Writers Are Kooks!

This comes from a series of public online messages between another writer and yours truly. I found it, ummm, a bit disturbing. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. I shall refer to my conversation partner as “Saint” (as in Dymphna).

WARNINGS: 1) Compared to most blog posts, it has some length to it; but if you are in search of an interesting character study for your next novel… 2) It does contain some material of a graphic nature.


Saint: johnlucas, i have, as suggested, read some of your comments, and, though i have not read the books to which the comments pertained, i find your commenting to seem to be fair and forthright.

[another user] suggested that i contact you for a shared read, being as we both write fantasy. i would be interested if you yourself would have the time. i truly need an honest opinion of mine, for i have a rather, at least according to the opinions of some, unusual way of expressing things, which, i am finding to my great dismay, does not seem to hold favor with the majority of the readers on this site, if my studies and comparisons are anything to go by.

and i refuse to change my “voice” simply to fit popular opinion and tastes, for then it would no longer be mine, it would become little more than a carbon cookie cutter copy of a thousand other voices.

if you read what is on my opening page, where i inform the reader in an eyeball to eyeball, nose to nose, no holds barred statement, i am more storyteller than writer, i write using description and emotion, and any who are not “into” that would be best to leave their reading of my works to what is on that initial page, for if they do in truth read my story, and thus having been forewarned of the nature of its telling, should leave a hurtful, derogatory, cruel comment, then they will find that i very definitely am one “slightly past the age of majority” female east texas writer that will not hesitate to “stomp back”.

but i can, after reading your comments, fully see why [another user] recommended you as a possible “read swap”, for judging by the content of your comments that i did read, you are extremely fair in both your criticism and your compliments, and your criticisms are given in such a way that they are more helpful than hurtful.

so, i am inviting you to do a “read swap” with me. i will always comment when i do read, no matter how many chapters, so that you know i have been there, and would ask that you do the same

Lucas: Sure. Let me take a look at your profile & pitches and we’ll go from there. I can say that I noticed that the third paragraph in the mail you sent me was one uber-long single sentence… It went on and on and on with a lot of commas, but no periods. 😉
[I checked out the info. Although I was hesitant, I decided to proceed.]
Lucas: Well, I am willing to have a go at it. But, my current policy is that the approaching reader goes first. This rules out those that want their back scratched without scratching back! We are all crazy-busy, so that ensures my time is honored.
[Saint took me up on the offer, and left this Comment on Capritare.]
Saint: WOWSERS! That was intense! This is definitely going on both my watchlist and my bookshelf! And I will, somehow, be finding time to read more. I just hope you find mine even marginally as enthralling as I find yours. blessed be, Saint
[Honoring our read swap, I read the first three chapters and left this comment.]
Lucas: My first reaction when I came to the “Read Book” page was: “Oh crap! Sixty-nine chapters?” But, as I began reading, I realized that they were quite short. I was relieved! The shorter chapters kept me clicking along at a quick pace to chapter 4.

Here are some general comments. I will forward some specifics via a message.

– Characterization: Your characters are solidifying. I can’t quite see their physical appearances in their entirety yet, but I am getting a sense of their personalities.
– Plot: You are building a good level of tension regarding the prophecy and those bucking against it. Well done.
– General areas that can be tightened: paragraph condensing (there are many separate lines running in a common theme that should be combined to form paragraphs), avoiding the repetition of a few key ideas & phrases, correct the overuse of adverbs.

Overall, you have the setup for a great story. I need to read further to dig into the continuity and progressing tension. I look forward to both reading more, and seeing how the story develops as you incorporate feedback from others while still keeping your authorial voice.
[I then sent Saint a message, separate from the posted comments.]
Lucas: As promised, here are my editorial suggestions. As always, they are one guy’s opinion. You—as the author—must decide whether or not they will strengthen your story.

Overall, I was involved in the story as a reader. That’s good. What kept bumping me out of that zone was a series of repetitious things. By addressing these items, I believe you will tighten the narrative even further, and keep the reader where you want them–in the story! 🙂

– “time is not our friend” appears three times: in the king’s thoughts, then in the narrative, and again in his prayer/plea. The reader only needs to hear this once.
– We are told of the reputation the mage has fostered twice. It is explained in the narrative, and then he explains it again in the dialogue. Only one iteration is needed. Weeding out one will remove the sense of redundancy.
– The idea that the [Group] are trying to “thwart an ancient prophecy” is stated in chapter 1 and then again in chapter 2. As it stands, it forces the reader out of the story. “This again? I just read that…” I would suggest moving the reference in chapter 2 to the occurrence in chapter 1. This will condense the idea into a single location and flesh out the prophecy sooner.
– Look for the repetition of “clenched tightly” in reference to the King. It occurs, perhaps, a half-dozen times. You have an opportunity for synonyms here where you can describe the King’s tension and helplessness in other ways.
– You point out that the mage is the King’s “close personal friend” at least twice…
– Look for over-usage of these words: “grim, grimmer, grimness”, “somber”, “heavy” (used in conjunction with brow/face), “wry”. Try a simple re-write of these words to vary the ideas and strengthen the description.
– I noticed a LOT of adverbs. (Those pesky modifiers ending in “ly”). For instance, just in the first three chapters: easily, slightly, definitely, constantly, deliberately, simply, wrongly, considerably, utterly, nearly, actually, seemingly, morosely, plainly, strongly, finally, wistfully. Most of these can be wiped out completely. For the ones that you can’t remove, attempt changing the actual verb to a stronger one that carries the idea you are trying to convey without using an adverb. A good rule of thumb is to limit the use of adverbs to around 3 for every 500 words.

These are the speed-bumps that jarred me out of the story. If they hadn’t slowed me down & popped me out, I could have kept on reading—absorbed in the tale. And that, I think, is an author’s goal. 🙂

Saint: sir, i am releasing you from the read share, for you have done the one thing that i warn on the very first page of my site not to do…you have told me i must strip the very things that display and describe the emotional characteristics of both the scenes and characters.

also, what you call repetition is, if one reads correctly, the same things seen from different character’s perspectives.

as for the way the sentences and paragraphs are set up, that is for emphasis and weight, rather than having everything all jumbled together in a mish mash of facts and information. i used to do that, till at least three separate writers commented on it and told me breaking key events down would be better.

as i said, i release you from the read share, for i see that this is not going to work out, for i use descriptive words, pure and simple…something i warn the reader of right up front on my profile page.

you see, sir, i refuse to strip my story to the point where it is little more than lifeless, colorless, emotionless wooden puppets moving about a blank, empty stage with backdrops painted by a color blind three year old.

there will be no “the king was worried, upset, afraid, angry.” this or that character smiled, frowned, grimaced.

my story is not a “see spot run.” preschool primer.

also, i will not be reading any more of yours, and i am pulling it from both my shelf and my watchlist, for it contains two things i heartily deplore…references to both homosexuality and sex itself. sorry to have bothered you.

Lucas: I am really sorry that you reacted in this way. Either you misunderstood my intent, or you do not really want feedback at all. Please remember: you approached me.

Saint: john, you told me quite clearly that i needed to remove the very words used to describe the emotions and characteristics of the characters and situations.

i refuse to do that.

you suggest that i find other ways of saying the same things. i have reread the first three chapters, line by line, and there is no other way to convey what i wanted to convey.

i do not seek to offend, but i refuse to turn my story into an emotionless, wooden puppet character parody of harry potter, which i loath with a passion, for not once in the three chapters of the second book, which had been a christmas gift, did any of the characters think for themselves.

their emotions were described in flat, dry sentences…as though one were describing the latest stock market quotes…and if you took away the magic, all that remained was little better than a fifth graders book report, read in dry monotone.

i state quite clearly on my profile page that i use descriptive words, and that i use words to paint pictures of what i am seeing in my mind.

i also state on my profile page that i tell my stories from the point of a story teller, more than a writer. there will be places where there will be repetition, due to the same scenes being seen from different viewpoints, time frames (whether past, present or future), and situations. the ONE thing i will modify is the reference to the [Group] and to the king’s clenched hands.

but the paragraph structure will remain as it is, for it lends emphasis and weight.

there will be a page in the book, once it is finished, that will warn the reader up front that the story uses descriptive words, that it does in truth have places that will seem, for the casual reader, to be repetitious, but to bear in mind that those repetitions are either from a different character’s perspective or as a flashback.

i, in all truth, actually enjoyed what i read of your own story, and had planned on reading more of it….until i read the tags…and saw the words “gay” and “sexual”.

having been raped twice, one of those times when i was only eight, sex…any mention of it…is loathsome to me. i do not condone homosexuality, for my mother was bi, she tried, on more than one occasion, to force me into her warped, twisted lifestyle.

point blank… i do not read anything that contains those elements.

the man who raped me when i was eight forced me to go down on him, and then when i got sick after he went off in my mouth, he slapped me so hard he knocked me into a wall, dislocating my right shoulder. anything having to do with that type of activity, or sex period, is something i try my best to avoid, even to the point of having been celibate for the past twenty three years.

i am sorry to share information of such a personal nature with you, but i want you to understand that it is not you personally that i found at fault, but rather the fact that you all too plainly did not even read my profile page, or you would have known ahead of time that i use descriptive terms, and might therefor now have been so quick to tell me that i must strip nearly all of them.

i thank you for taking the time to read what you did of my story, but as i already stated, i do not think this is going to work out. were it now for the two things i mentioned about your own story, i would be continuing it, simply because i liked it. blessed be, Saint

by the way, i canceled the friend thing, because i did not think you would want to remain my friend once you knew where i stood.

[I thought it best not to respond. I had offered a balance critique which was obviously not well-received. The next day, this message appeared in my inbox.]
Saint: mr. hargis, this is a very contrite and ashamed of her behavior saint.

first, i owe you an apology, big time. i acted like a spoiled brat that had been told it could not have a favorite treat when you were kind enough to take time from your own life to read a portion of my story and share your wisdom, and for that i most abjectly apologize.

i do not know if it will mean anything, but, after i got over my childish fit, and my common sense kicked in, i realized that you were right, i had far too many of the very words you brought to my attention.

as i have stated, after i got over my snit, i gave serious consideration to your words, and, upon going in and re-reading the mentioned chapters, found that you were right…i did overuse the words, terms, and phrases you had brought to my attention.

the result of that discovery is that i revised the first chapter as a trial, and it is now posted on this site. i would be most humbly honored if you could take a look at it and let me know if it is any better for the changes. you will discover that, in addition to taking out most of, as you termed them, “those pesky ‘ly’ words”, i also took out many of the other words that repeated themselves, as in the word “concern”, which was in four places in two paragraphs. other changes were made as well.

i am hoping that you will find the changes that i instituted, based on your advice, to have been ones that did, in all truth, strengthen the revised section of the story.

once again, i most humbly apologize for the manner in which i responded to your help and advice, and hope that you will find it in your heart to forgive me, and to give me another chance, for i, after most serious consideration, feel that i could benefit from your obvious knowledge and wisdom. wishing you many blessings, Saint

by the way, as a result of my interaction with yourself, i now know how to use a thesaurus, for it was what i was referred to by a fellow writer whom i shared the revised story with, after telling them of my deplorable handling of my interaction with yourself. they, by the way, seemed to feel that the revision was indeed stronger. they were also the ones who noticed the overuse of the term “concerned” in the aforementioned paragraphs, and brought them to my attention, suggesting that i use the thesaurus to find alternative mean by which i could say the same things, but in a different, more effective, way.

Lucas: My hope is that your experience with me will help you be more open to future comments from others. Best wishes.

Saint: just wanted you to know that you were right about moving the part about the [Group] in chapter two up with that in chapter one, it worked very well, without requiring much alteration. and it did not interrupt the flow of the area in chapter two where i removed it. also, you were right as well about the “ly” words, i have gotten rid of the majority of them, and also the majority of the repetitions.

i just wish i hadn’t been so defensive, for i think i could have learned a lot from you.

once again, thank you for taking time to read. Saint

oh, by the way, because of my interaction with you, i now have nine hundred and ninety eight pages of story to edit before i can finish the last ten to twenty chapters of the sixth section!


If you made it this far: Congratulations!

I hope that Saint gets what’s she’s looking for. Although, I’m not sure what that is. Posting a creative work and asking for feedback is bound to open one up to both praise and criticism.

Each author receives feedback on his/her work in a different way. If I don’t agree with a reviewer, I simply let the critique slide right off. Occasionally, I receive an arrow that hits its mark. My novel is better because of this outsider viewpoint.

We are all kooks in our own way.

7 thoughts on “Writers Are Kooks!

  1. This is a great example of how we really have to "put ourselves out there" and deal with the consequences as writers. Definitely sounds like Saint has a mental illness, which is sad, but I think this interaction can be seen all over the web (maybe just not quite so dramatic and explosive as this particular exchange). I imagine that Literary Agents get some crazy rebuttals to their rejections all the time. You handled your side very well and are obviously a strong critique partner. Too bad Saint didn't read your tags before she approached you to trade reviews. Yikes.


  2. My first thought on Saint's reaction was that she must have been looking for the "OMG! This is so awesome! Six stars!" sort of crit. This is a great example of why one should not immediately respond to crits they disagree with. I've gotten a few I disagreed with that, after waiting a day to reply, suddenly didn't seem quite so inflammatory. If I wait a day or so to respond, nine times out of ten I am able to see the commenter's point and my work has been made better as a result of my no-immediate-response-to-crit policy. Besides, if it's constructive criticism you're after, you shouldn't get offended when that's what you get (although that's easier said than done, I know).And if you're looking for more work to crit… :p


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