Happy Monday, everyone!
Back in 2008, I had a writing professor critique my first completed novel, Rooster. The review was one of the most helpful I've ever gotten, and he was able to sum up the problem--at least how he saw it--with one sentence: You can't bring back the dead.
This man's argument was that my main character was at such a low point in the beginning of the novel that there wasn't enough time or pages to build him up to a point where he could reach a happy ending. He was so far down that there was no bringing him back up.
This concept has resurfaced because I recently got a review (read: rejection) from a small press editor who argued that the main character of my novella, Bread, was too numb to the world. She suggested I make him more emotional, thereby enabling the reader to feel more emotion in the story.
I've been writing for a good twelve or thirteen years now, and one thing that has become obvious is that I consistently become fascinated by the same type of character. This character is usually pretty repressed, to the point where any strong emotions that she or he may feel have been buried by layers of defense mechanisms and denials, etc. They are often numb and dead to the world. These are the people I am trying to explore for various personal reasons.
So, what exactly is a writer to do? On the one hand, I have some very valid criticism. On the other hand, I have my own personal interests.
What I come to realize again and again, and what I have to remind myself about again and again, is that the solution will not come from me changing my characters. I don't want the murderer of Bread to be full of emotions that surface easily. That's not what I'm interested in. Instead, my challenge is to figure out a way to communicate the story of my dead and numb character in a way that is interesting to the reader. What needs to change, I think, is my telling of the story, not the story itself.
To be clear, I'm not discouraged. Really, the rejection I got did not make me feel bad at all. (Others have, but this one did not.) The editor obviously invested a lot of time and energy into trying to connect with the story, and she offered a lot of feedback. So, I'm not asking to be consoled. But what I'm reminded of is that the job of figuring out how to pitch my product probably hasn't been accomplished yet. That poses an exciting challenge for me.
More and more I buy into the importance of pursuing one's own unique vision. The challenge is to present that vision in a way that captures the hearts and imaginations of readers. When that happens, instead of changing your world to fit the view of someone else, you change the view of that someone else to be able to see your world.