The First Line of Rejection
(And the Second)
I had a very personal experience about this just the other day. Right now I’m trying to write a handful of short stories that will draw people into my first novel, New Sight. The stories are about how the supporting characters got to where they are at the beginning of the series. Considering two are kidnapped by different sides of the battle, one has come willingly and the other is hiding in Vegas looking for a cure, they’re pretty good stories.
I spent some time last month blasting through a couple of them just to get that horrid first draft out of the way.
Here comes my first line of rejection. Are you ready for it?
I’m an outliner. I’ll think the story to death, then I’ll write it. At this point, I’m certain that the story is brilliant. Simply breathtaking. Then I read it a few weeks (okay, sometimes hours) later, start what I always optimistically think will be simple edits, and find that…well…it sucks. The plot isn’t twisted enough, or the characters are flat, or I introduced so many new things into the story that I now need to write a novel to explain it all.
At this point, I usually rage. Raging can include going to Kempo class and kicking and/or punching things, chocolate, reading a book that I know isn’t great so I can then say, “I can do better than that!”, watching TV, avoid doing chores or—and this is the very last straw—actually doing chores.
Once that cycle repeats itself a few times—I’d pay handsomely if anyone can figure out how to make this part of my life easier—I finally have a story I’m ready to send forth to my beta readers.
Beta readers are generally writing buddies. Family and friends are often only curious about what you’re working on, and they have no desire (or knowledge base) to critique it for you. Other than finding the six spelling mistakes that the spell check left. They’re comments usually consist of, “I love it! Where’s the rest?”
While it is delightful to get nice feedback, that’s not really what I’m looking for at this point. Well, I wish that’s all anyone could say about one of my manuscripts, but alas, that hasn’t happened yet. Nor is it likely too.
At this point what I need is a few fresh pairs of eyes on the story. Harsh eyes. None of this, “I really liked your story.” Nonsense.
I need the mean beta readers!
And I have them. Lucky for me, the meanest of the bunch, is a good friend of almost 20 years. She generally rips my stories to shreds and sends them back to me with a “Read at your own risk” e-mail. When she feels like she’s getting too mean, she puts in nice comments, just to make sure her critique doesn’t scar me for life.
The scarring only lasts a week or two, at the most.
I sent her my first short story for New Sight, and she got back to me with the following comments:
Sorry I took so long. I mostly liked it. It did give more info about the two and made them more into real people. However, I really hated your world building with the village and Kamau and Damasi, so I got stuck a few pages in and needed time away to finish it. I tried to figure out why. I have attached my reasons. I took most out of the comments because I wanted to finish it. I started buzzing over the parts that irritated me. Read at your own risk :)
This is when I flinch, and ignore it for a few days.
1) The whole set up of the village is to me illogical. It is more a cult set up, and those usually dissolve as soon as the cult leader dies, and most start disintegrating even before then. I cannot understand why this village/group of villages still exist.
2) The whole situation with Kamau and Demasi frustrates and angers me.
I read all of this (when I’m in a good mood) and decide what is pertinent and what is my friend’s very quirky view of the world and won’t bother anyone else. Then I decide what to address first.
Because she rarely sends me a comment that isn’t justified. Yes, I do discard some, but less than 20%. Especially if one of my other beta readers mentions the same section.
As you can see from the comments above, that is not always the case. It’s so easy to get into a single-minded rut while writing a story, and never see a twist or a character that could change it all for the better. To make the story closer to what you really wanted to say.
In my heart, I want my beta readers to love my manuscript. In my mind, I know that if they do, then they’re all just being nice. A single mind (mine anyway) cannot come up with every idea for a story. I have to swallow my pride and send it out into the world so it can get better. So hopefully I can get better, and then readers will love it.
My latest release, Fractured Memories, (my first Indie venture) is a kick a**, YA Post Apocalyptic, Sci-Fi, Adventure about a lone survivor of a Skinny attack, and her quest for revenge. The manuscript went through the beta reader process, and after they got back to me, I re-wrote a good 1/3 of it. Then I hired an editor, and she told me to be meaner to a few characters. Which I did, and now that particular section is one that almost everyone tells me they love.
A New York editor actually ripped apart the first chapter of Fractured Memories for me. That wasn't super fun, but she is the one who suggested that I do some heavy research into PTSD, because the main character has it bad. That rejection led me to several days of research about PTSD and how it manifests and how it affects people. I was amazed by not only PTSD as a problem, but also how some still think it is a myth. That whomever has it is somehow weak and just needs to get over it. Soldiers, in particular, seem to have it rough. I learned a lot, and incorporated it into my story. At the end of this book, Wendy still isn't over it. This little problem will haunt her for a long time. It's one of the most important aspects of the story...all because of a rejection.
So rejection is painful, but important. As an author, you never have to change a single thing that someone doesn't like about your story, but it would be wise to look into the reasoning behind the critique/rejection. Maybe there's something there you need to learn so you can improve your next tale.
Jo Schneider grew up in Utah and Colorado, and finds mountains helpful in telling which direction she is going. One of Jo's goals is to travel to all seven continents—five down and two to go.
Another goal was to become a Jedi Knight, but when that didn't work out, Jo started studying Shaolin Kempo. She now has a black belt, and she keeps going back for more. An intervention may be in order.
Being a geek at heart, Jo has always been drawn to science fiction and fantasy. She writes both and hopes to introduce readers to worlds that wow them and characters they can cheer for.
Jo lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her adorable husband, Jon, who is very useful for science and computer information as well as getting items off of top shelves.