, having beta-readers tear our stories apart and (eventually) get a high off of rejected query letters? Well, I can talk about the first two at least... 'cause my experience ends there.

There's nothing worse for a new writer than handing over a story that we love. It's perfect, it's amazing, everyone's going to love it and praise it and it's going to be so easy to sell. And then we get the feedback. And not all beta-readers are created equal. Some don't soften their criticism with well timed compliments, clear examples of what parts did work and ideas/suggestions for the parts that didn't.

Some beta-readers won't say anything helpful and instead will make statements like, "If I wasn't part of this group, I wouldn't have read beyond the first paragraph." "Scrap it, this isn't working." "This reads like bad fan-fiction." "I couldn't even get through the first page, so I don't have any feedback."

...and their statements may be 100% justified, but without helpful/constructive comments, they are essentially useless.

Good beta-readers will not only help you write better, they will help you learn to love being an M.

The thing about M vs. S is that they overlap, so it's not that difficult when you get right down to it.

Now, let's pretend you've all got good beta-readers. You've got that e-mail, or that page of scrawled notes. They tell you you need to re-write your first three scenes. They tell you your main character is unlikable or two dimensional. Your main love interest is the allegorical figure "perfect boyfriend". You're all tell and no show. Your ending terrible, either disappointing, boring, or it feels like it just dropped in from another story without warning.

It's hard to love comments like this, comments that point out the huge glaring errors, missing chunks of the plot or characters that you think are awesome, and they think are terrible.

But wait, here's how you learn to love being an M.

Big problems in your story means big re-writes. Big re-writes means you get to let your sadistic tendencies run full force over these same characters again! Do you get me? You've already spent 70,000 words torturing them and getting high off that torture... and now you get to do it all over again. Those characters are already tired and ragged. They're exhausted. They just want to lay down and go to sleep. Now you get to jab a pointy stick in their backs until they stand up, then you steal their shoes and coat, and march them through the mud, the hail, the sleet and the falling rock. You get to inflict more pain. Maybe even drop a spider down their pants when they're not looking.

So take another look at those comments from your beta-readers. Look at them and ask yourself, "So, if an alcoholic step-father is cliche, what would be worse? Maybe an abusive sibling but the parents think he/she is the golden-child?" "If the love interest is too perfect, what new conflicts would arise if he/she were a cheapskate who wouldn't pay for, or offer to pitch in, for anything? Or what if one of them is a vegan? Or a Buddhist? Maybe a pet allergy and the main character has attachment issues with his/her dog?" "It seems whipping my character isn't good enough... what about water torture? Or perhaps something to do with burning or peeling off the nails or skin?"

If you can feed your sadism through the comments from your beta-readers, soon you'll be salivating every time you're waiting for feedback... all those *easy* fixes that used to raise your spirits will now frustrate you 'cause what you're really after is an excuse to hack off someone's limb, kill off your MCs cute three-year-old cousin, or trap your claustrophobic character in a dry well for a week.

When you've advanced enough as a M to enjoy feedback from your beta-readers, you'll start to re-read your own work looking for that same rush, that delight when you find the problems in your writing. You'll revel in seeking out those horribly contrived plot-lines, you'll take pleasure in discovering useless characters and you'll chortle with glee at that flat dialogue and over-written description.

And that, my friends, is when you're a true writer. When you have a healthy balance of S & M.

...and yes, I think I might need therapy...

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