I need to talk about something.
For years, I’ve been suggesting to my writer friends that they write the story the way it demands to be written. But I have been running away from this advice the whole time. So much so that one of my novels was accepted and in edits before I finally got the courage to say to the editor—“Wait! This and this happened because of this!”
The novel in question had several beta readers, it won an award and was heavily workshopped (MSWord is telling me that workshopped is not a word, but what does it know! My novel was neither worshipped nor works hopped.). One editor friend who beta read it even said she felt there was something missing. She said there’s a missing deeper layer. I knew exactly what that missing layer was, but I was trying to escape from my own past. I put one of my characters into a situation I didn’t want to talk about. So, in essence, I was completely leaving the reader out of the picture. I put that character through hell and left out the reason he was in that hell. It was the missing element of my story. That element, if included, would make the story so much stronger.
So, to the one friend who asked the question, “Is there something you’re not telling the reader?” The answer is an emphatic YES. There was something I definitely was not telling the reader. You, friend who probably knows who you are, were right. You will be happy to know that at the eleventh hour I somehow found the courage to say, “STOP THE PRESSES!” I gave my character the background the reader needed to fully understand the impact of his past. I thank the editor who allowed me to write in this change in the manuscript. I thank the friend whose words were ALWAYS eating away at me after she asked that question.
Can I suggest something to writers out there who love sharing what they learn and offering advice to other writers? Please, please…follow the advice you give. If you feel it’s important enough to mention to others, it’s also important enough to mention to yourself.
From this point forward, whatever I write is going to be the ENTIRE story, however difficult the subject matter will be. You can’t count on your readers being in the room with you while they’re reading. My editor recently gave me that piece of advice. Such a solid nugget of advice it is, too! I loved it. It cracked my world open. You can’t write a story and leave out the element you just don’t want to deal with, especially when that element puts all the pieces together for the reader. When the reader is sitting alone in a room reading your work, you don’t want them to feel the need to turn to you and ask, “What am I missing? Is there something you’re not telling me?” Because, dear writer, you are NOT going to be there. Tell the story you need to tell. The whole story. Leave nothing out. The reader knows when something is missing. They know when there is something the writer is just not telling them. GO DEEPER. When you go so deep that it hurts to tell the story, climb past that wall of pain and GO DEEPER STILL.
This is important advice, Kevin. It’s a hard, but vital, thing to do. I’m so glad you were able to make the change in time!
Well said, Kevin! When an author comes to that kind of realization, you know your skills have sharpened that more more.
Many may say that an introduction that is prolonged is boring. But without an understanding of the characters in the story, there is no understanding of the story itself. Thank you for sharing your recommendations, and I hope that you find your own advice easier to follow in the future.
It’s like the old pointing finger adage: If you’re pointing a finger to others, you’ve got 3 pointing back at yourself the whole time. I guess it caught up to you, and luckily in time!
Thank you for sharing this, Kevin. This is important advice for us all.
Kevin, I love those moments when words I’ve had pounded into my head suddenly make sense, real sense. I have a Scooby-Doo moment, “R’oh, yeah. I get it!”
Thanks for all the feedback, all! I really appreciate it. I’m just so grateful I spoke up before it was too late! Almost decided to keep my mouth shut. Lesson learned!
Thanks for saying this daring thing out loud. I know exactly what you mean, and I’ve been guilty of this kind of duty-shirking myself. And it is a duty, not only to the reader, but to one’s characters and oneself.