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Balance and credibility as a writer of historicals - "that stinks" rant too

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Hi Everyone
Decided to post this here although it started as a "this stinks" post. I sent a partial of my YA historical to an agent, the same book that another agent said re the full "very good story, has heart" but passed due to market. The second agent said my vocab and vernacular weren't accurate to my 15-year-old narrator. Hmmm. Out of curiosity, I looked up one of her recent representations and within two pages, a pre-teen said a phrase that was very adult and nothing I could ever picture a child saying.

Of course this remark struck fear into me, as I have always felt the voice of my intelligent, funny MC was one of the story's strengths. I went through and did weed out some of the more sophisticated and difficult words, like reverie and condescended.

Another experience I had was with my historical mystery. I had a publisher look at it. The first pass was glowing, but then on the full got criticized for having my MC "nudge" a character. They said I should have her "tap him lightly on the wrist" to be more accurate. OK. Well, I picked up a published book set in the same period (different pub) soon after and THAT MC PUNCHED her fiance. She also slept with him before marriage. This is Victorian period, folks.

And, there are books that are very popular and looked at objectively, have major problems. Poor editing, plot holes, inconsistent voices or POV. Although we are urged to write perfect books with awesome characters and flawless plots, yada yada, I think it's more about the market and what they think they can sell for big bucks. I've read a couple of books lately (adult) that literally turned my stomach and I said, hmmm, how could anyone "fall in love" with this book?

Anyway, I strive to be accurate in my historicals and I do a lot of "contemporary" reading so the phrases and slang once in use kind of flow out while I'm writing. How do you all handle criticism about the accuracy of your work, if you've ever had any, of course?

How do you handle the little slings from agents and others that cut at something you thought was perfectly fine? And of course is contradictory to other feedback. arghh!
 :hair
#1 - September 29, 2009, 11:45 AM
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How do you all handle criticism about the accuracy of your work, if you've ever had any, of course?

How do you handle the little slings from agents and others that cut at something you thought was perfectly fine? And of course is contradictory to other feedback. arghh!
 :hair

Re your first question... and actually, it will answer your second question as well:  you smile and nod, and move on.  If the criticism is valid, you fix it or make a note of it for your next book.  If it isn't, you ignore it because there's nothing else you can do.  You assume that your book has not reached the right reader.  I've had blog reviewers call things wrong in my books...things which are absolutely historically correct.  But you can't go around correcting everybody--there isn't time, and it will just make you enemies.  So you ignore it and take comfort in knowing that you're in the right.  Really, you can't do anything else.  It's no fun, though.  :hairpull

As far as contradictory feedback from agents re your story (as opposed to historical accuracy issues)--that's just what's going to happen because everyone's taste is different.  Hopefully at some point you'll meet up with the agent who loves and gets your story, and then all will be good.   :yup  Take any feedback as a gift--use it if it resonates with you and you think it improves your story...and if it doesn't, forget about it.   :goodluck


#2 - September 29, 2009, 12:17 PM
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How do you all handle criticism about the accuracy of your work, if you've ever had any, of course?

Just about everybody gets some. It's not usually that hard to figure out if they're right or you are, and can ignore it. I think often, the sort of criticism you reference is people reaching for a reason that they're not turned on by it. It may not be accurate or based on false preconceptions. (I've experienced some examples of this on ms, though not finished books. Yet.)

How do you handle the little slings from agents and others that cut at something you thought was perfectly fine? And of course is contradictory to other feedback. arghh!

See above. It's very subjective and I think the age of the MC is one that is easily jumped on when they can't figure out exactly why they don't love it, the character isn't strong enough in general, or both. I've had exactly the same pages get, "the MC seems younger" and "the MC seems older" than the stated age. It can only be both because the reader brings their own assumptions and generalizations about what that age should talk and act like.  :lalala
#3 - September 29, 2009, 12:24 PM
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I think that a lot of people have lots of opinions about how kids speak.  I actually cannot listen to my own kids when I'm writing dialogue, because they say things like, "Mom, that was Heavenly."  (My 9 yr old boy, describing pizza.)  I think that Marissa has the best way to handle it--decide for yourself whether the criticism is valid.  And then don't think about those opinions that you decided weren't valid-- you don't want those voices rolling around in your head when you are writing. 
#4 - September 29, 2009, 12:27 PM

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Don't "dumb down" the vocabulary of your YA book! Teenagers, in my experience, actually have much a much better vocabulary range than the typical adult (writers not included). Remember, they have vocab tests in English classes, not to mention prepping for SATs (I still have nightmares about endlessly drilling obscure words on note cards), AND they read books by writers like Dickens, Austen, Hawthorne, and Melville. It makes total sense to have an MC use words like reverie and condescended!

It's just one agent's opinion. What matters is staying true to your character.
#5 - September 29, 2009, 12:37 PM

Thank you for your encouragement and good advice!!
#6 - September 29, 2009, 02:11 PM
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Hey, ElizabethP--You've gotten really great advice here so I have nothing to add (except to say that you've done the research, so you know what's accurate and you have to trust yourself). I hope you're feeling better now after your rant, which we all need to do every now and then!
#7 - September 29, 2009, 02:19 PM

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I so agree with the advice not to "dumb down." If that's who your character is, then that's who she is. It's one thing for a character whose age is still in single digits to speak like an adult, but by the time someone hits 15, it's perfectly reasonable for them to talk in an intelligent manner, complete with big words. If you need proof, look at "Princess Ben." I loved this character, and one of the reasons was because her voice was so sophisticated, but her personality was very down-to-earth.

As for the criticism in general, you go home, scream, swear (using historically appropriate phrasing, if you so desire), and then you find someone who can put in perspective and steer you back onto the right track. Each opinion comes from only one person. Some of them don't get it. This isn't to say you ignore everyone's comments that don't agree with your vision, but you know that already. You learn to sort through them, and figure out if they have merit in the context of what you want to write. Sometimes there is no right way. You can nudge OR tap lightly on the wrist, IMO.
#8 - September 29, 2009, 04:53 PM

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Historicals are difficult. Modern kids don't have the same speaking style as other periods. They also have different levels of sophistication, maturity, lifestyles and expectations from adults. Yet, they are supposed to sound like we think of kids today sounding. Frustrating. And I've also been accused of using SAT words. I simply try to choose the best word for what I want to say and forget counting syllables. If a 16-year-old doesn't have a decent vocabulary, when is he/she supposed to develop it? From watching tv?
#9 - September 30, 2009, 03:28 PM
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