Critique groups. sigh. These are hard. Your writing/characters are your babies. Hearing others criticize them can be tough.
More than that. It's the type of the criticism that can hit hard. You can give feedback about prose, long, short, dense sentences, or weak verb usage, sure, but when you criticize the essence of the story or who the protagonist is/represents then that becomes a sore issue.
Lately, I have been dealing with criticism that a character from a story I will dub, P isn't likeable. The protagonist is an ailing woman suffering from an unknown illness who's being given the runaround, and who expresses her frustration with this frequently. I have been told she's not sympathetic. She has demonstrated no BAD behavior, with the exception of snapping at her landlady, a woman who says racially insensitive things--and apparently this makes her not likeable or bitchy.
First, let me say that writing black characters, especially black women, is hard. I don't want to write a *strong black woman, angry black woman, or victim. I also don't want to write a character deemed unworthy of sympathy/love. I have received criticism that this character is one, if not all of these.
I have been quite diplomatic about the criticism, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt about their objectivity, even while pushing to know what exactly about this character makes her unsympathetic and unlikeable.
The responses have been --a) she's snappy with the landlady/bitchy, b) we don't know who she is/she's not relatable, c)she's stupid/incompetent.
Part of me cannot help feel that the repeated criticism that this character isn't likeable has much to do with the difficulty society in general has with sympathizing with black women. That said, I am reluctant to make her a sad victim, since society, and the literary world in particular, thrive on black victimhood. I don't want her to be Patsey from 12 Years A Slave, which I often feel is the only type of black women character deemed sympathetic. I don't want to exploit black trauma.
I mainly write characters put upon by the world they live in (in other words, true to life black people). I write characters who grow into who they are and take what's thrust upon them and turn it into magic and strength.
Another bizarre criticism I received was that I have dehumanized my lead character, making her into a magical non-human--a magic negro. The Magic Negro is a character used in fiction to help alleviate the conflicts and elevate the status of the white protagonist, going so far as to die for the white leads.
This character is set up that way but the moral of the story is that she won't any longer die for anyone's causes. My goal for this particular character is to have her turn her would-be victimhood/magical status into strength and power to help herself. In other words, subvert the plot.
What's worse than writer's block?
To quote Bob Dylan--"I have a head full of ideas that are driving me insane."
I know that saying --"if there's a story you want told, then write it," and I have been trying to live by this rule. I like to think of concepts/ideas for stories before I attempt to write them. What's been driving me mad is that I can generate so many "fascinating" storytelling ideas and then draw blank when I sit down to write them.
What's wrong with me and how to fix it?
I have expressed on this blog before that I have little confidence in my execution of ideas (storytelling). I recently tweeted that storytelling is more important than writing; in actuality, an author should aim for both--the best writers know how to do both. Storytelling is more about big ideas-- mindbogglingly reveals, twists, and truths that leave the reader in awe, thinking about the story long after they've finished the book. Writing/being a writer is about structuring and presenting those intricacies of storytelling.
I am a "big ideas" writer, but I drive myself mad trying to figure out how to present those ideas in a logical, compelling and utter engrossing way. Plotting is hard. Timing is hard. Lately, I have been drawn to the free indirect discourse style--the literary narrative. I think of this style as a ramble inside a person's head.
Perhaps my attachment to this style is that it feels authentic--my head is a messy place of ideas and rambles.
But, here comes all the doubts of whether I can do this properly for my next manuscript, which I shall hereby dub, Anac.
Cheers to the new year 2020,
and something me and my mommy can be proud of.
Been having an epistemological writing crisis lately. I want to quit writing, not because I have run out of ideas, or don't even like it, but because I feel what I have been working on do not have meaning/purpose and isn't good enough.
I want to write stories that make people think and feel. Stories that are effortless in their execution of concepts, ideals and plot.
I have been feeling as if I am not good or intelligent enough of a writer to bring life to the type of stories I care for.
I know that Toni Morrison quote about writing the story you want to read, but what if I am not equipped to do so. 😒😕