Sunday, September 23, 2012

Your gut: It's not just for lunch.

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Trust me!

Hey fellow writers. Today I want to blog about something on the serious side. This is a shout out to all writers, whether you are published or not. Trusting your gut.

This week was a week of whirlwind emotions for me. My current manuscript, the one in contests and sitting in the slush pile, is a story I totally believe in.

Let me start from the beginning. I have a beautiful six-year-old daughter who's in love with all things princess. It started after a family vacation to Disneyland. Right when we walked in the front gates, her jaw dropped and she stood there, frozen. A cute three-year-old (at the time) girl, who'd never watched any Disney princess film, just witnessed "the most beautiful girl in the world." Belle stood in front of us in her golden sparkly gown signing autographs and taking pictures. My daughter strolled right up to her and asked, "Who are you?" After being told politely she had to wait in line and then she'd get her time with Belle, we went to the back of the line and waited for at least ten minutes.
An illustration of a child dressed up as a princess
We were almost at the front when the photographer with her said, "Belle needs to take a break. Look at your maps for her next visit and we'll see you there." Sure we were disappointed, but my daughter was determined to find every princess she could. (We found a few) But more than anything, that moment created what was to be the vision for a story. A girl, so in love with princesses that for her, happiness would only exist if she was a princess.

Three years later, my daughter still plays with princesses and loves all things princess, although she has branched out to things like unicorns, fairies, and cats. Always the cats.

The other part of my inspiration came from teaching and becoming a fan of Sex and the City. Odd combo? You bet. But at the time, I was teaching my 8th graders how to write using commentaries as mentor texts. We analyzed the traits of commentaries to figure out "what does a piece of writing need to include to be considered a commentary?" After commentaries, we analyzed book reviews, debates, and genres of fiction (namely my favorite genre science fiction).

It was then that I applied the same idea to the princess stories. I asked "What does a novel/story need to include to be considered a fairy tale/princess story?" I combined the answer to that question with a Carrie Bradshaw-esque commentary on each element.

My story became a combination of op-ed pieces commenting on each part of the fairy tale, with each chapter of the narrative paralleling the op-eds. What I ended up with was a fun and unusual storyline which is unlike anything out there.

Sure, you say, every writer believes his/her work is unlike anything out there. But for me, it's truth. I know it. This is now why I'm reminding you of the reason for this post. I knew when I was writing my manuscript, I'd have an uphill battle. I knew it would be a) hard to explain and b) hard to sell to agents. But I believed in it. And I knew I was offering readers something they've never seen before. Some will love it. Some will hate it. For the record, all my betas love it.

Here's the problem. It's a pattern the reader picks up after seeing three or four chapters. After many partial rejections, listening to my betas and critique partners, I did the unthinkable. I changed part of my story. I added a chapter that was never supposed to be there. It's a funny chapter. It draws readers in. But it was never supposed to be there.

Screen bean character with a hand on its head while crying
I questioned myself so much I got to the point that I hired an editor to line edit and critique of the first 30 pages. I needed a professional insight to why my partials weren't turning into fulls. She did a fantastic job. Wanna know what her biggest feedback was? Start your story at Ch 2. WHAT? Ch 2 is much more engaging, you get the meet-cute right off the bat and it tells the reader everything you said in Chapter 1 but in a more subtle way. WHAT? Start at Ch 2. As in my original Ch 1 before I added. Facepalm.

Now, I am in a dilemma. Do I keep the chapter because it's engaging and gets a lot of attention, or do I nix it, begin where my story truly began? I don't know. I am in a bind.

I know what you're thinking. "So? Start it at Chapter 2, Carey. What's the big deal?"

Remember how Carrie starts each episode typing her op-ed piece on something having to do with relationships, then the episode would be directly related? That's my novel.

I will take any excuse to
post a pic of the gorgeous Adam Levine.
All of my original chapters started with the Carrie Bradshaw-esque op-ed pieces. Slamming fairy tales. I think it throws readers off because it's an in-your-face "fairy tales suck" kind of way to start a story. Think "Payphone" by Maroon Five and you get the idea.

You meet my MC, but there's no action in the first 2 pages, just funny sarcasm. But the point is, my MC is so busy critiquing fairy tales, she fails to see her life is EXACTLY like one. Which is the irony of the whole thing. My whole premise was that fairy tales are so engrained into us, we don't realize it. It just becomes a part of our worldview and then girls are left wondering why our prince charming and happy-ever-after isn't waiting for us. We then become disappointed, jaded and cynical, when really, it was silly to believe in fairy tales in the first place. We had unrealistic expectations.

My gut told me to keep my original story. I told my gut to go stick it where the sun don't shine. Now I'm regretting it. I've changed my manuscript based on what others were saying and not being true to myself or my story. I cried a lot this week. And still have a rock sitting in my dumb shoulda-known-better talkin' gut.

And I'm not alone.

I have two critique partners who are now going through the same thing. They were told their story is too slow, or that waking in a dream is cliché. They have rewritten and toiled and cut and revised. They have stressed and worried. One has cried. We are probably keeping Kleenex in business. Like me, they're both talking about shelving their story and starting with a new WIP or completing a WIP. (Work in progress for those who are non-writers) This pisses me off. They both have great stories that should be told.

Man with book and questions
Don't EVER...
All the writing books tell you, don't start with backstory, or setting, or dream waking, or prologue, or in a different POV from your MC. The thing is, at some point you have to stop listening to everyone else. You have to listen to your heart, your story.

If you give your story to ten different people, they'll tell you ten different things. If those ten things they tell you to change don't fit your story or your MC, don't do it. If you write well, and your story is compelling, those things won't matter. We, as writers, have to believe that someone will see our story, and will get it—the way it is.

When agents say they have to love the story to want to represent it, we have to remember that we too, have to love the agent as much as our story. We have to get each other, because that's the only way to make the partnership work. I don't think it's coincidence that most pubbed authors have a friendship with their agents. Getting our story means they get us. And getting us means we get them. It's a Mobius strip, forever looping.

So, when you're thinking about shelving that story even though it breaks your heart, or when someone asks you to change it in a way that doesn't seem right…trust your gut. It's ALWAYS right.

I wish I would have learned this sooner. So…gotta go revisit my original. See if I can jazz it up.
By the way…I'm thinking of posting my original first chapter on my blog. If this is something you would like to see, please leave a comment.

Would you like to read the original first chapter?


  1. Fucking WORD! You totally have to find someone who is the right fit for your MS! It's not about omg any agent will do. It's about finding the one who GETS it. <3

  2. Your post made me cry. Like, for real. I'm SOOOOO happy that you are sticking to your gut. And, now you are making me think I should go back to my waking up from the dream. (Although I only changed the first paragraphs...even though I DID like them.)

    I know I told you this before. But you rock. <3

  3. Oh! And YES, I would love to see the original first chapter. (oh dear God, now I have to do the captcha thing again.....)

  4. You CHANGED it?!?! WTF? Wait, why am I cussing? I did the same with Dakota. ALthough I do love her in the first POV. Why I do complete editing and prepping for the open sub call with Bree (she is getting so much better), I realized, I LOVED how I had Dakota in the beginning. And then I listened to others who told me to change, change, change, change. But you rock. You are right. When I'm done with Bree...I'm going to unshelve Dakota and finish her up. The way I like her.

  5. Hi! I found you from GUTGAA & twitter. After being in 3 contests this month & Write on Con in August, I am chock-full of critiques, suggestions and edits. After WoC feedback I changed my opening lines so much based on feedback that it completely lost the voice. It wasn't even me. When you post 150-250 words, that's like 2-3 paragraphs. A comment like "I'm just not getting who this character is" doesn't really mean that much based on half of one page from a book. Some comments were wonderful, but I found I had to take a step back and really evaluate everything, and like you said, go with my gut on the final.

    It's such a tough call on how to work the opening. I wish I had the answer for you. Based on what you said, it sounds like it might work both ways. I realize this doesn't help, but it does sound like it's a matter of taste (how to start the story) rather than a major problem with the story itself.

    I hope you find success with the agent requests you got from the contest! This sounds like just the type of lighthearted romance I like; one that's self-aware and also doesn't take itself too seriously.

  6. I'm laughing to myself because when I was revising the MS that's currently on sub, a couple readers told me that I absolutely, positively, unequivocally should NOT begin my novel with dialogue. Even tweets from agents I trust and respect said the same thing.

    But I left it as is because I liked it. My agent wasn't opposed to it, and I think it works. Hell--I KNOW it works.

    Always listen to your gut. Always, always, always.



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