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Oct
23
2017

Learn to take the heat (or get out of the kitchen) -- by Carol Ervin

Writers who are new to the critique or review process sometimes reject negative comments (“Stupid reader”) or wither as though personally attacked (“Just as I feared--my writing sucks”). Neither response will help meet your goals.

I’ve had negative reviews that I considered intelligent and helpful because they touched on some of my own concerns. (Intelligent because they agreed with me—how arrogant is that?) Others have been plain stupid: “Don’t bother reading this book; it has nothing at all to do with the series.” (Didn’t she read the book blurb?)

I don’t let complimentary reviews swell my head, though they’re pleasant to receive. I want to write better. So should you.

If you’re serious about writing, be prepared for readers who just don’t like it or get it. But if most readers tell you pretty much the same thing or you can’t get anyone to read past the first paragraph, suck it up and learn. Try writing in another genre or try another narrative technique.

Sometimes writers haven’t found the style that suits them. I’ve read exciting, terse essays by people whose attempts at fiction are flabby and limp. Why, I wonder, are some people’s unique styles and interesting voices not present in their fiction? If you think you know the answer, please leave it in a comment. I’d love to know.

I’ve made serious mistakes. If I could start over, I’d write all the novels in my historical series in first person, past tense. Initially, I was afraid of writing in first person, as though using “I” would make the story personal. Third person seemed a safer distance. Quite possibly I did not want to be identified even as the author of my first book; after all, I'd used a pseudonym for years here on CC. For the third book in the series, I switched to present tense, another bad decision for a series. Finally I came around to first person, past tense. Only one reviewer has mentioned the different narrative styles, most noticeable when the books are read one after the other. The point is, after seven published novels (five in the series and two stand-alones), I finally found the style that feels right.

Turns out the series is selling well on Amazon, despite the differences in narrative techniques. But some readers don’t go on to book two, turned off, I think, by the fact that I chose a different main character for that one. Another mistake! I didn’t realize how attached readers were to the main character of the first book. I got complaints.

In the early days, I commiserated with my newly published friends about ridiculous and insensitive reviews (and quite often the lack of any notice at all). None of these writers seem to be posting any longer—I think they’ve gotten past the bumps and bruises of putting themselves out there.

In the beginning, every writer wants to challenge insensitive or ridiculous reviews and critiques. Don’t. Bear up. Get better.

Carol Ervin (breeze)

My website: www.carolervin.com

Posted by Carol Ervin 23 Oct at 00:45
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Responses to this blog

Jimmygrays 23 Oct at 14:53  
Yes and No Carol; Yes to you first-person-narrative, but no I did not make your mistake of writing even in the past tense. I write with IS instead of Was, and being personal is powerful writing no matter what. Real-time is current and unique, mastering it is the challenge, not as you put it, for the safe writer. Safe writers [Always preferring the Past -tense] are traditional and dull today. Yes and No again I'm afraid, sorry to be a bore, but you overlook one very important aspect with receiving legitimate reviews. I always ask kindly from reviewers, in order to weed out the lousy ones who don't know how to review, Please please make sure my genre is yours because I can tell who is a Chick litter versus a Hard Boiler. Anyone who says that they did not like my style normally is offset against the others and if he or she is the minority, in the garbage disposal they jump. Conversely, but and a very big but, even their carpetbagging attempts will glean me something I can learn from, notwithstanding they're not aware of. In conclusion, I too evolved a protagonist that they liked, but unlike you I knew that marketing him might be he is asked to stick around. Is that not what we want. Love your article, but you have yet to understand more about reviewers I feel and not allow them to bag ya without informed knowledge on the subject matter.
Grimraven 23 Oct at 15:11  
Well as far as finding your style goes I agree, but you can definitely write all different perspectives. When I first started out writing fifteen years ago it was in the traditional third person. Then I picked up first person along the way. Wrote my current WIP in first, decided it was shit and didn't work that way and rewrote it in third. I still will write first, but some things are just better in third, as some things are better in first.

I do agree to be able to take the heat. It doesn't matter if someone doesn't like the genre. A review's a review and somewhere along the way the person just either didn't like it or they think something doesn't work with it.

Years back, I had someone come across as super harsh in something I had been writing at the time. At the time it had made me angry and upset, but when I looked at it harder it ended up helping me change what I was doing and I've been on track ever sense. I think the blog presented exactly what it aimed to state: either learn or keep making the same mistakes. I've had plenty of crits on here that made me feel bad, but then I get right back up on my feet again after moping, review the crit over again, and apply what I agree with.
Apsia 26 Oct at 17:54  
Yes I do agree Carol. You need other to improve your work. The more critics you have the more improvement of your work will become. Each critics will increase the improvement of your work. You need to filter from least to most helpful to you.
Hepcyzug 27 Oct at 16:30  
Why unique people don't always translate well on paper: they try too hard

Because the novel series I am finishing is my first, I decided to keep the character fairly close to home. Initially the character was me, but that created a host of problems. First, I didn't want to hurt anyone in my family, but more importantly, because now that I'm happy, my life is fairly boring. So Hepcy became a caricature of me. She is reliving my life the way I wish I would have lived it. She succeeds where I failed, says stuff I wish I had said, follows impulses that I was afraid of.
A few coworkers who are not avid readers are interested in the books BECAUSE I am so present in them. My friend asked, "Will I be able to read your books?" (referring to ability, not asking my permission.) I handed her a random chapter. After reading it she said, "That's cool! You wrote it exactly the way you talk! I can picture you gesturing!

Which is exactly what I was going for. In real life, because of my job, my stories are interesting, even where my life is not.
Breeze 28 Oct at 09:32  
Interesting, thought, Hepcyzug, that unique people try too hard. Maybe in prose they are natural, and fiction, trying too hard? BTW, I have a friend who is not going to publish his 3 book series until he's written them all. I can see the benefit of that for continuity's sake.

Also interesting that your MC is a caricature of yourself. Thoughtful comment—I enjoyed it.
Estrombeck 2 Nov at 08:05  
Yes! I think I'm finally to the point where I crave constructive, negative critiques because they really can help a ton.
And thanks for the example of writing in first person, past tense. I did that for my current novel, but I was nervous readers would feel like they weren't getting the whole picture or something if I didn't switch POVs. It makes me feel a little better about it.

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