When You Love the Story but Not the Writer

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Photo credit Quotesgram.

 

Have you ever fallen in love with a book, a movie, a song? Have you ever felt like it spoke to your soul, or resonated with you so much, you wanted to read more or listen to more by the same artist or author? And then you go and do some research on the author or artist and discover, with massive crushing disappointment, that they are not the person you expected them to be. In fact, you disagree with the writer, very, very, very much.

This has happened to me, and it’s happened more than once. And when it happens I then wonder, “Can I still enjoy the things this person has created, the stories this writer has written, even if I don’t respect their opinions, their perspective, their views on life?”

This happened to me with a singer/songwriter whose music I like, Loretta Lynn, and an author whose books I loved, Orson Scott Card.

Singers

I’m not crazy passionate about Loretta Lynn, but her story is unique and inspiring. Her voice is so unique and beautiful. Truthfully, besides Coal Miner’s Daughter and Sloe Gin Fizz, I don’t know many of her songs. But I would expect to enjoy her music. Until I found out she endorsed Donald Trump. Can I listen to her music and enjoy it anymore?

Authors

Orson Scott Card’s books were a staple of my reading in my teens and early twenties. I loved Ender’s Game and especially The Worthing Saga. I knew he was a Mormon, but I knew lots of Mormons and got along great with them. I did my undergraduate historical research on Mormons traveling to the American West. And I was so proud that one of my first fiction awards came from Leading Edge magazine, a literary journal where his writing appeared. But when I found out he was an open bigot, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up his books anymore.

I’m all for people having their own opinions. I’m all for writers and singers and artists to explore and present opinions that aren’t their own. Not every character in my stories is a version of me. Sometimes they are versions of the worst parts of me, or they are versions of a person I’d never want to be.

But what do you do when you find out a writer or artist who creates works you enjoy holds opinions or beliefs that you could never, ever agree with or understand? Can you still enjoy the products of their creativity? Can you separate the artist from his or her work?

Update…

[Sept 2016] I just learned, to my sorry, that Roald Dahl was an open anti-Semite. A bitter disappointment to learn that someone who told such wonderfully, imaginative stories also claimed “Hitler didn’t pick on them for no reason.” So sad and disgusting.

Is it possible for me, like Ender, to learn to understand my enemy, even love them, through their works?

Advice for Writers from an Agent

In May, I attended the SCBWI Western PA Agent Workshop. I learned a lot and got some excellent advice for writers on pitches, storytelling, and revision and I wanted to share it with you!

Pitching Advice for Writers

While they need to be short, they still need to include the main character, the obstacle and some sense of resolution.

This was my pitch and it was well-received.

Short and sweet!

Short and sweet!

Storytelling Advice for Writers

  • Mirror, Mirror. Please don’t use the tired device of describing your character’s physical appearance by having your your character look into a mirror.
  • Too Much Telling takes away from action.
  • Why Should I Care? This is the feeling that readers get when they confront too much backstory. Weave it in, don’t dump it.
  • Bubble Boy or Girl. Or Alien. Make sure your characters don’t exist in a bubble. Describe the setting and use all five senses!

Revision Advice for Writers

More advice for writers covered how to revise your manuscript. Envision your manuscript as a road that your readers will travel on a wondrous journey. The first draft is like that rocky, dirty, bumpy path carved out by construction equipment. Each stage of renovation makes it smoother, easier, more pleasant to travel.

As you read your manuscript, look for places where you’ve left out setting details, where you’ve used passive voice and -ly words, and if your main character is changing. If not, go back and call in that construction crew.

Advice for Writers of Picture Books

Did you know 60% of the story should be told through illustration? That means for non-illustrating writers like myself, I should only write 40% of the tale in the text. This is an interesting way for me to examine my texts, even though I never considered myself particularly mathematical. I like the idea of making sure the larger part of the tale comes through in the art, even if that does make writing harder.

Homework for Writers: Writer’s Digest January 2011

The next assignment in my Homework for Writers series!

Writer's Digest magazine

January 2011 Writer’s Digest

Writer’s Digest January 2011

Obviously looking to meet the New Year’s resolution crowd, this issue is all about writing and outlining a novel.

– Differentiating between idea theft and simultaneous discovery. This isn’t something I am worried about. This issue lists three ways to tell the difference: Plagiarism is a theft. Trends occur in submissions and not avoiding critique groups out of fear.

– A round-up of ‘literary goodies’ in the Top Shelf section suggests gadgets for writers like AquaNotes, a waterproof notepad for when ideas hit in the shower and the website I Write Like that lets you upload some of your own writing and tells you which famous writer you resemble.

– There’s a good piece on how to fix email blunders. I’ve had my fair share of these but don’t really see myself implementing an email checklist before I hit send. That’s too big of a behavior change for me. Right now I’m just working on slowing down before I hit send.

– A profile of agent Daniel Lazar from Writer’s House who loves historical fiction. I think I could be friends with this guy. In the Breaking In section, I skimmed the books until I saw a YA novel that intrigued me, and was again reminded of the time involved from pitch to publication: over four years.

– I enjoyed the article about the value of a good mentor but actually haven’t found one for my fiction.

– I am working on a YA novel of my own, and my favorite chapter is my first. This issue of WD offers eight ways to write a great first chapter and I think I’ve already incorporated several, including a strong character, the tense, careful amounts of detail. Next is a big article on the emotions that drive our characters is valuable if we want them to live and breathe on our pages. There are basically writing prompts and cues provided here, questions we should all ask ourselves as writers.

– Three secrets of great storytelling: cause & effect, it needs to be believable (even if it’s not real) and escalation – ‘the heart of a good story is tension, the heart of tension is desire.’ Make the reader want what your character wants, or at least know what your character desires.

– When your novel stalls, you realize it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Good thing I’m a runner. I used to let this common occurrence bother me, limit me, but even though I’ve stalled on working on my current manuscript I haven’t let it get me down. And I haven’t stopped thinking through the story. Just like these tips recommend, taking a step back and evaluating the big picture can help. I need a build-up of ideas in my tank and then they flow right out on to the page.

– The publishing world expects writers to handle much of their own promotion today, and there’s a good article in this issue on the benefits of selecting and working with other writers, in your genre and out, to promote the group of books and benefit together.

Other posts in the Homework for Writers series

September 2010 – The Big 10 Issue

September 2011 – Best Selling Secrets

October 2011 – Get Your Agent