Aspiring Writers, Take Notes!

You can write a novel that seems absolutely perfect to you: the dialogue is tight, the characters are richly layered and the plot crackles with energy.  But you’ll still get notes, I guarantee it.  And that’s a good thing.

Notes, by the way, are the comments you get from decision-makers (mostly literary agents and editors) about things that they want you to change in your writing.  They can be about anything.  Description (“Where’s Joe standing, exactly, when the frozen turkey falls on him?”).  Continuity (“I thought Joe suffered a concussion in the last scene.  How can he sing the Star Spangled Banner?”).  Characters (“I don’t like Joe as a short-order cook.  How about we call him Bob and make him a rodeo clown instead?”)

Some notes are pure genius, and following them will improve your story in ways you never imagined.  Then there are those rare notes that seem like they’re from outer space.  One of the most memorable notes I’ve ever heard was to an animation writer: “When the monkey takes off his underwear, please make sure he’s wearing another pair beneath them.”
Because the alternative, I suppose, is just too horrible to contemplate.  The truth is, every note is a creative challenge.  It’s an obstacle that you need to find a way to overcome.  And that, I think, is the best way to look at notes: not as criticism, but challenges.
It’s not that much different from the sorts of story challenges you face while you’re writing a novel.  How do I show this character’s true nature?  How do I plant this information without being too obvious?  How do I make this scene scarier?  Or funnier?  An editor once gave me this note: “Sorry, this just isn’t funny.”  Yowtch!

But after I was done pouting, I sat down and brainstormed a dozen or so new jokes for that part of the story, and guess what?  I came up with something better.  In the end, I was proud of the job I did, the editor was satisfied, and I’d long forgotten the tiny sting of that note by the time the piece got published.

Notes force us to grow — or at least to think fast on our feet.  They’re not exactly fun.  Not even if your best friend in the whole world tells you as gently as possible while handing you a giant plate full of chocolate cake.  But it does give you an opportunity to tackle a new challenge, think of a way to satisfy the note-giver while being true to your story, and come out a winner.

 And then, by golly, you deserve that cake!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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