On creating a world

All storytellers bump up against the same challenges:

What world will their characters inhabit?
Will the world be large or will the story focus on a narrow segment of it?
If a narrow world, will there be a broad sampling of characters?
What are the rules of engagement in this world?
What outside forces will come to bear?

In any case, it must be able to connect with the human experience for one simple reason: That’s who the reader is. A human with all the needs and desires and wants and jealousies and loves and hates that make us human.

startrek_tos_castEven the venerable show Star Trek bumped up against it: All the aliens of any form on every planet were living and dealing with the human experience long before the humans got there.

Novelists and other writers of fiction (the Media Elite should take note) are under obligation to tell the truth. That is, as they lie to their readers (tell made-up stories with made-up people in non-existent situations) the characters’ truth must be told.

The mistake some writers make is this: They have a strong opinion about a subject. They believe their opinion is sound. They want to further that opinion, that is, they have an agenda and they are using the book as a way to advance their opinion or belief.

There is nothing wrong with having and writing about an agenda or a strongly held belief. But if to support that agenda one has to make characters twist and turn and flip and flop, then the reader at best feels cheated, at worst is confused. This is not a reader who is being entertained, much less convinced of the rightness of the writer’s opinion.

In other words, this is not a repeat buyer.

Therefore, writers of fiction must, out of pure necessity, inhabit all the psyches of all their characters in order to tell their truths.

Which, of course, brings us to the challenge of getting literary agents and editors’ eyes on your book: If they are unable to connect to your story, then it must be determined who is at fault. The editor’s or agent’s because of their narrow field of experience? Or the writer’s for all the reasons listed above?

The hell of it is, it could be one, the other, or both. There is no checklist to determine which it is.

So what is a writer to do when agents and editors don’t connect and send back word to rewrite the whole thing in a certain way?

That can be disheartening, for certain. Here is what you do.

First: Have a meltdown and get it over with.

Two: Reread the requested changes in good faith.

Three: Attempt one of those changes on a small basis.

Four: Evaluate the impact of those changes to your original intent (reason for the book in the first place.)

Five: If it works, then send a sample of that change to whoever requested it.

Six: If it doesn’t work, then make a case to the agent/editor for why those won’t work.

Upon making that case, I can guarantee one thing will happen: You will identify shortcomings in your story. It will tighten in some places, expand in others. In any case, those changes will benefit your story immensely, and that is not a bad thing.

Since 2009 I’ve been a member of a critique group of professional and novice writers. Ages and backgrounds are the variables we each rely on. I can tell you that when I’ve brought in chapters to read, that my offering has always been liked (for use of words, etc.), but it hasn’t always been accepted as done. Questions about character motivation, choice of words, situational content, and more, have been heatedly discussed among the group. I’ve even gotten mad at times. But…

I’ve always made note, taken it back home, let the rising sap lower until I’ve calmed, and revisited their comments. While I may not agree with their POV or opinion, their comments have nevertheless let me know where I fell down on my job as the writer. My writing has always benefited and those lessons are not forgotten.