Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Power of "We"

It's such a tiny word. We. W and E. And yet, it's such a powerful concept. It's the power of more than one doing something together.

For a writer, "we" is the writer and her characters. They don't exist in a vacuum. Writers need to listen to their characters to be certain she represents them the way they should be represented, the way they want to be represented. When I try to force a character to act not in accordance with the way it thinks, nothing works. Descriptions become stilted; dialogue becomes unnatural; characters become cranky.

And none of us want a cranky character.

For a writer, "we" is also our agent, publisher, and editor. I've talked to many of my fellow writers, most of whom think their agents are god. The agent works for the writer and sells the work to a publisher, who assigns an editor to polish it. I cannot tell you how many writers have told me they hate their editors. They hate having their ideas challenged, their words changed. I've seen posts on Facebook by new writers who think an editor/publisher should take what they write and publish it without a single question. That's what self-publishing is all about. And that's why so many self-published works show a lack of discipline that "we" bring.

Let me give you an example. In Uncharted Territory, the second Mad Max mystery, my editor questioned a technique I used to signal the presence of a certain character. This character tapped the main character on the cheek with an invisible feather. I thought I'd explained how this clairvoyant manifested his thoughts through the feather. I guess I didn't, because by the fourth time the feather appeared, my editor wrote, "What's with the f***ing feather?" Well, now. I guess I didn't explain it.
I hadn't seen the problem. I was too close to the story. So, when my editor pointed out the flaw, the story became stronger, clearer and more exciting when I explained it the first time it appeared.

"We" works in our personal lives as well. "We" is our family. "We" is our close friends. "We" is our country. When "we" all work together, "we" get great things done. And now, it's time to listen to my latest character, Toad, who is my current "we." He has a lot to say right this minute.
Betsy Ashton is the author of the Mad Max mystery series, Unintended Consequences, Uncharted Territory, and Unsafe Haven. She also wrote a dark psychological suspense novel, Eyes Without A Face, about a female serial killer, who unpacks her life and career in first person.


Margo Hoornstra said...

You bring up some very valid points. I agree whole heartedly. Talk on. Toad. Talk on.

Leah St. James said...

Great post, Betsy. I think it's human nature to balk at critique or opposing points of view on our story "babies." Any author who's been through it, though, understands you need those "we" eyes for that exact reason--the readers won't be shy in expressing opposing opinions!

Jannine Gallant said...

I think most of us have an initial resistance to criticism of our work. But I let those criticisms roll around in my brain for a while to find the value in them. Then I fix the problem. This process definitely works better with an insightful editor. I was not a fan of having an agent. I'm a hands-on person and didn't like going through a middle man when I had questions/concerns. To each her own.

Brenda Whiteside said...

I had an agent for a while; an old established agent so I felt confidant in her abilities. After 8 months, she hadn't performed. I didn't even have a turn down. If I'd had a couple of rejections, I would have at least known she was working. We parted ways. My editor is another story. I love this woman to death. In all the years we have worked together, I believe I have questioned her judgement only once. I feel strongly about my critique partners too. In this case, I don't always agree and don't always alter my writing to suit them. But what they do give me is something to think about, and it always results in a stronger story. Love the "we" it takes to make my books!

Diane Burton said...

Criticism of our work is hard to accept. Like Jannine, I've learned to let criticism roll around in my brain for a while. I have to step back then return to my work with an open mind. (Boy, is that hard to do!) It's necessary to make our work the best it can be, and for that we need a professional editor.

With regard to an agent: I had one who did nothing. Like Brenda said, if I'd gotten a rejection or two I would've known she was working. I think she liked critiquing better. It took me too long to fire her. I like knowing where my work is and for how long. I'm more confident when I do the work myself.