Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Write Club: Getting Advice from Writers

Hey y'all.  So I was thinking about receiving advice from other people who write.  Not all advice is good advice, or the correct advice for you personally.  Trouble is, you can't just read a book to correct your reading.  You already know most rules of grammar, and after you get to a certain point in writing, there's very little most writing books can tell you that you haven't already heard before, or learned for yourself through writing.  Some things about writing can't really be described, or described easily.  You have to learn it by writing it.

Okay, so you've got this manuscript or sample writing, but you don't know who to show it to.  It's always good to assess the people around you and figure out who is the best to learn from.  There's your family, but they for many reasons may not be all that helpful.  Some may be so proud of you for trying, or simply want to encourage you, so they say nice things about your work.  That's a nice ego boost, but at the end of the day that's really all it is.  You are not closer to your goal of being better or making your work more publishable.

Professional editors cost money, and so do writing contests.  Internet forums or messenger services require you to put your stuff online, which may or may not be a safe option.  Not to mention that receiving information in text form robs you of the context in reviewers' commentary.  It's really best to make friends who write, particularly ones you can meet with fairly often and can trust.

Writers, however, don't always make for the best reviewers.  There's a few caveats you need to be aware of.  There are three types of writers: worldbuilders, character creators, and plotters.  They focus each on different aspects of story, as I've mentioned on a previous blog.

Worldbuilders can be helpful in looking at your stories.  They notice details more than other writers, and can often point out or come close to pointing out errors in your work.  They are also more likely to take the time to read your work, if they have the time.  They are indeed too willing to critique your work.  They notice the largest amount of flaws of any type of writer, and that's bound to be discouraging.

They also are many times unable or fail to notice that they haven't put any weight on the errors: which problem is a bigger issue and requires more work to fix?  To the worldbuilder, small errors are errors too, and in nitpicking the smaller details, they may fail to miss the big picture, or get stuck on something nobody else would care much about.  They also can be pretty stuck on their own viewpoints, and may criticize you on doing something scientifically impossible, despite the fact that your story is, say, a fantasy or other genre where reality can be twisted.

In other words, ask the help of the worldbuilder if you're ready to get into the nitty-gritty.  Be ready for any discouragement, and to weigh their words carefully to judge the value of such statements.

As for character creators, they're probably your best bet as for making a clear, entertaining story. People are the crux of every story, even plot-driven ones.  If you have good characters, you can give them a dumb plot and a confusing world (see: Star Trek), and people will be entertained and forgiving.

The main downside to the character creator is that he might not be willing to critique your work as much, or critique it deeply.  They can get attached to their characters, and can get attached to yours too.  Depending how aware they are of this trait in themselves, they may turn down looking over your manuscript.  If you're in a setting where they can hear you read your story, they'll generally have some helpful comments.  And if you get one who is as excited about your characters as you are, they can make you feel really excited to write.

Plotters are less helpful.  Plot is the least detailed of the three aspects of writing, as it is a general sweeping movement of the story -- a world or a character requires more detail to feel real, while plots are easily summarized on the back of a book.  This isn't a bad thing, it just means that plotters tend to focus on that aspect of your story the most.  They can be very helpful in ensuring that everything you wrote out makes sense, and also in pepping up your story during slow parts.

The downside is that they can be a bit like little kids playing with toys -- "and then this happened, and they they fought these guys, and then they got away" -- they just throw in ideas without always knowing how well they meld with the characters and world you've created.  This kind of inspiration is pretty helpful in certain situations, but it can be kind of frustrating when you have a character you like, and the plotter suggests you put them in a completely out of character situation.  This is just a natural consequence of the plotter wanting to have fun.  He's not familiar with your characters, and in general is more willing to put characters in odd situations for the fun of it, no matter whose characters they are.

The advantage of the plotter lies in the big picture.  If they're excited about your work, you can generally feel that you're doing something right.  You may want to ask others for more detailed help, but a plotter will tell you if your stuff is fun.

But you know who's better than a writer at critiquing your work?  A reader.  That's right, there is a designated type of person who isn't particularly good at or motivated to write, but is talented in understanding storytelling.  They might not always know how to describe how they feel about writing, or why a certain section doesn't work, but they'll give you the best assessment of how people in general will respond to your work, as well as hitting upon the major issues you may have.  They're the perfect balance of detailed and big picture, as well as not being discouraging unless your manuscript really does deserve a revision.

The first example I can come up with on the top of my head is Jeremy Jahns of Youtube.  He's not a very in-depth reviewer, but he speaks with the voice of general audiences, without being too critical or too oblivious.  He's not a "middle ground" reviewer, as he's more on the side of big picture over heavy detail, but that's the perfect stance for someone to take to create an overview of a work.

So yes, assess the people around you, and see where they fit as a writer or a reader type (or neither, as the case may be).

No comments:

Post a Comment