Reporting Back

You might remember I sent one of my novels (to be precise the synopsis and first three chapters of my first Regency Romance, happening to be my second novel ever written) off to a manuscript assessment service. Yesterday I got the report.

I’m going to start with my reaction, because it was totally unexpected, rather like the report itself; I’d been waiting for an envelope in the post with a couple of pages, and instead I got an email with an eight-page document attached! I started to read, then found myself skimming bits, and in the end had to stop reading entirely and leave it until the next day because I just wasn’t taking it in. It’s a report containing (much-needed) feedback and advice, and I was just too wired to focus enough to read the darn thing! Who does that?

Anyway, the report itself was set out very clearly, with separate sections to focus on synopsis, opening, characterisation, and other points. There was also a genuine synopsis attached, so I could have an idea of what to aim for.

And the conclusion? I write well and clearly, and have a lively writing style but need to work on characterisation, from which issues with plot and structure will most likely sort themselves out.

Good? Yeah, I guess so. It certainly could have been worse. Here’s my question though: Isn’t how I present characters part of my writing style? And as my synopsis had issues— Ok, I was told it was too brief and unclear on many major points, but if I had two pages to write a synopsis (as she said I would, but who has ever had that much synopsis-writing space? Once I was told a page, another time 700 words!) I could have cleared up a lot. Anyway, if my reader was working from an unclear synopsis and only the first three chapters of a book. . . The personalities and driving forces behind even the main characters might not have been revealed by then surely? In any book. I mean, can you say, having read only a couple of chapters, that you know exactly what’s driving a character? That you can tell their secrets? Or is that part of the reason you keep reading; to find out.

Moving on, previous feedback suggested I revealed too much of the plot and characters in the beginning of my story and I was ‘telling’ not ‘showing’, so I change it and instead get told I’m not presenting characters well? Is this me going too far one way instead of the other, of a case of different expectations and preferences? I’m getting the feeling more and more that receiving feedback and advice isn’t always the best thing, because if different people want/like different things and follow different standards and rules. . .

Obviously I’m going to pay attention to this advice, and I appreciate it, otherwise what was the point of asking. I guess I’m just not entirely sure where to go from here. Most likely – I’m sorry to say – not with Mills and Boon. Not with these novels anyway. Because I wanted to write a Regency Romance in a new way, to be original, and instead I get warned:

  • A flashback included to portray traumatic past events was too jarring and abrupt and left too many unanswered questions. (Something of the point of it)
  • Scenes I felt revealed character and plot in a new and different way should be removed as irrelevant detail and because they stopped the story moving forward.
  • The heroine can be feisty and unconventional but ‘at heart she has to be likeable, honourable, and someone readers can feel morally at ease identifying with’. (In other words with no major issues, which my leading lady had in spades. Though in truth she never actually did anything illegal, only planned to kill her husband, so. . . Morally ambiguous maybe, but nothing other people haven’t thought of now and again I’m sure. Perfectly identifiable-with!)
  • Focus on detail means I’m missing out on giving a sense of what the characters are feeling. Could I put more description in? Well, I didn’t describe the hero in dashing detail in the first chapters – or indeed the effect he had on my heroine – because she didn’t really see him; he didn’t exist as a romantic prospect for her until later, so all that description and reaction comes in. . . later. I was trying to build up to a romance rather than shoving it in right from the beginning – character development and all that.
  • I should focus on the romance rather than mystery and sub-plots. But what if the past and the mystery and the sub-plots are major conflict points between the hero and heroine? What if they are what drives her. What if at the beginning she can’t deal with love and romance, and it’s only when she’s dealt with the past that she can focus on the present and future?

Ok, I’m taking a breath here.

I know people say that a writer’s novel is like their child, but I seriously did not expect this sort of overly emotional, defensive reaction! Especially because overall the report I received was personal, positive and encouraging.

So what I’m going to do is take another space of time away from it, read through again, and then move on. If as suggested the novel isn’t suitable, or at least ready, for M&B, I either change it – drastically – or try and find somewhere else for it. After all, there’s more than one publisher, and if I believe in it that much as it is, then I can always self-publish and see what happens. Otherwise, making drastic changes is what re-writes are all about aren’t they?

Calming down and carrying on.

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