Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Knowing When to Ignore Advice

Sometimes you should just cover your ears

Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing

It’s a given that, as writers, we need to have critique partners, alpha readers, and beta readers to see the issues with our work that we don’t see ourselves. (It’s our baby, damn it; nothing’s wrong with it! Except there is, but I digress.) A lot this post is going to feel like it’s glaringly obvious, but oftentimes, we fall into the pit of wanting to fix everything that a trusted person points out in our work, but that’s not always the best thing for the world we’re building. So how do you know when you should take the advice and when not to?

When it affects later books

Plans change frequently, but carefully laid plots that span several books shouldn’t. This is a mistake that’s easy to make for your critique partners—and even publishers. I’ve been guilty of asking one of our authors to change something in their books that I didn’t think needed to be there, only to find out that it set up a plotline that became fruitful in the next book. The trick is not to let the critiquer to convince you that you’re going down the wrong path because they can’t see where your plans are going yet. 

This is probably the easiest one to move on from without feeling like you’re not exploring all the possibilities where it could go. 

It goes against your principles

This one will also be pretty easy for you to do...maybe. There are certain things that sell, as we all know. But do you really need to put it in your book to please others?


Plain as that: No. If something is uncomfortable for you to write, such as a sex scene or torturing someone in detail, don’t put it in there. You can find other ways to imply the same material and still keep it within your moral comfort zone. Or not have it at all—there are ways to make something compelling enough to sell without having something salacious. 

It’s not your voice

We develop specific voices as authors, and different ones for each character. There are authors you can recognize even with small excerpts of their work, and that’s a very good thing. Readers like the familiar, even nostalgic, when they’re reading or rereading your work. So what do you do when your critiquers, alphas, or betas suggest a change that would change the general tone of your work?

First, you need to assess whether or not their suggestion would help the book in the long run. Second, you’d want to see if you can implement the change in the same tone that you’ve held throughout the book. 

If you can’t put it in your voice, consider whether the feedback is actually worth taking. Just like with characters acting out of character, you don’t want to sound like someone else while you’re writing. 

It is so out of character for your characters

As authors, we take the time to carefully craft our characters’ appearance and personality. So, when there isn’t a reason for your characters to act out of character—like there’s a situation that they’ve put themselves in which they really need to act out of character—they shouldn’t be going against the very nature you created for them. 

For example, if you have a mild-mannered pastor in your novel as a side character, and your critique partner suggests that they should call someone and obscene name because they’re frustrated with another character not getting their point, it won’t fit. 

It’s not their book

Finally, it’s not their book. A lot of critiquers will want an author to change a plotline more to a way that they would write it instead of the way the author would write it. Some of these might have some meritorious ideas, and if they can be implemented, great, but in general, author’s plans win. A lot of critique partners, especially ones who are just starting out, can’t tell the difference between suggesting a good idea and insisting that the author write the book the way they would write it because it would be, “so much better.”

Just remember when you go through the suggestions of your readers and critiques, take them with a grain of salt and evaluate their merit before implementing everything that they say. Sometimes it’s just hooey. 

Join us next week for the latest installment of our Misused Advice series when we talk about having likable main characters.

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