Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shattering the Jewel

Ideas are like uncut gems. They are wonderful but rough finds. After refining the idea through plotting and revision you have a polished gem that glows. It is your story.

I have preferences toward the type of gems I like. I am partial to the deep purple of amethyst, the fire filled red ruby, dark blood of the garnet, brilliance of blue topaz, and glowing rich green of emerald. I also like obsidian depths of Onyx. I am not a real fan of bright white of Diamonds-too cold for my taste. I also have preferences toward the type of stories I like. I like dark, fantastical stories that have real stakes to them--people get hurt and pushed to the edge.

So how does one refine the rough gem of a story? There are many ways to approach it, you don't want just wildly hack at it -- that would destroy it. I am careful, I write a scene. I send it to a few people and I talk my idea over with them. I have to be careful, because sometimes my hand slips or I share the idea with the wrong person.

This week I had a rough idea of a Y. A. that was dark and dealing with violent issues. I told a few friends who gave me some positive feed back, then I shared it with a friend who had a intensely negative reaction. She hated the idea, saying vehemently, "I'd never read that." and "You can't write that!" She didn't want to hear that the point was working through the issues and rising above it. Her reaction made my hand slip and almost shatter the rough jewel of the story.

I questioned my idea and what I was doing with it. Why should I write this story? Is it too dark? Maybe I should just discard it. It shook me up. This is when a good and trusted CP (Critique partner) helps you. I turned to one who set me straight.

She told me, "Tell the story as it should be told."

I needed to hear that. When you present your ideas out there, there are many "jewelers" that have preferences. You have to find the ones that understand how you approach and write a story (gem). Its easy to tell someone that its a bad idea..because you can't handle the idea or its not something you would write or read. There is even the temptation to add to the cut of the story--sometimes its an excellent thing, other times it can shatter the idea. My idea almost shattered under the extreme reaction.

Then I realized, that perhaps there was something to the idea. If there was such a polar opposite reaction than I may have something.

I'm taking my jewel of a story and I am going to write it. Not sure when, but I am not throwing it away.

Has anyone else tried to shatter the jewel of your story idea? How did you overcome it?


Callie James said...

I've had harsh criticism in the past, but never a flat, "Don't write this book!"

I don't blame you for getting a little derailed by that.

I do think we need to write the book in our head. If you write anything else, you're not writing your book anymore, you're writing someone else's book.

Besides, it's a great idea and it was a privilege to read. I can't wait until I have a partial in my hands.

Angel said...

So true! I've run into a few critique partners and contest judges who weilded "advice" with a sledgehammer, seeking to not only crack the jewel but crush it to smithereens. I've learned to be very careful who I turn my jewels over to in the beginning stages.

Once it starts going out into the world, I'm the one who has to be strong enough to handle criticism, not the jewel. Until then, it should be protected to only those I trust and who "get" my voice. Not people who will placate me--I desperately need constructive criticism! But those who only want what's best for me and my work. Otherwise, like you said, I start to second guess the purity of the idea.

Very thought provoking! Thanks!

M.V.Freeman said...


Your sage words are what helped me keep the story idea. I truly want to tell that story.

And believe me, you'll be reading that partial! :-)

M.V.Freeman said...

So glad you stopped by Angel :-)

And you know, that is the key thing--to share your story idea with those you trust, because they know better than to to stomp on it.

And contsructive criticism that is definitely the gold that sets the stone. I am more the cheap gold. I have a hard time giving constructive criticism because I am a very forgiving reader. If you hook me...that's it. It takes great effort to step outside the box.

Jeanie said...

Mary, you are right. A strong reaction means you are onto something. Go with your gut! Don't let anyone shut you down.

M.V.Freeman said...

Thanks Jeanie,
That's what I thought..I'm running with it...well, more like stumbling at the moment. But, I'm not giving up.

Carla Swafford said...

I hear it all the time. Ignore it and write.

M.V.Freeman said...

Carla, I think you are the best.

Christine said...

I agree: go with the story of your heart. Write it. Share it with people who you trust with your vision. Be very careful about all critique, even well-intentioned, and trust your own gut and instincts when revising.

And above all, don't share your gem until you finish the FIRST DRAFT. A gem cannot reach it's brilliance if other's hack into it and try to fix it before it is fully born.

Keep writing your stories! I can't wait to see them all!

M.V.Freeman said...

Thank Christine,
I agree...that one person I shared, will never hear about my stories again. Not to be mean, but I learned something there.

And I'm looking foward to reading your stories as well! :-)

Cari Hislop said...

If I was able to have children I'd be one of those really paranoid mothers who'd be really picky about who I let hold my baby and I'm just as picky with my brain children! My bad experiences with "helpful" critics started early at home and at school. At home I was laughed at for wanting to write romances (I was 12) and at school they kept accusing me of copying published work (because I was poor and dressed like I'd run blind folded through a charity shop so I couldn't have a large vocabulary?) The mind boggles, but there are some really unhelpful helpful people out there.

Like Christine says, the best thing to do is to hold it close and don't let anyone look at your baby until it's born in the rough draft stage when you've put too much energy and time into it to let any of the evil critics hurt it.

M.V.Freeman said...

I agree, its amazing how people will look at the surface first, without looking at the big picture. See, you would've been the friend I hung around with in school--because you have that drive and inspiring type personality.

And I agree, I have learned to keep certain ideas to myself--but it taught me to hold back my reactions when I find myself wanting to be "helpful". I rethink what I say.

So for us with those ideas that inspire the odd reactions--Lets keep pressing onward!

A man called Valance said...

Keep your jewel, Em. Every word you write takes you closer to some, and further away from others. And that's a fact. Harsh is harsh, and crass is crass. But you know that anyway. Keep smiling.

M.V.Freeman said...

Mr. V,
You can always make me smile! With your usual succinct wit, you told it like it is. Thank you! ;-)
And I'm keeping that Jewel...I'll be stopping by sometime this week.

Louisa Cornell said...

I am sure J.K. Rowling was told repeatedly that nobody wanted to read a book about a nerdy boy wizard who lived in a cupboard under the stairs. A bazillion dollars later I am sure she is glad she held onto her dream.

Jewels are not meant to be shattered. They can be polished, cut, put in a different setting, but a real jewel will shine no matter what happens IF it has the right jeweler.

And anyone who says they can predict what will sell this year or next year or the next is smoking something or trying to sell you something.

If a story speaks to you, you have to write it. Anything else is a sinful waste.

M.V.Freeman said...

Very eloquent Louisa,

I'm with you about predicting what will sell. Its impossible! (and JK Rowling, I wonder if she ever dreamed she'd be where she is now?)

And I LOVE your comment:
"If a story speaks to you, you have to write it. Anything else is a sinful waste."