I used to chop on the Twilight series quite a bit. Scoffing at the sparkly vampires and the whole teen-aged angst thing. I tried watching the first movie and barely made it through the first twenty minutes before hitting the eject button on the DVD player.
It wasn’t until Wendi asked me if I actually ever read the books. The answer was no, I hadn’t. So, the next day I went out and got it. The first few chapters still did nothing to convince me I was wrong about the series. It wasn’t until three quarters of the way through the book, when Edward took Bella to visit his family, that the book took off.
Although Twilight may not be the most well-written book out there, the author poured her heart and soul into it just like every other author out there on the planet.
Stephen King said of Stephanie Meyers:
“Somebody who’s a terrific writer who’s been very, very successful is Jodi Picoult. You’ve got Dean Koontz, who can write like hell. And then sometimes he’s just awful. It varies. James Patterson is a terrible writer but he’s very very successful. People are attracted by the stories, by the pace and in the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”
In other words, Meyers is a really good storyteller and shame on her editors for not streamlining the book better. Pushing through the day to day minutia of a teen’s life almost made me put the book down after the first couple of pages. There is such a thing as too much detail and as a reader I didn’t need to know what Bella did every single second of the day. The only thing left out was how many times Bella went to the bathroom to pee.
This is where you absolutely need the input of an editor and a focus group. Forget about the typos and grammatical technicalities for now, what you want to focus on in the first round, and possibly the next two or three rounds after that, is the story.
For this, you’ll need as many fresh pairs of eyes as possible. You know the story and I would bet any amount of money by the time you’re done with that first draft you’re suffering from a bit of storytelling blindness. In your head you know exactly what your characters’ motivation is. You can see it clearly and sometimes there’s a disconnect between getting it out of your head and expressing it on paper. It’s easy to miss things. But someone reading that manuscript for the first time? They’re not going to miss a thing.
Accept Constructive Criticism With An Open Heart
Critiques aren’t easy to handle for many of us. It’s not a matter of having a thick skin, it’s a matter of checking the ego at the door. Think about it, you asked these people to help you out and what good would it do if they gave you nothing but flowers and sunshine? Is that what you really wanted to hear? That your book is so great and wonderful you don’t have to bother with another draft?
No, of course not.
If you’ve carefully chosen your focus group and your editor, you’ll know they only have your best interests in mind. They want to see your book succeed as much as you do. They have to be people who have enough respect for you to say, “Hey, you’ve got some toilet paper stuck to your shoe, you can’t go out like that!”
Sure, you may suffer a brief moment of embarrassment from a moment like that, but in the end aren’t you grateful someone said something?
The same goes for your first draft. Honor all comments. You’ll find you may not agree with all of them, however even the ones you don’t agree with will give you enough insight how to improve the sticky spots. These people you’ve chosen will let you know where the story drags, where they couldn’t bear to put it down, what bits of dialogue sound repetitive, what clues you’re over-emphasizing and which ones were so subtle they were completely missed. You need this. It’s important. An over abundance of minutia is just as bad as widespread generalizations and gaps the size of the Grand Canyon.
Rinse and Repeat
And what happens when the second draft is done? You start the process all over again. You keep doing it until it’s been streamlined down from a Pinto to a Ferrari. Maybe on the second or third pass you start cleaning up the technical aspect, and once you get what you think is your final FINAL, go over it one more time and give it to someone totally outside of the folks you’ve already given the book to.
You want to talk about scary? Yeah, showing that final FINAL to an outsider when you think you’re at the end is a big leap.
But…and this is a big but…always remember you cannot possibly please everyone. Your novel is never going to be total perfection. That’s just not possible, people. You’ll drive yourself to the nuthouse if you even attempt to make it that way. Have faith in yourself your story is solid and the characters believable. Have faith that you’ve done all you can and let it go.
Get out of the garage. Get up on stage and shine. And how do you do that? You just take a giant leap into the blue, spread your wings and fly.