IWSG—The perils of second-guessing


Every first Wednesday of the month, members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group share worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears. I had one post written and scheduled, but decided to save those thoughts for a planned series of posts I’ll probably do in May.

I’m sorry to admit I was second-guessing certain things recently, based on some feedback I’d gotten, mostly about my dear Cinnimin Rebecca Filliard Kevorkian. I was looking at certain things and wondering if I should take that out or tone it down even further than it already was, if such and such a line or action would make my Cinni come across the wrong way.

Then I realized, everyone else who’s “met” Cinni over the years has loved her, and thought she’s a great character, very funny, full of sass, spunk, straight-shooting, attitude, go-gettingness, personality. They understood what makes her tick. Not everyone has to like all of our characters equally, or at all. It just means they’re not our target audience. I’ve never wanted to write characters like the Five Little Peppers, who are always unnaturally, unrealistically happy, good, helpful, sweet, loving, and cheerful, the kind of people who’d join hands and sing “Kumbaya.”

I can’t help thinking back to the time I wrote that shameful, short-lived third version of the opening of my first Max’s House book, based on feedback from people who really were trying to be helpful. I felt so dirty, forced, and fake while I was writing it, and reading it back over made me feel even more violated and phony. I was so much happier after I crafted the fourth version of the opening.

The problem was that that wasn’t how I write, either generally or in my Atlantic City books in particular. It was the way someone else wanted me to write, and it came across as so fake and goofy. It also made my darling Max seem like some simpering, mushy fool instead of the cocky little bastard I love so much, this guy who styles himself as catnip to women, a huge ladies’ man, a younger, blonde version of Clark Gable or Gary Cooper.

It’s like telling someone s/he should’ve put the tree on the left instead of right side of a painting, or made the elephant blue instead of pink, based on your own tastes and reactions. Great! Then you can do a painting like that if you like the idea so much!

I’m already used to my writing style not immediately clicking with some people. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to explain I write third-person omniscient, and that I as the narrator am stating something the current focus character wouldn’t know.

Radically changing a well-established character is the same as suddenly radically changing our overall writing style. It won’t feel natural or believable, and you won’t be writing your own story anymore. If you can’t recognize your own characters, there’s a serious problem.


11 comments on “IWSG—The perils of second-guessing

  1. James Pailly says:

    I’ve come to realize that there is a generic writer voice, which results from an amalgamation of all the “rules” set forth and espoused by our fellow writers. Rules like don’t use the third-person omniscient. Don’t use adverbs or the passive voice. Only use said for dialogue tags.

    There’s some well-meaning advice behind most of these rules, but trying to follow them all results in some pretty bland writing. It’s far better to find your own unique voice as a writer and stick to that.


  2. We have to write the character true to our vision and not someone else’s!


  3. I always grow to love or hate my characters and completely understand what you’re saying. If you’re going to drastically change them, there had better be a good reason for it. 😉


  4. jamieayres says:

    Too much advice can get confusing! Stick with the advice of one or two people you really trust. And I totally agree with the comment from James^


  5. trishafaye says:

    Interesting, this is the second blog in a row that’s joined the Insecure Writers Group.
    Hmmmm, maybe I need to check it out too!
    Loved your Easter post. Lots of great information and wonderful pictures!
    Trisha Faye – http://www.vintagedazecolumn.wordpress.com


  6. jmh says:

    I’ve run into the same problem, because I tend to write anti-heroes who are flawed, sarcastic, and a bit snarky at times.

    I figure somewhere there’s an agent who will love my anti-hero heroes. And if not, I’ll go on without one.


  7. I’ve had the same problem. There’s been a few characters I’ve got criticism of because they didn’t like how I wrote them character. The thing is, that was how the character was and I loved them for it. Their life may not be sunshine and rainbows like the criticizer wanted but it’s what had to happen.


  8. Arlee Bird says:

    If the character changes drastically not due to anything about what the character decides, then I think it becomes a different character. If that makes sense.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out


  9. […] dream relates to last month’s IWSG post, where I talked about how we know our characters better than anyone, and thus understand when […]


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