Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A good novel is not written by committee . . . but a few friends help

What's the purpose of a novel?

I'm sure there are many fine English graduate students who could pen entire books to answer that question in a thorough and intriguing manner. I, however, will suggest my simple answer: to pass along a story to a reader in an engaging manner.

What's an engaging manner? Yet another question that is fine thesis fodder.

For me, being engaged by the text often doesn't involve the story (though it helps) as much as the voice of the work. How can I blow off the story and characters? Aren't they important? Sure, they are, but let's face it, after thousands upon thousands of years of storytelling, truly unique stories and characters are a pretty rare breed. There are only so many plots that a human mind can generate, and I'd suggest they probably have pretty much been done in one form or another.

When I read a book, yeah, I appreciate a good story with an interesting twist on the subject and interesting, three-dimensional characters, but what really draws me is the voice of the writing.

So, what's my grand point in mentioning all of this? Well, it has to do with how people write. Though there are some people who are perhaps literary geniuses and can sit alone in a cabin and produce a work that requires no editing, the rest of us mere mortals need feedback. After all, how can one adequately judge if they are communicating a story in an engaging manner if they never actually test the ability of their novel to do so?

There are different ways of getting feedback, of course. Editors will obviously provide it, but critique groups and beta readers are often good choices before a piece even gets near the editor (and may be necessary for a writer to even have that opportunity). The latter two also generally involve more people, so isn't that the better option? Well, yes and no.

Reading, after all, is a highly subjective affair. Have ten people sit down and read a piece, and you'll end up with a lot of conflicting opinions. Now, obviously, ten people all agree on the same point (whether positive or negative) there's probably something to that. The troubling part is when they don't disagree.

When people aren't saying the same thing, if you address all their concerns, you run the risk of producing homogenized writing. Even if the interesting story and interesting characters are preserved (which is questionable), the story will likely be stripped of the unique voice that had previously defined it.

All your darlings can be killed. Your favorite sub-plots might be worthless and can be hacked out, but whatever you do, keep your voice!

Yes, seek out and appreciate feedback but always remember it's impossible to please everyone. I would direct anyone dubious of that idea to think of their favorite book (or a book that has won numerous awards) and then go to Amazon and read through all the one and two stars reviews.


mooderino said...

followed you here from CC, you seem to be into what I'm into, drop by my blog if you get a chance.
Moody Writing

J.A. Beard said...

I just added you to my rss reader and am following you now. :)

Tiphanie said...

Cool, you have your site up!!

J.A. Beard said...

Yeah, I'm committing to posting every Wednesday and Saturday. :)

CherylAnne Ham said...

When giving a critique, I always tell the author that they are the only one who knows what is truly best for their story. I think a good crit partner should understand if you don't take their suggestions.

You're 100% right, don't lose your voice, it's the only thing that cannot be duplicated. :)