Re: An opinion...

Hellows, fellow writers, and readers. Seelya here.

I just want to vent my frustration and ask for some advice.

I have been writing this story for almost 1 year. Next February it will celebrate its first birthday. I sent the first chapter to a publisher and he gave me a strange criticism. That made me sad, naturally, but the criticism itself was a bit weird.

The guy said that my characters almost speak as the same person. I totally disagree with that. One character speaks in the 3rd person all the time. Another character gets angered easily, and the 3rd main character keeps being the nice guy. And I picked specific words for each character that only they use, specifically to make it clear that each one has its own mannerisms. The nice guy, for instance, uses a lot of slang from his own language, which is NOT English. I have to keep putting side notes to the reader so what he is saying becomes clear. The angered one speaks in an alien language from time to time which I have been building a dictionary! The dictionary and some explanations for the grammar rules were INCLUDED at the end of the text. So HOW are they speaking as if all are indistinctively the same guy? I don't see how this is possible...

The person criticizes that I use dialogues excessively. He even complained that I use too many "he" and "she" instead of their names. But WAIT! That text he read was the first chapter and, wow, almost ALL dialogues are between just 2 characters in the first scene. Same thing for all the others! Now please, don't tell me that I have to list the name of who said what at the end of every single line of dialogue in a conversation between just TWO peeps... Can't someone see that one say something, the other answer, and the conversation just flow that way? Is that SUCH complicated to notice? And the two characters are a male and a female, so why not use he and she instead of just repeating their names again, again and again? Am I writing science fiction for retards?

I thought that using more dialogues than the narrator would add more realism and deep to the characters. I really don't use much the narrator. I mostly describe the ambiance, use the narrator to glue dialogues, and use dialogues when I need to explain something to the reader. I think this seems more organic than the omninarrator.

In fact, I could use some more descriptions, that's true, but I thought about using more dialogues as a style, to begin with. I have this feeling the publisher just didn't like the fact that there are more dialogues than the narrator's voice and read everything with a bad feeling and ended missing many details and finished saying nonsense.

I may be wrong but hey, I don't want to waste 1 YEAR of work with 860 pages. I just feel a bit lost at this point. And he complained that the plot is not clear in the first chapter. Of course, it is not, I use the first chapter to introduce the main characters and the relationship between them. The real plot only starts to appear past half the book. What is the fun of knowing what's going on in a science fiction story at the very first chapter? This is not star trek...

Thanks for your time. I hope to be publishing it as a web novel here soon.


Re: An opinion...

First, don't be discouraged! The fact that you're getting personalized feedback is a great step forward! From what I've heard, very few rejections come with tips on how to improve, so you're already ahead of things there.

Acquisitions editors generally know what they're talking about. I know it can hurt to have someone criticize what you've put so much effort into, but try not to see it as an attack but a surgery. You've been given a diagram of what needs to be excised, expanded, and altered. That is something that many writers would pay a great deal for.

Regarding dialogue:
There is such a thing as voice, and it's not about what the characters say but about how they say it.

"There's going to be a storm today."

"Storm's comin'."

"I think it'll rain later."

Do you see how each of these has a different feel to it? On its own, a line about a storm doesn't have much to do with character. But if the character always speaks in clinical description, or curt and brief segments, or with qualifiers about their own uncertainty, that tells you something about the character.  Every person has their own vocabulary, their own tics, their own style of diction. If I were writing a character who hates reading and never paid attention in school, it would be inappropriate to utilize my full vocabulary in that character's dialogue.

Personally, making my characters sound like unique individuals is one of my weakest points. I have no idea how to tell if it's being done well or poorly, so apart from the basics I have little to offer on the subject.

Regarding dialogue tags and disorientation:

I love dialogue. As a reader, I'll often skim through the tags and right to the fun part. BUT. I am also borderline aphantasic. Beautiful descriptions entrance me for the beauty of how the words are put together, not because of what they are describing. It's important to remember that a lot of readers rely on descriptions to orient themselves to the story and the place.

If you cold open with two people in a room talking to each other, and never slip in any descriptions of the room, people will feel lost. Is it a ballroom? An engine room? A bedroom? An office? Where are we? When are we? Who are these people who are talking to each other?

Often, you can carry dialogue with just alternating lines. Sometimes 'he' or 'she' is appropriate. But remember that the readers are coming to this new. You should repeat your characters' names at least a handful of times throughout, so readers can start to get a hold on them. If I'm reading a story and the main character is called 'Gregor' in the first paragraph, then simply 'he' for the next eight pages, I probably won't remember his name.

Again, this is a problem that I have had as a writer. I tended to slip into the assumption that readers had as much detail memorized about my characters as I did, and it led to a lot of 'she did this, she did that' and not enough 'Maya did this, Maya did that'.

Try to switch it up. Not only to orient your readers, but also to keep variety in your tags. And remember that if two people are the only ones talking, you often don't have to tag often at all. Just alternating lines of dialogue is pretty easy to follow. Add a tag or action beat maybe every five or six lines, that should be plenty, just enough to prevent people from losing track of who's who.

[[There's a lot more I'd like to add, but I'm running late for work. I'll come back to this later.]]

Re: An opinion...

I can't really say much of anything without reading your first chapter. But I think you need to take your ego, and shove it away for a moment. Look at this a little more objectively.

You are actually very lucky. Most of the time when you submit something, they don't send criticism back. Most publishers and even agents don't reply. Just silence. If you don't hear back from them, they don't want your story, you move on.

This first one, I can't really say anything about. However, you might be doing something else that creates this effect of the same voice syndrome. Basically what I'm saying it that this might be a symptom, but not the issue. Since you write dialogue heavy, it could be there is so much of it that it dilute these distinctions.

The second point is an issue with writing something that is dialogue heavy. There is a certain balance that one needs to achieve. One of the main things is you don't want to mimic the way people naturally speak in reality. You want to treat the dialogue like you treat narration. It's just another way to narrate a story. Instead of the narrator saying it, the character is the one who says it. You can add flavor, but you need to be subtle about it. You need to know how to work it in.

As for what he said about tagging. This is something I can't say unless I read what you submitted. Generally, you don't need to say two characters name all the time, but if you are writing a wall of dialogue, you do occasionally need to remind readers of who is speaking mainly just to break the narration up. Too much dialogue muddle thing in the way that too much description can. Reader's eyes will just glaze over, and they start skipping what they believe is unimportant.

And no, adding more dialogue than narration alone will not create more realism and make deeper characters. It's the way you use the dialogue and even narration to do that. If you aren't utilizing your dialogue well, then that's not going to show. You have to know when to use dialogue and when not to use dialogue. You have to know when to have your character say something, or you can just show it or tell it. It all depends on the context and what tells the story better.

As him mentioning not showing the plot in your first chapter. That is true. Granted I've been told within the first three chapters to show your plot. You can't wait until halfway through a novel. A reader isn't going to wait until then. I wouldn't wait until then even with my writing and I write dialogue heavy nonsense. In traditional publishing, there are things you can and cannot do. Waiting until past the halfway mark to reveal the plot of the story is one of them. And I'm not saying you need to jump right into the middle of things at the beginning, but you need to show it. You need to start establishing what the story is about and working your way towards it. And you can do all of this and show who your characters are. You don't have don't have to do these things one at a time. You can write a slow burning novel.

However, there is a difference between writing something that slow burning and something that just stalling because your story is unbalanced. 

The reality is that traditional publishing is hard. It's not easy. It can be a time-consuming process that you will put more effort into than getting anything out. You and hundreds of other writers are submitting stories to be published. Publishers only pick out several new writers to be published each year. And if it's a small press, maybe just a couple. They are picky. They want something they can sell. People spend years submitting stories. Many times, they do have to go back and revise their novel multiple times.  They will  spend years on a novel with a mountain of rejections. Sometimes that novel they worked on hard on, has to be tucked in a drawer, and they have to spend that energy to submit something else. The reality is most writers who submit, don't get published. The ones who do are the persistent writer.

However, if you still want to traditionally publish said novel, don't post it online. The main reason is that publishers want first publishing rights. They considered posting online to be first publishing. There is a lot more leniency now, but it's safer to assume that a publisher does than them being lenient about it.

Re: An opinion...


LadyAnder Wrote: However, if you still want to traditionally publish said novel, don't post it online. The main reason is that publishers want first publishing rights. They considered posting online to be first publishing.

Quoting for emphasis. Definitely, absolutely, if you want to trad publish the story DO NOT post it here. If you're sure you're going indie, then this is a fine place to start, but first publication rights can only be used once and if you use them yourself now you won't ever be able to sell them.

Re: An opinion...

As much as RR reviewers get criticized for being harsh, they are nothing compared to a professional publisher.  You have to remember, they don't like publishing long fictions.  Not unless it's a proven author with a known following backing them.  So they won't hold back at all.  As others have said, if it was bad, they would have thrown it in the trash and not sent a word back to you.  

Writing is one of the hardest jobs you can pick and we post on RR because our crap wouldn't last 3 seconds at a publishers.  And yes, you can tell an author's skill level just from the first chapter, if not less.  The first chapter should be the most refined part of your fiction, so it stands to reason that it should hold up quality-wise. 

Maybe you can't draw in the reader from chapter 1, but writing is as much a science as an art.  There are established rules and if you are going to break from them, then it had better be worth it.  Something you'll notice in professional work is that the first episode of a tv series or the first chapter of a book are immaculate compared to the rest of the series. 

When the publisher mentioned your plot not being clear by the end of the first chapter, he might be referencing your blurb.  Something I believe in is that everything you mention in the blurb should come to pass by the end of the first chapter.  The blurb is what drew the reader in, not your pre-reincarnation nonsense or whatever you put there.  The reader thinks the stuff AFTER the blurb will be interesting, so get it done in the first chapter.  If it's that's not possible, then maybe you put a spoiler in your blurb that shouldn't be in there.  

Characters on a professional level can't even be compared to the crap we write on this website.  You have to plan out not only what you want them to sound like, but give them a reason for sounding like that in the first place.  Then they have to reinforce that image with gestures, behavior, etc. They need a background.  If you make someone speak in the third person, you need to have a reason for it.  This isn't pokemon.  They want realistic people.  Think of interesting people you've ACTUALLY MET in real life and base your characters on them.  

Re: An opinion...

@DarkD, agreed on most points—especially about initial chapters being the best. 

BUT I think there are quite a few stories on this website that are quite polished and contain well-rounded, complex, different characters that you sometimes won’t be able to find in the traditional publishing industry due to that industry’s tendency to go for marketability instead of... uniqueness if you don’t have a following. Calling stuff “crap” on this website makes me sad :(

Marketability (strong no tears female MC, alpha male MC, dystopia, hot steamy romance, contemporary adventure mythos, YA/NA etc) is a big thing with traditional publishing which is a bit sad but that’s the way it is. You can find a lot of good stories that don’t fit that normal mold in the self-publishing industry and on this website—but you probably have to do a lot of digging just to find it. Even better yet—check for books published by independent or small publishing houses. (I mean, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the top ten stories on this website are better than the traditionally published Twilight series and Fifty Shades. Twilight and Fifty shades just has more marketability with its audience... *shivers*)

@OP, it could just be that the agent didn’t think your novel was marketable enough (many great stories are rejected for this. Heck, HP was rejected multiple times before it was picked up) but it’s great that you got them to even look at it in the first place. But I feel like you should take that criticism into consideration and try to incorporate it to polish your story. If you want, you can get outsider input to see if that’s the majority opinion. (What beta-readers are for) Just note that if you publish your story online, there is a BIG chance that no publishing company will even touch it. Unless you get lucky like The Martian did. 

Anyway, I don’t think traditional publishing should be put too high on a pedestal due to its recent high focus on marketability and trends. Which is also happening in the movie industry, I feel...

Re: An opinion...

As a reviewer - here and elsewhere on a semi-professional basis - few things piss me off more than someone telling me my review is "wrong".

You - the author - may disagree with my review or feedback or comment or suggestion.  It's your fiction, so that's entirely your prerogative.  But my review is my writing and it is me writing my opinions and response to your work.  You may disagree with it but it cannot be objectively "wrong" because it is an honest account of my opinion (excepting, obviously, if I didn't actually read the fiction in question, but I only review what I've read).

So, to the OP, there's very little point in trying to argue with the publisher's feedback.  The feedback they gave is their honest opinion on how they felt your fiction read.  Nothing is to be gained from telling them that their opinion is wrong.  You can disagree with it and decide that nothing needs to change.  Or you can re-visit your writing with their feedback in mind and see if there's anything constructive it can add.  As others have said, lots and lots of massively successful fiction has been through rejection after rejection.

The only question is whether you believe that your fiction is good enough to publish.  If you think it is, press on!  Either find a publisher who sees what you see, or self-publish and be damned.  But if you think, maybe, it isn't, go back and work on it again.

Re: An opinion...


precinctomega Wrote: As a reviewer - here and elsewhere on a semi-professional basis - few things piss me off more than someone telling me my review is "wrong".

You - the author - may disagree with my review or feedback or comment or suggestion.  It's your fiction, so that's entirely your prerogative.  But my review is my writing and it is me writing my opinions and response to your work.  You may disagree with it but it cannot be objectively "wrong" because it is an honest account of my opinion (excepting, obviously, if I didn't actually read the fiction in question, but I only review what I've read).

Interesting.  I've always held the opinion that very few if any reviews are technically "wrong".  Rather, I see it as reviewers can't quite place their finger on what bothers them, so while they reach for one criticism, they may make a broader criticism or similar criticism.  You should only truly dismiss criticism if you are clear on where the reviewer is coming from.  If all they said can be boiled down to "I don't like horror genre" then by all means dismiss it.  But those are few and far between.  

Re: An opinion...

Who did you send this to?

When an agent or editor gives personalized feedback, that's huge. It means they'll buy it IF you fix it, usually. However, I wouldn't spend your life revising over and over for these people so they can pay you 7% on a thousand copies. You have to win the lottery by going tradition, which means you have to become a brand name in order to make any money. That's the truth of it. Stand up for your fiction, indie publish, set your own price. Keep writing. The time it will take you to do those edits for an entire novel, you can probably write two or three more books.