Friday, March 25, 2016

Once Upon A Time . . .

Of the many things I've learned since taking my writing seriously, is that there's no magic formula.

I've watched writers hotly debate method, tools, style, etc. And just as one person will stand there and firmly say, "this is the way", there's always someone supporting the complete opposite with just as much passion.

On most things, there is no right answer. There's no solid "this is wrong and this is right." And sometimes, I wish it was the black-and-white!

So one of the first things I learned was finding out what was right for me. With almost any question a writer may have, I could probably respond with, "You have to find what's right for you."

It doesn't sound helpful, but besides saying what works for me, I think it's important for the questioner to know that my method and my tools may not work for them.

When I started posting Winterland for critiques, I was really, really nervous. I'd never had my writing critiqued in such a fashion. Besides writing papers and a few creative pieces for various high school classes, which were graded by a teacher, this was my first in-depth feedback.

I thought for sure I'd hate the process. That I'd be unable to handle criticism and would be a terrible learner. When the critiques started coming in, I was pleasantly surprised. Not just by the quality of help I was getting, but by my reaction. I didn't snap the way I thought I would. I was excited and energized by the responses I received. I had crossed this huge hurdle.

Most of the time, getting constructive criticism is wonderful for me. Even the hard stuff is exciting. I see where I'm lacking, but that makes me see it's potential. Critiques are like sparks that set off fireworks.

The easiest way I can think to explain it is with this:
Here is my first draft. It's solid. It'll keep out the rain. But man, it is ug-ly.

Critiques show me just how lacking my ceiling is, but here's what I envision after I'm done reading through the feedback:

That is what my writing can be. It can be more than functional. It can be this amazing piece of art that people will enjoy.

But that's not to say I never get depressed about feedback. I still remember the first critique that made me want to burn the world. It was probably a good thing I was several hours away from home at the time and unable to delete my story.

Part of it was insecurity. I kept thinking, "are they right?" And that made me defensive. Another part of it is I knew they weren't right and the way they talked to me was infuriating.

It was a good lesson for me. It's how I worked through the process of understanding that not everyone's advice was correct, or right for me. I didn't have to accept everything given to me. I also saw that not everyone could be pleased.

That's not saying this person wasn't possible to please at all. More that, my story was never going to please them. Because what they liked to read, was not what I wrote. And I think that's important for all writers. We have to accept that not everyone will like all aspects, or maybe any aspects, of our work. And readers shouldn't expect all writers to write what they like.

It'd be an awful boring world if everyone wrote the same things in the same way.

There were times as I was writing "Heart of the Winterland" where I had to say to myself, "It's okay to do this. I know some people will hate it, but it's my story."

First, I tackled the prologue no-no. I've read lots of prologues and I've never been given a reason to hate them. I didn't even know there was such a thing as anti-prologuers until I took up writing. My biggest "eye-roll" about the whole business is that it's a word, a name, a title. If you called a prologue "chapter one" it'd still be the same. Same content; different name. A rose by any other name? Yep, that comes to mind.

So I labeled my prologue as "Prologue" out of sheer stubbornness. It was a case of call it what it is.

My next hurdle was one that got almost 100% comments on it. That is, out of over 30 people, almost every person commented on this thing.

It's the opening to chapter one. "Once upon a time . . ."

Now I know you either winced or got warm fuzzy feelings at that! Well, maybe not, but for most readers it did invoke a reaction. Usually it was the two listed. I either got, "Oh,  I love when stories start this way!" or "Ugh, this is so cliche it's an automatic turn off."

Again I had to make a choice. Two groups of people and I could only please one. I chose the Once upon a time group, because they're like me. When I read a book that starts that way, I think, "Oh good, I'm in for an adventure." I want to settle in for the long haul at that point.

Multiple points of view, a predominately female cast, accents, extended flashbacks in the form of storytelling, death, unresolved endings, and the list goes on.

Facing each of those and deciding that I wanted to keep them(just like I looked at other things and decided to change them) helped me find who I was as a writer. I figured out what I liked, what worked for me, what my story was about, and which elements were part of my style.

What are some things that you've found in your writing that can be highly debated in the writer world that you decided to keep anyway?


  1. Glad that you didn't take too much offense by other's critiques and based your writing completely on their feedback. Because by the end of the day, the only person you have to please is you. So you can take into consideration what readers say about your story, but write what you want to write. I've gotten a critique about using multiple point of views in my epic fantasy. They weren't wrong either but I still kept it in anyway but with a few adjustments. I reduced my pov from five to three and kept it to the three female warriors. Also, to fix the head jumping issue, I separated the pov by chapter(s).

    1. Definitely a good idea to find a way to clearly show a pov change. Some of my scenes are short, so I ended up using scene breaks when I change pov.

      With both novels(one finished the other not) I had to decide which pov's to limit myself to as it's tempting to add a lot!

  2. In The Astrals, I have a prophecy. It's been toned down a lot and revised a lot and the story still needs work, but given the nature of the story, I don't want to get rid of the prophecy. Or the prologue, which is also important to the story. Both of these things are highly controversial and I've had critters who enjoyed them and others who loathed them... Eventually you just have to decide what's best for the story and go for it.

    1. I love prophecies! I haven't used one, but I'd like to some day. And the dreaded prologue controversy! You know, before I started meeting other writers I had no idea there was so much hate towards prologues. I'd always read them and never minded. So it was an eye-opener.

  3. I love the part where you say "You have to find what's right for you." Because that's how it was at LTUE. Everyone would ask for advice and the panelists would all say, "There's no right answer."

    1. Exactly! They're right too. You can tell people what works for you, what you found was good for your story or for your style, but you can't guarantee it'll be the best for everyone else.

      That's why when people ask questions like, "How do you get over the rough patches?" I'm reluctant to say anything because how I do that won't necessarily work for them. Same think with how we work. I don't think I've met a writer yet who works the way I do or who works like anyone else. Everyone's got a very specific way to unleash their creativity and be productive.

  4. To be honest, I played safe with my first novel. One linear time line. One 3rd person limited POV. No prologue. No epilogue. But that was for me, not for other people. I was very surprised to learn about both prologue hatred and flashback hatred. Especially when both can either be done well or badly in context.

    I'm an epilogue lover, which is something I will probably do at the end of series. And no doubt that will have haters. That, I was aware before getting serious about writing though - because of JL Rowlings epilogue, which got an awful lot of haters.

    1. Wow, I didn't know the HP epilogue garnered any hate. Though I suppose it's not a surprise considering if something's popular enough there's bound to be a lot of dislike for some aspect of it.

      You did have a lot of underbrush and tree-surfing though!

      To tell the truth, I didn't think of your story as playing it safe, just as that's what your story required in terms of what was needed. It didn't jump out at me that it didn't have all of those things, though now that you mention it I'm like "oh yeah, it did go like that."

  5. A wonderful post, Kristen! You're absolutely right when you say that we have to find what is right for us. I'm glad you kept the "Once upon a time" beginning. I love a fairy-tale beginning :D

    I like prologues too. They pull me into the story world and reveal the stakes right at the beginning so that I can decide if I go further or not.

    1. I never gave much thought to prologues vs. no prologues. I just assumed they were like the first chapter in that they're the first thing you read and any story beginning can be engaging or boring.

      I mentioned the prologue debate to my mother and she told me she doesn't like prologues(though she didn't know that it's a commonly disliked aspect) because they give away too much of the story.