So I’ve moaned about the dearth of critiquers in my scant circle a few times.
Aside from the “I Intended to, but…” crowd, the majority I get hit with is the “You must change it this way, my way, or you will fail!” group.
I recently broomed off a guy from the second camp. Which is why I’m writing this instead of working on my MS. I need to spin down (I’ve written 7 blog posts today and saved them for later dates already because of this.).
I didn’t want to. I wanted this to work. I did. He was a Brit old enough to be my dad and didn’t have a huge lust for fantasy, but he was interested in seeing my manuscript. I hemmed and hawed on this one, because I’d known for about 2 years fantasy wasn’t his preferred genre. But I need critiquers, I need opinions and sometimes the best suggestions come from the unlikeliest of places. Drop dead, worst case scenario, I develop a rhino hide I can use later against trolls. So I relented to his repeated requests and sent the first 4 chapters.
In less than 24 hours, I’m told that I’ve got his attention, it’s well written, but “too Modern American for the fantasy genre, especially if you want to appeal to the international stage. You have to change your narrative to International English.”
I’ll be honest: I wanted to punch him in the face.
Understand: I didn’t put in any American/Modern slang. My language and narrative voice isn’t high English formal, but I’m using a business casual language I learned in the office environment and stripped out as much of the modern slang as I could. I didn’t OCD and research the etymology of certain words, but I can’t find anywhere in which my narrative uses modern slang. Mild American slang? Okay, that’s possible. The Brits still call cigarettes “fags” and we don’t here, and Tolkein’s “weed” may have been a British slang of the 1940’s era for tobacco when it already meant marijuana here, but now we’re getting into regionalism and accents and what-not.
I research International English. I discover there’s no accepted standard. I discover the only style book put out on it was in 2005 and aimed at writing business emails and contracts.
“It’s just Albert being Albert,” I think. “He isn’t trying to come off as elitist, he’s just offering a suggestion that comes out that way because of cultural differences and the fact that we’re using email, which makes it really hard to catch the nuances of communication. Just let it go.”
I don’t say anything to the International English comment. I’m not interested in debating things, and he isn’t really asking questions. I try not to debate critters. I try to stand back, nod, keep my mouth shut and then go home to weed through what I was given and trash the rest. That’s what you’re supposed to do unless someone specifically asks for an explanation. Even then, I don’t like explaining because it devolves into this whole discussion that really if you just finish the book you’ll probably get the answer you’re looking for, or if not, you can write a comment to that.
The next email he still harps on the International English subject. I reply with “Well, it’s going to be a year or more before I can really sit down and examine your editing suggestions in my MS.” (Which wasn’t a lie, by the way. I’d told him that from the beginning – my calendar is full between real-life and writing life and half-done projects are more pressing than those that just need a spit-shine until I’m ready to send out for professional edits and the like.)
His reply is yet more of the same. The story is good, but the tone of his emails are still “you have to change it to International English because it’s too distracting and people expect that kind of tone when reading a fantasy. If you don’t, you’ll fail. Send me more, I want to know what happens.”
After the third email I address the International English issue, stating that while I’m open to editing suggestions, I’m not changing my voice or tone to pretend I’m something I’m not. “It will end badly and sound worse.”
Another email. Now he’s right and I’m wrong in terms of voice and tone. Now he’s throwing down BBC articles and making veiled references to how my characters sound like American Wal-mart cashiers rather than proper fantasy characters.
By this time I’ve already sent out a query asking what other writers think with rough details about the situation. “Is it really that huge of a problem when reading a medieval style fantasy if the author sounds ‘American’?”
The general consensus from American, UK and other authors is “Unless you’re writing a historical piece or have a specific nationality of a character, there’s no reason to use a ‘language’ that has no commonly accepted standard.”
I’ve never actively broomed off a critter/beta-reader before. Generally what’s happened has been they forgot to read for the last year because they got distracted by the dog being in court for sexually harassing the neighbor’s cat and I couldn’t get to your MS or what have you.
Okay. Just delete what you have, because I’ve already made too many changes since I sent you that copy.
And I send them Nothing Else. Ever Again.
Yes, it’s passive-aggressive and wussy, but no one’s called me out on it either. No one’s asked “when will I get the next updated MS?” No one has stated anything about how long it’s been since they’ve read any of my work. No one has asked me to send them more. I figure it’s a method that works for everybody – no fighting, no fuss. Just quietly turn the other way and don’t bring it up again. Like politics or religion in the workplace.
I know Albert isn’t going to let it go.
I tried ignoring his International English comment.
I tried deflecting it.
Then I tried the direct: “I’m not changing the tone. If that’s a problem for you, let me know and I won’t send you more.”
None of it worked. So I sent another email with the general writer community consensus (no quotes from whomever, just the boiled down statement like above) and stating that we obviously would not be able to work together since he was so insistent about changing my manuscript to fit his expectations. “Thank you for your time and input. I’ll bother you no further.”
The first day after that I received 2 emails. I’ve no idea what they said, since I deleted them without reading. Once again, passive-aggressive, I know, but they say the best way to deal with digital trolls is to not engage, so I try to look at it as training for future BS. And I don’t want to engage. I don’t want to get involved in a debate with someone half-a-world away about my voice, in my work, being mine, and the lack of standards for the ‘translation’ he’s pushing for, so suck it up.
It bothered me to do that, though. It bothered me a lot. Here I am complaining that I can’t find a critter who will take the job seriously, and then I go and fire one. Here I am saying I want someone to give me an honest opinion, and when they do, I broom them off.
It’s days like this that make me wonder if I’m the one who’s too picky.