Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Circle of Writing 2 - Craft, qualities of work, ambition, and values

Over the past few years, through writers' groups, teaching, and contests, I've read wildly diverse works in terms of style, genre, voice, and intended audience. It has forced me to stretch, often uncomfortably. Mostly, that has been good for me as a writer and as a person. But, from the point of view of those getting my comments, I know there were errors of omission.

My knowledge of the subtleties of culture and custom in Britain's regency period has left me unaware of rewarding aspects of some historical novels. My low tolerance for potty humor has challenged my reading of contemporary comedies, and my squeamishness has interfered with my appreciation of BDSM. I do my best to provide help on character, plot, language, and other common elements, but the writers really need to go elsewhere for the best feedback. So, as much as I appreciate what diversity in work has done for me, I recognize it leads to asymmetrical relationships.

It's easy to see these when I am on the receiving end. Many romance writers, who would be disappointed if I started a story. "Don't worry. Despite his fear of commitment, he'll find his way to love" have no tolerance for slow revelations of the secrets of an unknown world in fantasy or SF. Any new term, odd behavior, or unfamiliar concept that isn't immediately instantly explained in detail can lead to a page of exasperated feedback.

So, having people in your Circle of Writing who don't share enough of your values, interests, and perspectives can be frustrating and even harmful. Ideally, the people in your Circle need to:

Understand craft well enough to make constructive suggestions. Certainly, spelling and grammar matter, but so do conflict, point of view, and character development. And Circle writers need to be careful enough readers to pick up on your use of an unreliable narrator (especially in first person).

Appreciate genre differences. From careful planting of clues in a mystery to use of metaphors to the happily ever after in a romance, they should be looking for all that matters to your audience. It's easy to fail to include expected turns and plot points (or to just not express them clearly or with sufficient emphasis). You need not just another pair of eyes, but the right pair of eyes. Oh, and it is just as valuable to celebrate a well-done genre element as it is to find a problem.

Accept what you are going for. Whether your aim is to create great literature or a salable work, your intent as a writer is valid. An occasional nudge toward "higher" aspirations is fine, but no one needs to be judged against Melville when they just want to be successful in the marketplace. And vice versa.

Connect with the values.  Inspirational writers don't need to be challenged on their faith and erotica writers don't need to be saved. As a critic, you don't need to feel bad about making a work with a perspective you abhor more successful, and as a writer, you don't want to be badgered into watering down your message or whatever truth you are revealing.

Your Circle of Writing can include a lot of diversity, and you'd have a hard time gathering clones of yourself in any case. But, if there are people in your Circle who consistently "don't get it," maybe you or they (with no fault implied) need to move on.

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