Thursday, March 31, 2016

What if it's just terrible

No new writing this week, as has been the case for uhhhhh the last few weeks, but in this case it's because I decided to shift focus to editing Bad Fairy

I announced my request for new test readers here on the blog first, and then shared the post on Facebook. I got a few new readers from that. Then the next day I shared on Twitter, and eventually I (kinda reluctantly) made a similar post on Tumblr. (Most of the couple thousand people who follow me there follow me for asexual blogging, but I have no idea how many of them would be good test readers.)

I've already gotten some feedback (though most people haven't had time to read the sample chapters yet), and even though I'm mostly hearing good things, a neurotic writer's brain can take the most innocuous commentary and turn it into "what if the whole thing is just terrible and I did everything wrong?"

The first Bad Fairy was written with weird little perspective-dropping italics interludes, and it opened with a "chapter" that was ONLY one of those--so it kind of gets processed like a prologue. You have to have been in the fantasy writing community to really grasp the almost rabid hatred of prologues among some readers (including publishing professionals). They have this knee-jerk reaction sometimes like "OH GOD A PROLOGUE must be a pretentious fantasy writer or a person who doesn't know what they're doing, TIME TO SKIP and also judge the writer with impunity." Even my agent said when she first saw it opened with an italics prologue she was planning to tell me to cut it or incorporate it into the main text. Until she read the book and realized a) this is a character who would write a prologue into her book and b) it establishes tone the way nothing else could have.

But despite that, I guess I was influenced by the maelstrom and chopped Book 2's prologue from the chapters I sent out. Now, based on the feedback, I guess that was a mistake, so I'm putting it back in. The "prologue" is only one page and it's labeled Chapter 0, but just like the other one, it establishes tone and makes it clear that the character is writing this account from later in her life. I think that's pretty important because my character's situation is weird. First, you're thrown into her world where you don't know the rules at all, but then since Delia is an exception to a lot of the rules, it takes even longer to read her and figure it out.

The character is thirteen at the start of the book. She's already graduated from the fairy version of school and is looking for a job, but there are many complications because of some nonsense that happened between her and her enemies that resulted in discrediting her. She's basically waiting for a chance to appeal when the book starts. The fact that she's doing what an adult would usually do in our world after graduating from high school or college and the fact that she's kind of precocious makes her seem older than she is (plus the book is narrated about her young life by her older self), but her emotions and opinions and some other stuff is very much the usual teenager. So there have been some questions about what even the voice is supposed to be. 

I remember this being a problem occasionally when I was querying for book 1. Most people processed that it was written by her adult self, but I had one agent inform me that a baby can't narrate her life in a mature manner. (I wonder why the agent thought I didn't know pre-verbal infants can't compose a narrative. Delia's book literally begins with a description of what she remembers about being born. I'm aware babies generally don't remember being born. The fact that this character tells you she remembers it should clue you in that it's not a typical/realistic story, and it's kinda baffling that some folks do not realize what it means that they're reading fantasy.) I've also been told I need to change the voice to be younger, or change the voice to be older, whatever the reader believes I was going for. (It's happened once so far with this book too, but since the version that reader read did not have the prologue, I guess it was just too unclear that this is actually supposed to be narrated by the protagonist from later in her life.)

I'm really excited so far by some of the comments I've gotten featuring questions about how the fairy society thing works. I'm doing everything I can to provide a slow but satisfying reveal of these elements and expecting readers to pick up important details from context, but sometimes (as expected) I have not given enough background detail for readers to grasp something that IS actually important at that point, and getting these questions reminds me/shows me where I need to phrase things differently or provide more context. It's hard since I established so much in the previous book and I want the reader to feel like they're reading an appropriately complicated continuation of someone's life without feeling like they're missing stuff they need.

I think also that when we're reading published books, we believe them more. By this I mean if we're confused about something, we usually trust that a) the book will reveal what we need when we need to know it and b) we assume that the world is presented how it's supposed to be for a reason, and we can take it for granted that this is the way the setting is rather than a mistake by the author. In books that aren't published, I think we are more likely to conclude that the author doesn't know what they're doing and needs to be corrected. To use an example that no one has tried to call me out on but still might: In my case, that might happen if someone tries to use modern, local laws to judge the characters' alcohol use implausible. No one in the book ever suggests that Delia, at age thirteen, is too young to drink wine or ale. She's been drinking small quantities of alcohol (primarily wine) since she was six or seven, because it's just part of her culture. That's not unheard-of in our world, either, but I could imagine a reader judging that ridiculous because kids aren't allowed to drink. In a published book, I wonder if said readers would say "Oh, I guess kids are allowed to drink in this world" rather than "Pssht wow that's really sad that the author doesn't realize children objectively are not allowed to drink."

And with a book like mine, I have to find subtle and nuanced ways to relay these things so they don't read like mistakes that jostle the reader out of their reading reverie. I certainly want them to wonder about things, but I don't want to confuse them to the point that they think I don't know what I'm doing. 

I'm pretty good at processing feedback and understanding the difference between when the reader just has a different opinion from me versus when the reader has feedback that will make my book a better version of the story I want to write. But sometimes even considering which comments are which can make a fairly confident writer wonder if they wrote the wrong story or wrote it in such a way that the story they wanted people to read isn't coming through. I don't think those kinds of thoughts often, but diving into the first chapters again with readers who haven't had enough time and exposure to get acclimated either is certainly one of the times I do. :)

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