The mildest, drowsiest sister has been known to turn tiger if her sibling is in trouble. -Clara Ortega
So, the last post was all about criticism: When to take it and when to leave it. This post is something of a follow-up to that post; but this time I’m going to focus a little more on criticism and showing versus telling.
I am an older sister. And of course, I think this is important information to you (the reader), or I wouldn’t lead with it. Why is it important? Well, because being an older sister shapes everything I do. In fact, the other night I realized that ANOMALY could only ever be dedicated to one person: my sister. The story is, at heart, about a young woman desperately trying to find her sister, risking life and limb for the truth. How could this story not be dedicated to my own sister?
When I put it that way, it makes my previous insistence that the story start in the midst of the action a little weak. Especially considering I just wrote a new chapter one the other night. The truth is, the realization happened when I was writing a scene where Eliza is wondering how she’ll ever figure what she’s supposed to do without the guidance and support of her elder sister. I felt a pang of sadness that Kate was gone before we ever got to meet her. In that moment, I felt sorrow for Eliza so great that it compelled me to change my former position.
So, were the critics right? Yeah, they were. You can’t see it, but I’m hemming and hawing over admitting that one. My readers needed something to connect with. They needed to care about Eliza’s loss and to be able to connect with her through it. I know that I get emotional if I think for more than a brief moment about what it would be like to lose my sister. It’s unimaginable, heart-breaking, and I refuse to consider it a possibility. In my mind and heart, my sister is an immortal being who disease and tragedy can’t touch. That is the only way I can stomach to see her leave my sight– with the belief that she will return to me without damage. Otherwise, I’d have to pack up and go to college with her. And how embarrassing would that be for her?
During a video chat with my critique group last night we talked about our reactions to crits. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my critique partners admit to being less than welcoming to a hard criticism, because I’m not exactly sweet in my response, either. It seems we all need a good five minutes to rant over the criticism before we can calm down and see the value in it. And for some of us, it takes a month or more to come to the realization that the crits were right on our own.
But what’s important is being in a place where as an author, you can *eventually* see the value in criticism. Some writers never get there and that is, in my opinion, the difference between a writer and an author. An author is a professional. At least in front of the public. What we do and say to our computer screens in the solitude of our homes notwithstanding.
It doesn’t matter how many times Eliza says that she loves her sister. It doesn’t matter how deeply she grieves over the loss. It doesn’t matter unless the reader feels it. In this case, Kate needed some screen time. She needed to be shown and have her moment with her sister before she’s cruelly ripped away. I had been so focused on the plot and how to further it that I neglected the vital, core relationship in the book: sisterhood… and people call me smart? We’ll follow up the idea that you can’t see the forest from the trees in the next post when we talk about the importance of a critique group and beta readers. Really, Stephen King may not need them, but I guarantee that you do!
To Terri: You were right. I gave you no reason to care about Eliza or Kate. Hopefully you will now.
To the reader: I leave you with two things.
First, the rough draft of the dedication to ANOMALY.
This book is dedicated to my sister, Brittany—the first person to teach me what it’s like to love someone unconditionally, with unwavering love and devotion. May every woman be so lucky to be blessed with a sister as wonderful as you.
Second, a rough snippet from the new first chapter in ANOMALY. A tender moment between sisters.
“I’m fine.” I tried to reason with her, but that had about as much chance of working as it did any other time she was worried about me. Pulling back, she studied my face and then lowered her voice.
“I worry about you, Lizzie.” Instantly, I felt bad. She’d had every reason to worry. Time and time again I fell ill. And time and time again, she was by my side, trying to cheer me up. Always watching over me. Ever present.