Saturday, July 16, 2011

Punching Your Readers in the Gut (Crit Diaries)

I had an incredible writing day yesterday. I didn't mean for it to happen, necessarily, but I got into a great conversation about choices in my story with the unflappable Gina.

She wanted a love triangle, and I told her there was one, but it wouldn't show up till the very end of the book. She told me that was stupid, and she was right. So I moved one character's confession of love up about a dozen chapters, which is two thirds of the way into the book. And the confessee told the confessor her choice. I thought it was awesome, you guys, and so wonderfully sad for the  guy who didn't get a "yes."

I sent it to Gina for approval, all proud. She sent it back. "Try again. Not good enough."

She told me that, while the conversation involved a lot of pain on each of their parts, it wasn't painful enough for the reader. Why? There was no impossible choice for the character to make. Her choice seemed too easy. When she finally made it, it wasn't painful. It didn't hurt Gina to read about it. And she wanted to be punched in the gut.

This entry in the crit diaries has a happy ending. I busted my head over the scene, and I finally got the "good job" and approval to do a writer's happy dance I was waiting for. And I learned an important lesson. It's not only the physical stakes that have to be high for the characters, but also the emotional ones, to be a great story.

(The Jury's still out on how great the story as a whole actually is, btw, because my two readers for this round haven't gotten to the end. Still nervous as all getout. Obviously, I'll keep you posted.)

What's that? You want to read a little bit? Okay, sure, since I don't have any stats for you.

She realized how badly part of her wanted that existence back, that place where she could stand here and choose him without the nagging feeling that she was choosing wrong.

So, when he moved close to her, put his arm around her waist, and pulled her toward him, even though everything told her she had to turn away, had to refuse him, she didn’t. He kissed her once, then pulled back slightly. She stood there, unable to bring herself to move. So he kissed her again, and her lips moved against his, testing, remembering. Her heart warmed, and soared toward him, toward a future that she had dreamed of for years and years. Their kiss was knowing, and wonderful, and safe, but it didn’t grow deeper. It lingered there, a memory of a hope that she couldn’t quite let go of.
She drew her palms up and put them against his chest, lightly, stopping this. He had to stop, had to leave her poor heart to thud out of her and fall to the floor in peace.

Anyone else have a critique or revision experience with forcing your characters to make difficult emotional choices?


  1. EEEK, I'm kind of beast, aren't I? But in a good way (I hope??)? Because my gut is still aching from that final draft, so I think that means we done good!

  2. I should have made it clearer in the post JUST HOW MUCH GINA RULES for putting me through the paces. :-)