Put Some Clothes On

I critique other’s work and they read and critique mine. We look for superfluous words, grammar mistakes, things that don’t ring true and dead weight sentences or paragraphs among other things. One of the things I hear little of is: I didn’t get it.

Several in my critique group have written short stories that I’ve read and while I enjoyed the writing I was left wondering what the point was. I knew there was one because the stories were strewn with symbolism. Symbolism I could only guess the meaning of.

The critiques came back on those stories with the usual red marks. I didn’t want to be the only one to ask, “what did that mean?” So, I almost didn’t. I didn’t want to appear stupid. Obviously, everyone else understood it.

Remember the story: The Emperor’s New Clothes? Well, that’s what came to mind. “Yes, great story. Deeply thought provoking. Yes, absolutely amazing.” Or in other words, “Yes, I see the emperor’s clothes. Beautiful. Just beautiful.”

I would hate someone to read my work and come to a wrong conclusion. What if at the end of the story the reader is unclear what it all meant? They will surely fill in the blanks for themself and most likely their perceived meaning of my work will be way off from the one I intended. Maybe the one they provide is hell is only a figment of my insane main character’s imagination and as soon as she gets on medication, she’ll stop hallucinating?

Ahh. All my work would be in vain. That is not what I want the reader to come away with. The point was that there is a hell, demons are real, and their is a very real spritual battle being fought all around us. That’s no good.

If your reader is unsure of the meaning of your story, they will provide one. It very likely will not be the one you intended. To me, that’s a little scary.

I decided I want to know what people think my stories are about, and so I ask. With Saving Eden, my readers were clear on it. That was good. I don’t mind some wondering about inconsequential things. For instance, in The Demon Chaser, I have the devil carry around a skull he says belonged to his first human recruit.

One of my critters asked, “Is it Eve’s?”
Another, “Is it Cain’s?”

I didn’t think it was Eve’s, personally. But, for my story, it doesn’t matter. So, on that point, I’ll let there be debate. But not on my overall take away message. That one’s non-negotiable.

As for my critique friends, I decided to allow myself to appear stupid and ask them what the meaning of their stories were. One friend simply said it was literary fiction and it didn’t neccesarily have to make sense. In fact, some of the best appreciated literary fiction didn’t. He didn’t explain his story, or change it to make the meaning clearer.

With another critique partner, I suggested she ask everyone who read it what they thought it meant. I’m guessing she gets some interesting answers. Maybe some she doesn’t like. But, the truth is certainly better than everyone telling you how beautiful your garb is when you’re actually walking around butt naked.

So, go ahead and ask, “Does my story make sense to you? What do you think it meant?”

And if you get some answers that make you cringe, go back to your work and rewrite to clarify.

In other words, put some clothes on.

Tunnel Vision

The first day of nursing school my instructor told the class to look to our left and right, which we did. “One of the people you’re sitting next to won’t make it,” she said.

Huh, I thought, I wonder which one. Then I realized two people were looking at me and wondering if I would.

The instructor was right. Nearly half our class dropped out along the way.
Every day, I thought about it too. Nursing school was incredibly hard. I ate, breathed, and slept pathophysiology and microbiology for three long years. I hated almost every minute of clinicals.

Every day I considered quitting. Every day. Lucky for me I had a boyfriend at the time,(hi Mark) that shared his motto “never say die”. Anytime I cried that I just couldn’t make it another day, he repeated that phrase.

My motto was that I would quit tomorrow. I’d get through today and then consider giving up in the morning. Well, when the morning came, I said the same thing.

I graduated near the top of my class and their vice-president. I’ll never forget the face splitting smile I wore down the aisle to pick up my diploma and degree. I was so proud of myself. I couldn’t believe the day had really come that I’d made it.

I read somewhere, so believe me I’m not saying it’s a fact, that one in 20K novels gets published. Gulp. I don’t know if that’s right but it probably is.

I read lots of ms (manuscripts). Some are better than others. Some writers reek of talent. Some just reek. But, I have an idea of which will eventually make it…and it’s not neccesarily the most talented ones.

The writers who have tunnel vision.

You have to in this business when you’re trying to break it. You may write four novels, like Stephen King, before one actually sells. Imagine that.

I’m only on my second and I can’t tell you how freaked out I was that I spent two years writing something that may never sell.

So, look to your left and right and in front of you and behind you and then go to a stadium full of people and know that only one of you will get your novel published.

You know which one of you it will be? The one who’s still there when everybody else goes home.

To get published:

Learn your craft. (give it years)

Learn the publishing business.

Be teachable. This is a big one.

And don’t give up.

As for myself, I’ve decided to quit, but not until tomorrow. Today I’ll write my heart out.