Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good Feeling's Gone (Part 2)

Lying awake in the wee hours, thinking about yesterday. So embarrassing when I let myself get worked up on a forum that doesn't allow one to delete one's comments.

Flogging does hurt. This time more than I expected, because I really thought I had something good. Not great, but good enough to keep the readers interested. Obviously, I was wrong. My response was to cry literary. "Well, maybe this is just a literary fantasy."

That's cowardice. If something doesn't work, it doesn't work, no matter what you call it.

The honest evaluation of the reviewer (who was kind enough to donate his time to do this in the first place) is that nothing happens in the first chapter.

"But it's literary!"

Just kidding.

I thought that rather a lot had happened, actually. My protagonist has a bad day at work that represents a major shift in how he's going to have to approach his job in the future and nearly gets killed. Then he goes to a party, tries to relax, and finds himself making out with the last girl in the world with whom he wants to get involved. That's what I thought I wrote. But obviously, the gap between what I intended and what I wrote was rather huge. Eight months of tinkering has made no difference.

The reviewer said that he suspected that there was a story on the verge of being told. Unfortunately, there isn't. The rest is 75,000 words of more of the same. Literary, or just bad writing?

Strip away the window-dressing (like, uh, killer lions) and I've got nothing. I think all the good stuff happened at Come In Character.

I stopped writing in my twenties because I realized that I was creating interesting settings in which absolutely nothing happened. Nothing really has changed since then. Interesting setting, nothing happening. Killer lions notwithstanding.

11 comments:

Lexi said...

Pish tush, you must not take this to heart. You got a lot of comments because your writing is interesting.

It's your book, and your opinion that matters. Only you can write it. I'm used to critical comments from my time on YouWriteOn, but find even the totally beside the point ones a tad irksome.

(I'm too much of a coward to submit my first page to FtQ myself. Though I did go in for that contest...)

MitMoi said...

It's tough to be critiqued. But you WANT to learn and do better. That's a HUGE step in the right direction.

I do not know how to encourage you enough to make this step - but PLEASE find a RL writing group. I know your time is filled with family & work - but the two groups I've been in have been SO helpful.

Also? Finding a good group is like finding the perfect church or husband. It's not always the first one you try - but PLEASE persevere. Some meet just once a month - which might be a good fit.

Make sure there is a real teacher in the group/leading. Not an English teacher necessarily, but someone who can tell you WHY certain things aren't working. And how to make/increase tension in a scene or between characters. I get so frustrated when I'm told, "this doesn't work" - but am not taught HOW to make it work myself. I don't want someone to re-write my stuff - I want to learn HOW to write it myself.

I think it's VERY difficult to self-edit and evaluate our own stories. We're too close to the magic of creating. We need someone else to point out our "slip" is showing. After enough time, we can become skilled in noticing it ourselves. But it's like anything else - you must practice, practice, practice. The best way to practice IMHO is to critique other people's work. A good leader/teacher will help you learn why someone else's work isn't working ... not just "I don't like this" or "this is well written".

Wishing you the best in 2010 Christine!

~Mit

ps: Sorry this was so long :(

bunnygirl said...

Okay, I went to FTQ and read your outtake and the comments. IMO, there's some merit in what's being said.

I would cut the intro by at least half (let me know if you want some suggestions) and get quickly to the crux of the matter: there's a lion around, and Faldur is going to do something about it. The habits of the lions aren't necessary in the first paragraphs because readers know lions are dangerous. Work in the details about these particular lions as you go.

So Faldur goes after the lion because that's his job. What matters here is how he feels about it, and what's about to change. Is he cocky and confident, foreshadowing a reality check? Is he annoyed, thinking this job isn't all it's cracked up to be, foreshadowing a major change of heart just ahead?

The commenters who said something was missing in the opening are probably picking up on the lack of insight into Faldur's feelings. Work that in, instead of the stuff about sheep, and you'll have it.

It's also possible that this isn't your best starting point. Could you begin with Faldur showing up at the party in a frame of mind that's at odds with his surroundings? Maybe he's feeling humbled by the lion encounter, but everyone is congratulating him. He wants to be left alone to drink and forget, but everyone is treating him like a hero. That's the type of tense situation that makes the reader ask questions.

You're completely right that opening with blood and guts isn't necessary. I don't like that sort of thing, and neither do a lot of readers. Someone dying on page 1 is hard to pull off without it feeling manipulative.

Your writing is very solid, so I don't think you should take the FTQ comments too much to heart. Remember that even if you have to cut, you can keep the parts you take out and use them later in the novel or in tie-in stories to entice your readers. No writing is wasted.

Christine H said...

Thank you so much, Ann, Mit and Lexi. I'm sorry I'm being so pathetic. My insecurity is showing. I'm sure I'll feel better in a few days.

Ann, you know Faldur from CIC. He's very self-controlled, doesn't show emotion, which makes him really tough to write. I'll think about how to *tactfully* add more emotion. It will probably have to be internal dialogue, because he wouldn't show anything in front of his men.

No wonder Marenya's so frustrated with him.

Lexi, Lt. Harth thanks you for the compliment you paid him at FTQ and would like to know if you are already engaged for New Year's Eve?

Christine H said...

Good Lord, I just thought of something. Ray is unlikely to put up a new post tomorrow, which means my excerpt will be up until Monday.

(hides face in hands)

Chris said...

Hi Christine, I have been following the FtQ site for about a year now and have submitted a some work for flogging as well, so I certainly understand your feelings about being on the receiving end of a flog. That being said, I have learned more from the floggings (mine and others) and Ray's book about the mechanics of fiction writing than I would have dreamed a year ago. So although it's not a lot of fun to read criticisms of your work, I guarantee that people are learning a lot from Ray's critique (and other floggers' comments) about how they can improve their own writing. I know I have!

From what I have read of your work I think you are talented. Anyone who has or will see your stuff on FtQ I'm sure will feel the same. Maybe now it's time to take a step back and let all the comments stew in the back of your mind for a while. I knows that always works for me (it helps that any deadlines I have are self imposed so they can be pushed back), and perhaps a way to reconcile what you want to write and what Ray and others have suggested will come in time. In my own novel, I've been editing, reworking, rephrasing, updating, and altering my first chapter ever since I wrote it--so you are not alone in your efforts.

You've got a good handle on how to write and you care about what you are writing--don't take what is written on FtQ too hard, and remember, you are also helping others in the process.

Lexi said...

Darn! The best offer I've had all year (albeit from a fictional character - but then no one's perfect) and I read it a day too late!

Can you ask Lt. Harth if he has any plans for New Year's Eve 2010?

Christine H said...

Uh, Lexi, I'm very sorry to say this but, uh, I don't think that, um, Lt. Harth will be celebrating anything next year.

I'm very sorry.

But he will probably have an evening pass sometime soon. He'd probably like to see 'Avatar.'

Lexi said...

Nooooooooooo!

And we all know who is responsible!

As for the suggested outing to 'Avatar', it hardly seems worth my spending time with Harth, knowing what I now know.

Plih.

Web said...

Christine,

I made a comment that is out of step with most I saw on FTQ. It seems to have made it onto the comment list on FTQ for just a short time and then disappeared. I don't understand why. I thought it was a worthwhile and unoffensive comment. So I thought I would post it again here. The original FTQ comment follows:

Christine,

I am late to this discussion and you may not wish to hear anymore. I have a bit different put on the tension issues. So, as Ray likes to say, for what it's worth:

I loved the 16 line glimpse of your world. I was slowed a bit by so much description of Faldur and felt that it could have been more brief. But I was not slowed down enough to prevent me from turning the page. The danger to the farmer's economic and physical well being was high enough stakes for me.

Unfortunately, Its now seems clear that the main protagonist is not the farmer, but Faldur. I was so drawn into the farmer's dangers that I failed to notice that he was not named and ergo, an incidental character. I had to read Ray's revision and then the comments to understand your intentions.

Ray's rewrite suggestion brings more immediate action and more obvious tension up front, but I felt that some of the intriguing mystery of the world you created was lost in that version. As a striving wannabe, I am probably mistaken in thinking that tension is a very good kind of hook for the first 16, but not the only kind. For me an interesting voice, an interesting story question, or an interesting setting will also involve me. For your 16, it was a setting along with an implicit story question suggested by the characters (the nightstalker and Faldur) and the risk to the farmer. To me, these combined wonderfully to make me read on.

In the initial version, there was a lasting and on-going danger to the area farmers. In the second version there is an immediate danger which is going to be quickly resolved: The nightstalker will be killed or Faldur will. There is no hint of a story question that carries beyond that. So, I prefer the first version.

I checked a bestseller from my shelf, "A Box of Matches", Nicholson Baker. His first 16 (14 actually) only talk about lighting a fire in his wood stove. No tension. But, it was apparently successful. Maybe because he had previously published many books, won prizes, etc. Perhaps for struggling stragglers, such as myself, it is not a wise example to follow.

There you have yet another take on your 16 to add to the mix. I hope it is useful.

Web
(web@localaccess.com)

Christine H said...

Dear Web,
Your comment is there! And I replied. Thank you for taking the time to post here as well.
You might not see it at Ray's because we have flowed over to a second page of comments. WooHoo!!! You just need to click on the ">>" at the bottom of the comment section to see the next page.
Cheers to you!!!
Christine