I got the first bit of review (and so far, only) on my story back yesterday, with comments from my friend Clint. He’s a writer himself, one with perhaps a little more experience than I, and with a particular ear for dialogue (as I recall, he’s worked in television, in one fashion or another). It was good to read his comments. As much as I feel that this “first” draft is a huge improvement over the prior version of this story (I call this a first draft largely because the story is so different, and improved, from what I wrote before – with new characters and a slightly different plot), those comments do suggest I yet have quite a bit of work ahead of me.
In my opinion, the most important issue brought up by Clint’s read-through is characterization. It was his opinion that the main character was somewhat weak on characterization, and that he couldn’t connect with him. This is particularly problematic as it relates to the twist ending of the story, as it dampens the twist by sapping it of some of its potential energy. I thought, as I read his comments, back to the first step I took in rewriting this story. I thought of each of the characters and wrote a short bio, from their own perspective, and branched out from there. In so doing, I created a few additional characters who appeared as new connections from the original characters of the story. But when I go back over that file, I realized that the main character’s bio is actually the shortest of the group and, frankly, the least interesting. The longest bio actually belongs to the last character to appear in the story.
This was, in part, a strange result of the way I went about doing this. I started with the main character’s bio. What I had in mind, still, was the story I had originally written, but I knew that wasn’t where I was going. Still, I didn’t yet know where I was going. So, as I wrote the bios, I let the story come out. With each bio, more of the back story came out so that, as I got toward the last few characters, what was going on was a lot more interesting than where I started. By the end, my point-of-view character ended up perhaps less three-dimensional and nuanced than one would like a main character to be.
So, I’m thinking that one thing I need to do is revisit that very first bio, for my main character, and see if there isn’t something else going on. What makes my main character interesting or compelling? What will allow him to connect with readers? And then, how do I take that new insight back to the story and incorporate it into the story?
Another area Clint brought up was dialogue. Some of it, he said, was a little stiff. Now, I intentionally wrote one particular character with awkward dialogue, but as I think on it, I realize I don’t want that to jeopardize the story as a whole. And Clint’s comments weren’t specific to that character, anyway. I realize that dialogue is probably one area where I need to work, and improve my skill (as I’ve blogged about before).
He had some other interesting thoughts on the overall content of the story (and touched on its length in an unexpected way). Overall, I thought his comments were very useful. Luckily my self-imposed deadline is still a ways off; I have quite a bit of work to do to finish polishing this story up.
Incidentally, I’d still love to hear some other thoughts and opinions on the story. One or two more, at least, would be wonderful, so I’m open to hearing from you readers.
Finally, in a P.S., Clint mentioned that a friend of his, who grew up on a farm, remarked that some of my use of horse-gear in the story was incorrect. The main character in the story rides horses pretty regularly and is quite familiar with them but I, on the other hand, learned everything I know about saddling up horses from tortuous sessions wrangling data out of Google, and have never been on a horse except once, as a child under very controlled circumstances (I did not truly ride the horse so much as be on its back as it walked in a circle). So, if any of you out there know more about horses, and could point me to useful resource on all things saddling and riding horses, I’d be pretty appreciative!