Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 14, 2016 - 5:49pm

Let's say you posted a story in the Writers Workshop, stating upfront that your main concern was a perceived lack of empathy amongst the main characters. (Perceived because I'm not sure how much empathy one can honestly expect from a bunch of 9-13 year old street urchins from 1963). And let's say the first review came in, acknowledging, even verifying, your concern. And now let's say that last night you opened the file and tweaked the characters a little—not a lot, just a little—giving them a smidgen of humanity. Is it cheating to replace the story, so new readers get the new and improved kids, or do ya gotta live and die with the original version? Thanks for your answers!  

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal September 14, 2016 - 6:06pm

I don't know why you wouldnt..?

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 14, 2016 - 6:19pm

A couple of reasons. Or maybe three:

  1. It skews reaction to your original. So if your fear was unfounded you will never know.
  2. The reviewers would be describing different versions, and that could become confusing. Assume three people downloaded the original yesterday, with plans to review it this weekend. Three others download the new version tomorrow, and also review it over the weekend. The first group might have a negative reaction to the characters, or they might not, but they will definitely have a different reaction than they would have, had they downloaded tomorrow or Friday. 
  3. Theoretically you could constantly improve your story and keep replacing it. I've actually done that when finding typos and misspellings, but not for purposes of product improvement.

Of course if the group conscensus is that it's OK to replace yer nasty little bastards with slightly less nasty little bastards I'll do it!  ;-)  

 

 

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel September 14, 2016 - 7:23pm

It's not a matter of "cheating." It's a matter of letting the process run its course. One review is not enough to change your story. 

Get all the feedback, good and bad, then, as the final decision maker, the writer, rewrite the story. 

Changes on the fly is basically telling people to write your story for you. Seriously. Receive all the information, then make your decision on what to keep and what to throw away. Walk away from the story while the reviews are made. Read something else. Write something else. Talk, go for a walk, watch a show, but leave it alone. Stop. Get the hell out of the way as the process unfolds. 

That's my two cents.

 

I certainly can't say anything during a workshop in school. I can't say, "Stop." Change the story, then hand a new version to everyone and then say, "Okay, fixed that, reread the entire story based on the new change, and tell me what you think NOW." 

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. September 14, 2016 - 7:37pm

Kedzie. Hi. I downloaded your story and have been working on a review. So, I guess what I would say is, you gotta let the river flow for a day or so. Reviews are slow in here. Secondly, you need time to digest a review, and if you start tinkering with what's on the site, you will shortcircuit the process. It's slow, reviews are slow in coming and not enough in numbers, but that will get better if we all work it. Wait. WRite on the side if you want, work on it however you like, but give us a fair chance to comment before you switch it up. The other thing is....If you change your story with every comment that comes in, you may lose what you had that was unique to begin with....just sayin' give it a minute and let the review that you got ramble around in your being a little before you act on it. You wrote what you wrote and how you wrote it for a reason. I don't mean you can't change it, just get all the input you can before you decide how you feel about what people said about your work. You can always repost a rewrite later. gsr

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 14, 2016 - 8:19pm

Good advice. I'm trying to be patient. Doesn't come naturally.

Amongst my childhood friends the story's loved and lauded. And why not? It's a page torn straight from their childhoods, many have remembered that night all their lives. 

Amongst my current (adult) peer group, not so much. Most don't like the kids. Two actively despised them, like full on hate. (Made me feel kinda creepy, frankly). One reader, who claims to have been a professional editor for a NY publisher—I'm finding this is the suburban mom equivalent of all the suburban dads you meet while coaching Little League baseball. Never knew I lived in a neighborhood with more than 1,300 former "semi-pro" ball players. :-)  Anyway, this woman missed the point of the story completely, complaining that the entire story basically boiled down to "a stupid titty joke". Oy. She also said it had less redeeming social value than an episode of Ray Donovan. (She might be right about that). Were she running for Prez she'd drop my kids into that Basket of Deplorables.  

I will wait. Friday will be a week. Feels like a year.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann September 14, 2016 - 8:33pm

It's not cheating. Whether or not you should do it depends.

Is it a big change to the story or a smaller one? How certain are you that it's not working? Are you a fairly confident writer or do you tend to be easily shaken by criticism? Did you have an emotional response to the criticism?

If you're certain that you're not happy with something anymore now, and you don't want to just keep getting reviews telling you what you already know, it would be madness to not post the edits. You had to work for the workshop points to post the thing. A finite number of people will be reviewing. Might as well get all you can out of it.

On the other hand, if you're not certain: What Jose said. You need time to process things and you probably need feedback from more than one person. Some criticism can be so subjective. If you're someone who is more easily swayed by criticism, definitely hold off on making and posting edits.

And on the other other hand, if you're feeling certain but you also had an emotional response to the criticism/the idea of making the changes: What Jose said again. Wait. The certainty you're feeling could just be the heat of the moment. Maybe it's a bad review, maybe your confidence is just shaken, or maybe even if they're right someone else will have some way more insightful and helpful advice about how to fix it. Don't be hasty.

You need to sort of know yourself and your tendencies as a writer. Do you easily beat yourself up and lose confidence when you get criticism? Do you really stick to your guns to where it take a lot to convince you something isn't working? Do you immediately blame yourself if a reader doesn't like or get something, or do you blame the reader if it's just one or two people saying it? Can you tell the difference between a reader who doesn't get what you're trying to do and a reader who sees what you're trying to do but doesn't feel like you're pulling it off? Sometimes it's not so easy to tell the two apart, especially if your story is complex (the reader can often be not up to the task), and especially if your story is your baby and you're really, really attached to it (the writer can often be not up to hearing the criticism).

I'm one of those severely stubborn writers where it takes a lot for criticism about the content of my writing to sway me. I'll blame the reader for not being clever enough to get it (bad, I know!). Criticism about how to show the content or whether I've effectively shown it: I'm humbled and all ears and the reader is king/queen. Criticism about the content itself: I'm Kim Jong-un, this is my North Korea, and dissenters will be shot! Before I will start going, 'oh, maybe this really isn't working this way,' I either need to hear it from someone I really trust and respect, or from 3+ people. So, if I'm agreeing with someone right away that something needs to change, it's definitely because it's become obvious to me that it's wrong, and hearing it from someone else just confirmed what I already knew. That's why I'm edit-happy. If you're less of a neurotic, fascist reader-blamer, you might want to hold off on the edits.

(You guys could probably already guess I edit my workshop posts from how I OCD edit my forum posts repeatedly the first 15 minutes after I post. lol...)

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 14, 2016 - 8:55pm

> Is it a big change to the story or a smaller one?

Small change to the story, bigger but not huge change to the characters.

> How certain are you that it's not working?

Pretty certain. The criticism has a point, up to a point. The kids are assholes, they lack empathy. OK. I agree. But they're 9-13 year old boys in the inner city in 1963. That's pretty much who they were. Damn realism. 

> Are you a fairly confident writer or do you tend to be easily shaken by criticism?

Extremely confident. I think readers have identified a true flaw in these people I created. And while I just wrote: "that's pretty much who they were," in retrospect, I suspect that we were not quite as cavaleir (sp?) to the carnage as I portray us to be.

>  you don't want to just keep getting reviews telling you what you already know,

True dat!  But I also want more data points. Not enough data is in yet.

> You had to work for the workshop points to post the thing. A finite number of people will be reviewing. Might as well get all you can out of it.

Gottcha

> On the other hand, if you're not certain: What Jose said.

Yup

> You need time to process things and you probably need feedback from more than one person.

Yup

> If you're someone who is more easily swayed by criticism, definitely hold off on making and posting edits.

I'm definitely NOT easily swayed by criticism. But I want more data...

> You need to sort of know yourself and your tendencies as a writer.

When it comes to life I'm a nice guy. When it comes to my stories I'm an asshole. If I think your criticism is unfounded or offbase you'll know. Unfortunately, I let that lady who ripped the story know what I thought of her missing the entire point of it. Not to mention missing the allegory (Mrs. NYC Editor). Let's just say we won't be attending their pool party come Memorial Day.

> Do you easily beat yourself up

All the time. But not my writing. I believe in that shit.

> I'll blame the reader for not being clever enough to get it (bad, I know!).

Me too! Glad to hear it.

> or from 3+ people.

That's my number so far. Two from home and one from here. But I fully expect it to go up. Would be amazed if it didn't. Thus, I absolutely believe that the criticism is valid. I had a row with the NY Editor (mainly) because the story (itself) went right over her head. I was stunned that she didn't "get" what the story was actually about.

 

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann September 14, 2016 - 8:59pm

With that kind of story, the editor may not be your audience. You can know the mechanics of writing and still not be competent when it comes to deciphering literature. Editors and journalists are probably going to be the least capable, because they're stuck in the mode of believing that language is a code or cipher. Codes have definite meaning. X = something. Ciphers are just codes where you need an algorithm to get to the answer. In reality, language is a signifier. It has malleable meaning. You need to look at and take inventory of its physical features, its denotations and connotations, and you need to infer meanings which are often complex. Someone who makes their living taking language at face value will struggle with that more than others.

Good idea to get more data. I would definitely wait because it sounds like this is nuanced. The characters being assholes isn't in and of itself bad. Not all characters are meant to be liked. In the words of my Infinite Jest professor, "Great literature isn’t candy; it isn’t always easy to consume, and it doesn’t always taste good. But we still need it." It sounds like you need the characters to be a bit psychotic but you just still want your reader to foster sympathetic identification with them, then? It's a tightrope walk. I wish I had time right now to read and offer some advice, since I'm usually pretty good with spotting the working and failing points of sympathetic identification when it comes to antihero characters. :( Possibly later this week or next week.

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 14, 2016 - 9:20pm

Next week?

I was hoping for Friday.  :-)

OK, that's it!

Jason Isbell—the one and only heir to Bruce Springsteen's throne—is playing in Birmingham, Alabama on Friday, September 23rd (Bruce's 66th birthday). If I get in my car tonight I just might make it. Even better, I won't be tempted to check Litreactor. Hell, it'll be two weeks 'till I get back.

You want nuanced writing and characters that are truly evil? Listen to this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0VJgG_Qi7c

 

 

 

 

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 15, 2016 - 8:48am

Well, it turns out I lied.

I did replace the story. Did it just now, 5 mins ago. So if you're reading a copy that you downloaded before Sept 15, at 12:40pm EST you can still review that one, however, you might want to download the new one.

The changes are minor. Here's what they are:

  • A few simple updates to dialogue and scene.
  • As a result, the kids are now almost human.
  • They're still rough around the edges, but it was a different time and place.
  • Life was a lot more confrontational back then, especially for boys.

So now the little pricks actually take some time to reflect every now & then. And they're more likable for it. Since I do want people to understand the allegory—what this story is truly about, not just what it appears to be about—I swapped out the old version and swapped in the new one, 5 mins ago.

Thanks to Hugues Dufour for confirming my suspicions about these kids.

They're much better now, as a result of his review.

 

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. September 15, 2016 - 10:03am

While you were swapping, I was posting my review. I will take a look at the new stuff soon. gsr

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 15, 2016 - 11:23am

Thanks! I'm outta here for 24 hours.

Thanks in advance to anyone and everyone who reads and reviews The Crash.

 

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman September 16, 2016 - 6:26pm

I just saw Mr. Isbell at Red Rocks two days ago! Worth the trip. I know this has nothing to do with your original question, but I think it's a good excuse to let the reviews happen and do something else. It can be become so compulsive to check the reviews early and often rather than letting a few come in, taking a look, and looking for the larger overall themes of the feedback. 

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 17, 2016 - 4:23am

In general I agree. Don't mess with it, wait for the reviews to filter in. But the reviews were slow to occur, and I already knew that I had this problem before I'd posted the story; knew the kids were bent wrong.

I wrote it fast and didn't think about what I was writing, just kept typing whatever popped into my head. I was trying to capture a mood. When it was done I knew it was good, visceral, intense, so I was excited for people to read it. But I hadn't ever bothered to analyze my characters. Had I done that, I would have realized that I'd portrayed them as far more callous than they really were. So after posting the story and getting that first review, I decided to soften the kids up a little. Not a lot, just a tad. That made all the difference. They may not be everyone's favorite children, but they're no longer despicible.

But Gail also made a great point. I should trust the initial instinct and simply write more, add more description, flesh it out more. Eventually, the kids true personalities will get revealed, and if it turns out that they really are brain damaged, deranged little bastards then show it and own it.

I'm kiknda tempted to maintain two versions. One with psycho kids and one with the kinder gentler ones.

It would be a whole lot easier to ignore this site if Jason Isbell were playing somewhere close to my house for the next three nights! Red Rocks holds 10,000. Was he the headliner? That's a huge venue for him. 

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman September 17, 2016 - 12:55pm

He was! And in fact, I was even more excited to see his opener, Lucero, but Isbell never disappoints. I think the first time I saw him was in a venue not even a 10th that size, and not too long ago. Somewhere around the release of Here We Rest.

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 17, 2016 - 5:01pm

I love Lucero! So I'm guessing you like Ryan Adams and old Whiskeytown too? Just saw Ryan at Santa Barbara Bowl. Jenny Lewis and her new band "Nice As Fuck" opened the show.

Happy for Jason isbell's success. Kinda hate giving him up to the world, just as I hated giving up Bruce in '75, but he's earned it and certainly deserves every bit of it. Plus Amanda is such a sweetheart.

Never thought any musician's lyrics would grab me where Springsteen's grabbed me, but Isbell's do that for me. Saw him and Amanda with John Prine earlier this summer. A legend handing the baton to the next generation: fantastic!   

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman September 17, 2016 - 9:52pm

Oh man, that must have been awesome. Seeing them with John Prine would be so cool.

I know what you mean. I'm an Isbell fan from the Drive-By Truckers days. It's a little tough when someone you like gets big, but ultimately it seems like a good thing, I guess. Good for the larger world, just a little inconvenient for me personally. 

Definitely. Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown all the way. Jenny Lewis too. 

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien September 17, 2016 - 10:34pm

Being 63, I've given a lotta bands over to the general public.

And then there's those like John Prine who you discovered as a kid and they have never disapointed, and yet somehow they never managed to cross over. And you really really wish they would, even if only for a few years before coming back down to earth. Because you want the best for the artists that you admire. 

Hah! I just figured out your position at Litreactor! Damn, if this were my hometown I could just send you some cash in an unmarked envelope and soon twenty five new people would have read & reviewed my story. 

Sometimes I miss the old ways... ;-)