You’ve finally made it.
You’ve hit that point of no return in your book where little more than a few finishing touches need to be applied and you can present this brilliant product to a friend for critique.
You send the e-mail, earnestly waiting for their comments. A few days later you get that reply, only to read the opening line of your book and their comments below — “This needs some reworking”. And it only gets worse from there — red comments filling the pages like smeared strawberry jam all over what once was shiny and new.
Grab your tissues, friend. You’ve got major #bookproblems
Let me tell you first and foremost — all is not lost.
First drafts, even second or third drafts or fourth or fifth drafts are rarely perfect, especially when you are the only one who critiqued the work. It’s not that all of the work you did was for nothing… but to someone new, they might as well be staring at a first draft. They did not experience the original plot holes you fixed, or the horrible dialogue you corrected, or the gaping logic-jumps you ammended. They only have this first view of your book.
Now with any luck, before you reached this stage of bookproblems, you’ve been critiquing in a group and have had a chance to see some of the common issues other writers have hurdled. I think doing this is one of the best ways to avoid a lot of tropes, but more importantly, reviewing other peoples’ work is the best way to find your own voice and know what you like and dislike.
For instance – I’ve learned the following for myself:
I hate meta openings — where someone begins a book takling about writing a letter or a verse or a poem or — get this — the very BOOK you are READING.
It’s not like this is a horrible thing. There are good books that do this. But I probably hate those books too.
Another popular one that seems to really piss off agents is this — books that begin with the FIRST day of anything. First day of school, first day at a new job, first day of your life. Doesn’t matter. When you start at the first day, you are basically admitting to your reader that your character didn’t exist before this moment, before you touched the pen to the page.
Stories that begin on a first day need to work much harder to prove they have any history or any real beef to them.
Oh, and don’t get me started on dreams. I don’t like reading about a main character who just woke up from a dream, especially in that opening. Worse than that, I don’t want to read about a character who struggles through being unsure of when they are awake and when they are asleep. You know why? Becuase it’s confusing. I mean, even when it’s executed well (think Inception) it’s still REALLY CONFUSING.
And I get it. It’s cool to have an untrustworthy narrator. But an untrustworthy narrator and a narrator who can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy are two different thing. One is just a liar. The other belongs in a psych ward.
But these are mostly just my preferences.
I learned this stuff about myself by reading books. And not just the nice shiny polished ones on the shelf. I feel like I learn more about what makes a book good or bad from reading things in my critique group than from reading books alone. Published works tell you what is really good, but unpublished drafts tell you why its good and how it can get there.
The key to solving book problems is pretty simple really. Put some distance between you and your work. Put it in a drawer for a month. Start writing something new and then come back to your book. Read your book start to finish, like your reader would do, with no explanation or correction.
Because at the end of the day, whether your opening has your main character in a school or in an airplane or driving down a highway, there is still a plot in there — and that plot will proceed with or without the opening scene you originally thought was the best idea ever. Don’t be afraid to be wrong once in a while.
Think of it this way. If someone gave you the chance to go back in time and fix any part of your life that didn’t work out the way you had wanted, would you be mad at them for assuming you had ever been wrong? Or would you be signing at the dotted line and patching up that botched life-event in no time? In life, you may not have the opportunity to undo what you’ve done and go back to do it right, but in books — you can.
Being wrong doesn’t mean you didn’t create a fantastic book, just like making a mistake doesn’t make your whole life meaningless. It just means you put a less than perfect idea in a great book.
The good news, however, is you can change any part of your book that doesn’t work. You can move whole cities closer together. You can cut down mountains and turn them into valleys. You can make up new family members that you didn’t know existed before. You have that power to weave a stronger story. So take it. Use it.
Don’t get bogged down by #bookproblems because they’re not really problems when they’re fixed.
Think of them as #bookopportunities
Now go write!