The feedback from my Beta Readers has been flowing in and it paints a rather bleak picture, confirming many of the quiet misgivings I already had but nevertheless hoped were merely the voice of self-doubt that plagues anyone involved in an artistic pursuit. No, not this time. That was the voice of my unforgiving inner critic telling me that while the world I’d crafted held great promise, the story I ultimately told had massive flaws. Contrary to my goal of releasing the New Book this year, it sounds like it’s got at least a month (or more) of serious rework ahead of it before it’ll even be worthy of another read-through.
As I said to Cody the other day, “I can tell you exactly what Ashes is about. I can tell you exactly what [the sequel to Ashes, the title of which I haven’t yet announced] is about. I can’t tell you exactly what [the New Book] is about.” That really encapsulates the problem. I can tell you what it was supposed to be about, what concepts I wanted to explore with it, what personal struggles I wanted my characters to deal with, but none of that ends up in the text in a clear way. Bits of it are there, but they don’t come across to the reader in an effective manner.
One of my Betas, on hearing me express my woe, reminded me that I had asked for harsh criticism and that Beta was absolutely right. My frustration is not at all with the criticism received; I am glad to have it and delighted that I know people who are capable of giving it. My frustration is with myself, for having spent so much time putting together a work that doesn’t ultimately meet my own standards, much less prove sufficiently entertaining for others. I’m disappointed, but not with the feedback or those giving it; if anything, the quality of feedback is a silver lining.
Speaking of the sequel to Ashes, I started writing it on the 1st of the month. I plan to continue working on it until at least the 21st, which is when I’ve asked my Betas to have submitted all of their feedback. At that point, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do. Stop [Ashes‘ sequel] to retool and rewrite [the New Book]? Keep working on [Ashes’ sequel] to let [the New Book] breathe for a bit? I don’t know. Part of me is tempted to simply shelve [the New Book] and call it a learning experience. The rest of me is telling that melodramatic inner teenager to stop moping, man up, and fix it.
I’m taking a slightly different approach to planning for [Ashes’ sequel] that I hope will make the story and characters more immediately engaging. One problem that plagued Ashes as well as [the New Book] is that things don’t really start happening until about a third of the way into the book. That’s a great way to kill off a reader’s interest. While I enjoy writing the “let’s play out all of the steps that arrange for the action” scenes, it leaves a reader asking, “What’s the story, though? Why do I care?” I know why I care, because I know where they’ve all been and where they’re all going, so the “director’s cut” is of sentimental interest to me. Kill your darlings, the saying goes.
On an unrelated note, I’m giving some thought to writing some short, few-thousand word stories–vignettes, really–to better polish both my characterization and streamline my plotting. Historically, I’ve been very leery about approaching short fiction of any sort, feeling more suited to writing what I like to read: novels. But I think there are some lessons I need to learn to improve my storytelling and some of those lessons might come more quickly if I force myself to write in short bursts; if I don’t have a whole novel to flesh out a character, or build up a plot. TBD. I’ve got a lot of irons in a lot of fires right now.
Anyway, that’s where things stand on the writing front for those following along at home.