It’s no secret in my family that I write. So whenever someone has a grammar question, a ‘Rules-of-Storytelling’ question or just basic, can you proofread this, I’m the go-to-guy. Some time ago, my little sister (the 7-year-old) shows me a piece of paper and asks me ‘Does this story sound like it’s going good?’
It’s literally 2 or 3 lines of 7-year-old writing, which is it’s own category all together. All I can gather is it’s about a cat that steals stuff, sneaks around to steal stuff and tricks people to steal stuff. (She watches us play Skyrim, so think cat-person). Now, she’s 7 so I’m not going to tell her that there’s no real concept of a plot yet, her grammar & spelling is in the pits and I have no attachment to this character what-so-ever. Instead, I told that it sounded good so far, but there wasn’t much for me to go on yet.
As she’s skipping away I wondered how often the rest of us fall into that trap. We get an idea, we’re eager, we write a couple of chapters (or maybe even finish the piece) and then run off to show it to a few betas and expect substantial feedback. To some degree, I can see why. We want confirmation that our awesome idea is, in fact, awesome. That first ‘Yay!’ or ‘I can’t wait to read more.’ is critical, it’s an esteem booster. But what happens when that ‘Yay’ becomes a ‘Nay’? Then what? Do we rework those first few chapters so that they’re more awesome? And if so, what standard are we trying to meet? Our own or that of those first betas?
This is particularly detrimental if we haven’t even finished the entire work yet. If you have an entire MS and Beta-Gal doesn’t understand what’s being hinted at in chapter 3, then you’ll pull out the ‘Oh but wait until chapter 56!’ (Which is a whole ‘nother topic.) If you don’t have your MS finished, then you can’t pull out that ol’ standby because you don’t know what’s going to happen then. Yeah, you have an inclining, but it hasn’t been written yet. And let’s face it, things change. Plots change, characters change, characters die, fat unicorns give out candy–anything can happen! Personally, I don’t believe it’s wise to extensively edit your beginnings when you have no idea what’s going to happen in the end or even the middle. (*Note I say extensively, some editing as you write isn’t bad at all.)
With my own WIP, there have been parts in earlier chapters that betas told me they didn’t get or it seemed confusing. My CP even told me an entire scene was good but hard to believe, I was asking the reader to suspend their belief a little too far, a little too close to breaking. Which sucked because I had no other idea how to tackle that scene. I NEEDED the characters to go in that direction, but if it wasn’t believable no reader would go past that chapter. It pained me, but rather than stress that scene, I kept writing. I’ll admit, part of me was being stubborn. Part of me wanted to believe that just ’cause it was hard to believe didn’t mean it was impossible and that I could leave it as is. Well, I kept writing and as I got further in the story something changed. CharacterB decided to go a different route. In order for me to make that route work I had to go back to the beginning and add in certain scenes, leave certain hints and guess which scene got caught up in that wave of change? I wound up re-writing it and I think it works much, much better. (No word yet from my CP though 😉 ) If I had stressed over that scene earlier and made changes, it would have been for nothing because eventually I would reach the point where CharacterB goes that different route.
Schrodinger’s cat argues that it’s possible I may never have gotten the inspiration that made CharacterB go a different way which changed everything else. My response? Exactly. Anything is possible, until you write ‘The End’ anything is possible. Just as I couldn’t jump for joy over my sister’s cat-person-thief, you can’t ask a beta to give you appropriate feedback on an incomplete piece, it’s not fair to them or you. Finish your work, put your all into it, let your CPs read and re-read those various versions, they’re built for it, but give your betas a piece that is as close to finished as you can get it. Be Earnest, They Are.
What do you think? Is it better to make extensive changes as you go based on other’s feedback, or to finish the piece, making changes as you go when you feel the need to, and then seek feedback? Would you rather be eating an ice cream than thinking about editing? Yeah, me too.