A friend and I were discussing writing this week. I was asking questions and expressing some doubts about how my ideas were coming together for the novel I'm working on. At one point, he rolled his eyes and began to get that "are you honestly saying this aloud to me" look. And I realized what he was about to tell me.
I can't read his mind, although it would be a fascinating parlor trick, but I knew he was going to say,"So, what do you tell your students when they feel like this?" And he did.
Then, tonight, I received a critique on a short story that I've been polishing for a contest. My peer reviewer is a stranger to me; she's someone I "met" in an online forum for a professional writing association. She's a published author.
The critique was honest, straightforward, and respectful. My reviewer actually had personal experience with the ordeal my main character was encountering. She told me what she believed were strengths and weaknesses in my prose. She was professional, supportive and friendly. She was all the things that I ask my students to be when they do peer reviews of essays in class.
Now, here's the rub. I am now unsure of my handling of my character in the scene? I see that she can feel the way she does and think about the things she does--but my critic felt that it would be unreasonable for the main character to do/say what she does in a few areas of the story. So--if a real reader sees this and thinks it--does that make the writing weak and disconnected? Or can my character be what I want her to be --what she told me to write about her? At what point do we as writers have to let our readers decide what something should mean or what our characters should do?
After we release the story to the world--of course a reader can interpret it anyway he or she chooses, but before it's done--is that fair? How can we get critiques and opinions on our work (which we definitely need to do) and then be sure the path we're taking is the right one?
The good news is that I'm not doubting myself--I'm not scrapping the idea of entering this into the contest I was planning to; I'm not shutting down and quitting. I love this character, and I want to do right by her, so should I take the advice, ignore it?
I may share this experience with my students next week--for they'll be working on their first peer review session. Maybe it might help them to know that a writer is always a student.
In the meantime--what do I do about my character Jen? I guess I'll be still and listen for her to let me know how she feels about everything.