Ramblings from the Desert

The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. ~Benjamin Franklin

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Location: New Mexico

Author of the urban fantasy novel, The Music of Chaos, and the paranormal romance, The Canvas Thief.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Adventures in Diplomacy

I can be quite diplomatic, the skilled honed through my time at Critters Online Workshop. (Obligatory Disclaimer. Critters is a great resource. I really do recommend it.)

In the two years I participated at Critters, I improved my writing and...got an insight into the bullshit editors and agents see everyday.

Notably, the writer who loves his/her baby and only wants to hear good things about it. Of course, this totally defeats the point of a critique, but it's their child after all. While Critters is primarily a short fiction workshop, folks do post novel chapters and since I prefer long fiction, I'd gravitate toward those excerpts. Sometimes, I'd agree to critique the rest of the novel. As time went by, I did this less and less.

Here's why.

As a firm believer in the idea that a diplomatic critique is more helpful than a verbal ass-whooping, I would try to be gentle. One example:

Diplomatic: "I found the first chapter's pacing a bit slow. Perhaps you could work in the exposition and the protagonist's backstory in smaller doses, interspersed with action and dialogue?"

What I Wanted to Say But Didn't: "The first chapter was duller than my Grandpa Pete when he's drunk and rambling about his enlarged prostate gland. You don't really think anyone wants to read 10K words about the protagonist's sad past and the history of BoringVille, do ya?"

The diplomatic version would be sent to the writer and I'd get on with my life. Except, some writers suffer from "last word-itis." Soon after sending the diplomatic critique, I might get a response like this:

The Inevitable Whiny Writer Response: "I know the first chapter is slow, but I believe it is necessary to explain who Rupert is and where he's come from. The land of BoringVille is a crucial element in the story and the reader needs to know the history."

My Desired Response to Whiny Writer: "Oh, dear, so sorry. I totally see your point. What modern reader wouldn't want to slog through the politics of the imaginary world in your head, told in a voice flatter than my chest? And gosh, Rupert's whining diatribe about the father who didn't love him was so fucking Oprah Winfrey. I bet this will make her book club. [wink] Just don't call it a memoir."

My Actual Response: "Okie-dokie. Well, good luck with that."

Then there were the "Please, pick a genre, any genre" writers.

Diplomatic: "While the first chapter seems to promise a fresh approach to werewolves, sort of 'ER' meets 'An American Werewolf in London,' the supernatural element isn't very strong in the rest of the novel."

What I Wanted to Say But Didn't: "I thought this was a werewolf novel. Where the fuck are the werewolves? In the prologue, a werewolf eats somebody, somebody I don't know or give a shit about, and then there's no werewolf for like 300-pages. WTF? This is like 'Scrubs' only without the funny and without a plot."

The Inevitable Whiny Writer Response: "But what about the werewolf in the prologue? This is really a story about a young man's quest to find himself and his place in the world."

My Desired Response to Whiny Writer: "Dude. Critters is a forum for SF/F/H manuscripts, not soppy-sloppy lit fic. If the werewolf is just a mechanism to help junior find himself, then why bother with something supernatural? Why not just make it a story about a boy and his chicken? A boy and his boner? If you say werewolves, people will expect the furry."

My Actual Response: "I wish you the best in all your writing endeavors."

Next up, my personal favorite, the suffering Mary Sue character:

Diplomatic: "Although the concept is compelling--the protagonist is the victim of a cruel slave owner--I found the characterization a bit weak. The protagonist is miserable, but lacks any strong character traits or opinions, the sort of thing necessary to make her a whole person. Also, the idea that an abused, de-valued slave could also be a talented, well-trained healer seemed a little illogical."

What I Wanted to Say: "Your protagonist is a suffering blob. The gum stuck to my shoe has more personality. Let me, guess, I'm supposed to care...'just because.'? And WTF is the deal with your world-building? Are you twelve? You bio claims otherwise. How in the hell would a slave girl, of little value to her owner, acquire all this fabulous medical training? Here's a suggestion. READ-A-BOOK."

The Inevitable Whiny Writer Response: "[Sniffle][Sniffle] You just don't understand. You're supposed to sympathize just because...she's a victim. Her character will develop more in Chapter Eleven when she taps into her powers."

My Desired Response to Whiny Writer: "Yes, you're right. I don't understand. I'm a meany-beanie who eats puppies for lunch, tea, and supper. Honestly, how can anyone, living in one of the most modern countries in the world, crank out this whiny, self-pitying shite?
And why, pray tell, would I want to stick around till chapter eleven? Eesh."

My Actual Response: None. Treat this writer like a train wreck. Moving along, there's nothing to see here.

This, I've heard, is why editors don't often don't bother with more than a form rejection (time being the prime reason). They don't want to hassle with the writer's, whiny rebuttal.


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