Saturday, August 10, 2013

Five Reasons Your Loved Ones Lie to You . . .

 . . . when it comes to critiquing your writing.

  1. Your mother loves you and doesn’t want you to feel bad. Again. (She’s never forgotten that little “incident” back when you were in grade school. The look on your face! Sigh.)
  2. Your friends are being (kind of) honest when they say what you wrote is great. (It is, compared to what they would write. It may not be, compared to what a professional would write.)
  3. Your family may not have actually read what you wrote. (You: “Did you like it?” Them: “It was awesome!” You: “What was your favorite part?” Them: “Buh . . . everything!”)
  4. Your good buddy/dear, dear friend fears jeopardizing your good buddy-ness/dear, dear friendship.
  5. Family and friends, less skilled in language than you are, may struggle for a polite way to say “stinks” or “blows” and so may just give your piece a hearty thumbs up. (A thought which now gives this author pause because his family and friends have given some of these blog items a hearty thumbs up. But they meant it. He can tell.)

A family member, friend, editor, or fellow writer who will offer you an honest, intelligent and informed opinion is worth more than his or her weight in chocolate-chip cookie dough.
Writers or not, we all need to cultivate the delicate art of telling a loved one the truth . . . gently.

Just keep writing.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Everyone Has a Backstory

Within the span of a few days not too long after my wife Monica died, two strangers told me to smile. No, not told me. Commanded me. And not just “smile.” But “smile!”

The first was a fellow I passed in a hallway at a retirement home. The second was someone at church handing out Sunday bulletins after Mass.

I had thought, all things considered, I was doing remarkably well during that initial crush of grief.

After each man spoke, I lifted the corners of my lips and pointed my face at him.


Shut up and leave me alone.

I don’t blame them. Apparently, I had looked “too” sad or serious and — ho, ho, ho! — everyone needs to smile more.

Well . . . yes and no.

Yes, generally speaking. I suppose.

No, not all the time. I’m sure.

As a novelist it can help you to keep in mind there are reasons your characters do what they do when they do it. Some writers create a short biography for each character, figuring out his or her backstory. Others writers “discover” those motives as the story unfolds and the characters themselves reveal bits of their past. (Yes, this sounds odd/spooky/nuts if it hasn't happened to you as a writer. I don’t think it’s uncommon. It is odd/spooky/nuts, and I speak from firsthand experience.)

Either method, or a combination of both, can work well. Learning the better way, or proper mix, for you is a matter of practice. Of writing. And that’s what you’re doing.

And when you’re not writing . . .

It can help to keep in mind that family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors and strangers have their backstories, too. Better to be a little slower to judge and a little quicker to show compassion. Even among those we know well, we don’t know it all.
Just keep writing.