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We writers -- ha ha -- we're so messy. We play with words like toddlers with pudding -- pudding we assemble ourselves.
We have so many ingredients to choose from, and they're all so yummy; it's hard to know what to put in -- or leave out of -- the recipe. We want to be original. We need to be novel. Especially when we write genre stories, which can seem like “lite pudding” -- light on substance, on meaning, on meat. Sometimes our pudding gets bad press (all plot, no purpose). Sometimes that’s not fair; plenty of genre stories are loaded with meat. But sometimes it’s “just desserts.”
Like pudding, a story needs to set. Maybe yours isn’t setting because the prose is runny (run-on sentences?), or separated (no continuity!); or maybe it's too set in its ways -- stiff and starchy (ditch that omniscient point of view). It looks and smells like 50 shades of derivative. So you get to work; you start over; you trim those ingredients to what you think you need to get that story to set.
Now it's sweet... and the texture's better... but your (critique group) beta “tasters” say it's just not satisfying. They’re trying to be kind. They know unset pudding when they see it, but they also know it’s sticky stuff. It took forever to stir! You sweated over it! Just look at those darling, plump similes, those tasty, toasted metaphors suspended in...
You aren’t the first writer to sprinkle your failures with coconut (sex scenes) and serve them up, anyway.
So you doubt yourself. Maybe Chocolate Fantasy's not your thing, and you should try a new genre: Strawberry Steampunk... Banana Dystopia... or tried-and-true Tapioca. What genre is Tapioca, anyway? (I'm guessing Romance, because of all the soft, squishy bits.) How do other writers get their stories to gel, to look so glossy, to have no lumps? To be satisfying? To hit the spot?
You need help. You go back to your beta tasters. You tell them you’ve revised the recipe, cut back on the tapioca and toasted the coconut. What more could they want? And they finally admit that it’s not what you put in; it’s what you left out.
They don’t care… about your characters.
You knew it. You knew it all along. You didn’t add the protein (characterization) to all those simple carbs. You were writing “genre” and you thought you’d get away with it -- but your critique group (Critique Circle!) called you on it. Thank goodness.
Characterization is hard; there’s always the risk of melodrama. But without compelling characters, stories lack substance. So stir in that back-story. Blend in that motivation, that internal conflict, and let your story set. How you did it, no one needs to know.
They just need to care.
Lindy Moone is the author of the In(s)ane Mystery, "Hyperlink from Hell: A Couch Potato's Guide to the Afterlife." Contact her through her equally in(s)ane author's website, "Literary Subversions," or "Belly-up!" to her blog. On Critique Circle, she's "Lindymoon."