Okay I’ve been up for over an hour and I’m still caffeinating. God I hate morning. Have to get used to it though. I’m starting a new job in mid July that’s going to necessitate me going from working evenings/nights to normal people hours. As my brain is not booted up enough to actually write yet today, I thought I’d toss out the post I meant to write yesterday but never got around to because I was too deeply involved in my scene. What I want to talk about is how to take advice.
Now as writers, particularly as unpublished writers, we constantly strive to improve our work. We write. We revise. We send to beta readers, take their suggestions, and revise again. And again. Sometimes we’ll get conflicting suggestions, at which point its up to us to make a judgment call over which (if either) is better for the overall integrity of the story. Something that I have come to realize over the years as I’ve had beta readers, is the importance of choosing your beta readers (And does anybody wonder why it’s beta and not alpha readers? Does the author count as the alpha reader?) with a bit more discretion than going with your friends. Before you get all up in arms, I’m all about the support of friends. They’re the ones who will tell all their friends and show up with a small army at your first book launch. Plus it’s useful to have an average Joe or Jane to bounce ideas off of. And really, where would we be without friends? But friends are not always the best choices for revision advice.
Why? you may ask. They’re regular readers too, and they know what they like. True. And while the ego stroking is always nice, it’s not always helpful in that you may not have things that truly need improvement pointed out. And it is entirely possible that your friends will read your work because it’s your work and not because they like or know anything about your genre. Now pay attention, this is important.
In my case I write romance and romantic suspense. It’s all about the relationship. And in most modern romances today, there are love scenes. The level of explicitness in these scenes vary, but they occur in most books in the genre. So a couple of years ago I sat down to put a love scene in my WIP because it seemed like the thing to do with the way the plot was going. Now, I struggle a great deal with writing love scenes to begin with. I’m not a fan of the insert tab A into slot B variety of scene, so it’s more difficult to write an emotionally compelling love scene that doesn’t sound overly flowery or hokey. Plus I have a hard time getting it out of my head that people who know me are going to read this someday… That aside, I wrote this love scene for my WIP at the time and sent it on to a friend who has been kind enough to critique some of my other work in the past. The verdict? It was cheesey and entirely unrealistic. Okay… So I went back and tried a set up and a fade to black. Same deal. At which point I gave up on love scenes entirely until the last week or so.
My WIP demanded a love scene. I bitched. I moaned. I complained. I had Pot to hold my hand while I sweated over it for three days. And the end result–was actually good. Pot laughed at me and said, “You’re good at this. I don’t know why you were freaking out so much.” So I started thinking back to why I was freaking out, and I realized that it was because I had so much taken to heart the well meant advice of my friend. My friend who does not read romance or romantic suspense. Who does not know anything about industry standards. Who reads my work because she loves me and thinks I’m talented. Who is one of the most grounded in reality women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing (and darling if you’re reading this, you know I love you). Her opinion, while much appreciated, was not the best yard stick against which to measure my ability at writing this kind of scene.
My point is that you should be somewhat selective in choosing beta readers when you’re looking for a serious critique of your work. It’s important to choose people who know something of the expectations of your genre. And it’s also important to remember that no matter how well intended anyone’s advice is, it is up to you as the writer to decide what is in the best interest of your plot. So you have the discretion to use said suggestion or say “thanks for your input but I think I’m going to stick with what I’ve got, or go in X direction.”. Always take anything said to you about your work with a grain of salt. No one knows your characters better than you.