Louisa Walker named her daughter Beth after Beth March of Little Women. Louisa May Alcott was her namesake and Beth the character that inspired her to play the piano, so it seemed only fitting that she should name her eldest after the character that meant so much to her. If only she knew the influence of names as much as she did the influence of books. Beth Walker proved much the same as her namesake, Beth March, both in musical talent and in health.
This post should almost be labeled a redux because I've posted so much of the conversation before. I am once again dealing with that balancing act of craft vs voice. I think more aspiring writers would do well to actually listen, absorb, and apply the feedback they receive from agents when they query. Too often I hear, "It's all subjective and that person is wrong. I'm just going to self-publish." I think that attitude is one major reason why self-publishing still has the negative stigma that it does. But that's not the point of this post.
The point of this post is that taste is subjective, but craft is objective. You might like a poorly written book. You enjoy it despite its lack of technical prowess, storytelling over mechanics and whatnot. So when receiving feedback, it can be hard to understand what is a matter of taste and what is a matter of craft, because the two aren't entirely segregated. They're a cozy Venn diagram. If an agent says, "I think X could be improved," you have to examine this and decide where in the diagram it fits and whether or not its actionable. (Pro Tip: The earlier you are in your career, the more likely it falls in the craft side, so don't get all pissy and go self-publish just because someone didn't extol your genius.)
I'm in that murky larval stage. I've spent the last four years working on pacing, chopping scads of overwriting from my work. I didn't think it was an issue until an agent told me so. I examined my work, saw her point, revised, and improved. One of the main reasons I'm so resistant to self-publishing my own work is that the querying process has improved my craft more than two flipping writing degrees ever did. Working in the system has made me better, so I'm not so quick to talk about how the system is busted and worthless. (Again, getting off track, so I will sum up by saying I agree with the Chuck Wendig school of thought. Publish what's best for you at any given time. It's not one versus the other. For me, I've decided my first step will be a traditional one, however.)
So recently I received feedback about trimming 10k from a manuscript. This is great news. There's interest there or they wouldn't have asked for a resubmit. But I don't know if I want to cut 10k. I'm still analyzing my Venn diagram. This isn't the overwriting of old (or the rambly nature of this post). This was a revised and revised-again manuscript that was built to be what it is. Perhaps with more specific editorial feedback, I could better understand what needs to be cut. But a simple note of "cut 10k" doesn't get me very far. If I had thought 10k needed to be cut, I would have done so of my own accord. So I have to ponder, is this a matter of taste or a matter of craft?
My wife commented about how I like to explain things. I do. She said she doesn't need an explanation. She assumes something happened because the plot needed it to happen and she goes along to see what happens next. I HATE THIS [BOLD FACE]. I hate this soooo much. It reminds me of every bad D&D session I ever sat through where the DM did things for no other reason than that's what he wanted to have happen despite any semblance of logic. I just saw "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and there was a prime example right in the middle of the movie. They went to location Beta (one of numerous supposed safe locations, as we had been at Gamma previously) but the bad guys found them! Oh no, a character is taken! Oh no, people are shot! My first thought? Oh no, their secure location has been compromised. They must have a mole! I wonder who the traitor is...
EXCEPT WE NEVER FIND OUT! The security breech is NEVER addressed again. How the fuck did it happen? Sure, I get the power of plot guided the bad guys to the location, but for real, if I'm assuming this is really happening in the setting as provided, how the fuck did they find out? Was someone sloppy and get followed? Was someone turned? Was the site never truly secure? Are none of the other sites secure and if so, how did the previous conversation at Gamma site go so smoothly?
EXPLAIN THIS TO ME, MOTHERFUCKER!
My wife doesn't care. She went along for the ride. But for me, it soured the rest of the movie. There was a whole different story there that I think would have been more interesting than the standard run and gun we see so often. (Why do we drive anywhere if you can outrun a moving vehicle?)
I hesitated in writing this post because I didn't want it to sound like, "I'm not revising any more. What I wrote is perfect." Fuck that. I hate when famous authors do that. Given feedback, I will rewrite if I think it'll make my story better. Absolutely. I want it to be the absolute best it can be. But when I hear, "You should be more like [author]," that doesn't do anything for me. I'm not [author]. I'm me. I don't want to be that person. I want to be me. I have my own voice. And my voice explains shit. I'd like to think there are people out there that want their shit explained (the outer shell of the corn doesn't break down because it's indigestible cellulose, you see). But who knows. Maybe that's such a niche readership that it really will require self-publishing to find them. I haven't come to that point yet. I still have my goals. I still think it's a matter of finding someone who resonates with my voice, and I'm hopeful I'll find that person soon. But I wanted to share my thoughts. I've come a long way. I probably have farther to go (if you think you don't you're both wrong and an asshole). The "Am I good enough?" question never really gets answered. It's always a process of self-examination, and the better I get at this, the harder it is to reach a conclusion. That seems backward, but that's what's happening to me.
That kind of thing is on my mind lately. How people get together in books almost seems obligatory any more. If two people of opposite genders show up on the same side of whatever they're battling, they seem required to get together. In the book I'm reading now, the writer really knocks it out of the park when he's writing about the female main character and her best friend. So much so I thought there was going to be a reveal that the two were lesbians and in love. But when she's around the male main character, even though the chemistry isn't nearly as good, the story pushes them together.
I'm watching Out of Sight and seeing what would in any other sense look like a meaningless conversation but it's full of romantic tension and some foreshadowing. I notice that I've been skirting away from relationships. They're usually already in progress and without complication because the "will they or won't they" seems pretty transparent. It's almost always a will they. Or, if they're together, they won't for much longer because people just can't seem to keep their shit together after the weight of the world (author) slaps them together like legos.
1 I know there were three of them2, but I consider them one movie. If you're going to be stubborn about it, I think Fellowship most improves (and surpasses) the book, but I still say that all three (extended) movies form a single bad ass movie.
2 Unless you were thinking I was talking about the animated movie. It's animation style is revolutionary, but it just can't compare to the live-action movie.
Like most geeks, I saw The Avengers opening weekend. Like many geeks, I saw it more than once. Yes, it was that good. I did not know if it was going to be good. I was hesitantly pessimistic, but after 99% glowing reviews from people I know (some of whom I actually trust), I gave it a try.
Pessimistic, I say? But how? It's superheroes. It's Joss Whedon! It's Marvel!
Exactly. Marvel has a good way of ignoring professionals who know movies and know how to make movies to do what they think the audience wants. Need examples from this decade (ignoring older disasters that are easy picking)? I give you Spider-Man 3 and Iron Man 2. Both had so much potential and both were wasted by Marvel demanding the directors do things their way, which proved not to be a very good way.
But Whedon is at the helm! This time will be different! Okay, A) the fact that he didn't leave/get fired from the project means he's playing nice, so don't think Marvel didn't have some say in the process (the alien invasion? all their doing). Moreover, is Joss as deserving of praise as we give him? I love his properties (especially Firefly), but they push the super-powered teen girl repeatedly. Can he do something like the Avengers without turning the Black Widow into Buffy?
Well, turns out, he can. Now, if you don't like Joss Whedon as a writer or filmmaker, then you won't like this movie. The dialogue is very clearly his. Yes, Stark, Cap, Banner, and Thor all have their own voices, but they are also expert witty banterers in that way Whedon excels at. I don't mind it. Some people do. It's a matter of preference.
The voice is what makes the movie worth watching, though. If you want to watch the big fightemup beatemup battle against the two-dimensional alien invaders, go watch a Transformers. If you want to watch what is perhaps the best rendition of Bruce Banner, then you have to go see Mark Ruffalo (who took my favorite character and made him the best he's ever been--even better than Bill Bixby! I'll go there). You have an ensemble cast of super-heroes that have no reason for being together that need to be together. It's a daunting task that had every reason to fail. It's master writing that made it even passable and Whedon made it awesome.
I never fully drank his kool-aid (I don't think Firefly would have been the amazing show it was without Tim Minear), but this movie really won me over to just how talented he is. I hope I can excel in my own field in a similar fashion.