Thursday, February 9, 2012

Conflicting Advice and What to Do With It

The other day I was ranting to my mother-in-law about how my brand new coffee maker leaked. She convinced me to try and return it, as the tank may have cracked in shipping, which I was all prepped to do…before making one last cup of coffee, of course. My husband was watching as I poured in the water, and suddenly he says, “Are you sure it leaks?”

I turned to him sadly. “Yeah.”

He just raised his eyebrows and said, “Uh, and you’re sure it’s not just that you’re pouring water all over the counter?”

He was right. In my morning coffee haze, I had been blindly pouring the water from the pot into the tank…which, apparently, was a poor choice considering the pot dribbled 1/3 of the water down the side instead of straight out the spout, as I’d thought.

So what does this have to do with conflicting advice?

Well, consider another story: I was in revisions with a client to polish up before submission. I told her to cut her prologue; it slowed the pacing and distracted me from the story. She sent revisions back – with the prologue…changed in tone. Reading through, she was absolutely right: it wasn’t the prologue that wasn’t working. It was the tone of the prologue.

In other words: with ANY revision advice, think through WHY that person may be thinking what they are, instead of WHAT they are saying. Because what they’re suggesting as a fix…may not be the problem.

For example, one agent may say: the pacing is really dragging here for me. I’d suggest cuts to move along faster. And another may say, I love your plot and the flow of the story, but I’m not sure I really buy the motivation here.

Conundrum. You can’t do BOTH very easily, now can you – if you make cuts for pacing, you can’t very well take the time to expound on character motive, too, and besides, the other agent liked the flow!

So what do you do? Pick the easiest one and submit to that agent, and if she rejects it, try the other agent’s suggestion and submit to her?


Ask: WHY is one agent feeling the pace drags, and another doesn’t feel connected to the motive? The answer may be, instead, that the voice and emotional connection to the characters isn’t strong enough – because if each agent were 100% sucked into the voice, the story wouldn’t seem to drag along and the reader would be able to “buy” the motive.

In sum: what do you do with conflicting advice? Don’t pick one or the other, or try and do both at once and try and fit a square peg into a round hole (ahem, not right away at least; who knows, maybe you have a 100,000 word MG with no motive that really…yeah, cuts AND characterization would help).

Instead: Try and see the forest through the trees.