Okay, you can consider this as Part II to my prior post awhile back about how to absorb OVERWHELMING FEEDBACK. Here, I’d like talk about what a lot of people are saying: Forget stylistic suggestions, just pay attention to story suggestions. But when one already has a very low opinion of his writing then the ability to tell the difference is not always easy. The temptation is to just listen to everything, try to make all the changes, and then…lose your mind. Or you have the other extreme where the person has such an inflated sense of self, he doesn’t want to listen to anyone and believes himself to be a genius and hence never grows. So I want to give some SPECIFIC examples and would like to see SPECIFIC examples from others regarding story vs. style feedback, relevant vs. irrelevant. There is a strong tendency in workshops for critique-ers to try and alter an author’s voice to sound more like their own. This is probably a case of missing the forest for the trees. It’s also a big cause of a syndrome known as the “MFA story” wherein everyone has been schooled to sound the SAME. Once individuality is gone then we’re just clones. And why even bother to read one writer over another? Everything is pureed uniformity. Let’s say I write: “The lousy sun went down.” A person reared on Jane Austen would likely hate that and go on at length about how the desc. fell short for her and that she could not feel or see or taste the sun, etc. She might re-write it as: “The yellow eye in the sky began it’s daily ritual of lowering its lid to descend below the body that was earth which was its mistress….blah-blah.” Whatever, you get my drift. But there is no definitely right or wrong way. It’s purely a matter of style, right? Do you agree? I mean sometimes I want Chandler. And other times I want Tolstoy. Very different. Like some days I want a pizza and other days I want a burger. The problem is trying to parse through all that while trying to find relevant story suggestions. I think that would encompass something like: “When the character did that I didn’t understand his motivation. It didn’t feel logical or set up. Felt like it came out of the blue.” Okay, so there is a solid character/story suggestion. You might fill in the blank a little (or a lot) about what drove the character do what he did. But HOW you do that, what words you use is entirely up to you. Right? Now I want to give examples from an actual critique I got. Here is a section as originally written by me: Sam brought his ankle off his knee. Somebody fat rolled down the hall in a wheelchair. A doctor got paged. Here is the same section rewritten by my critique-er: Sam brought his ankle off his knee. Sam had known Hank for seven years now. He watched Hank clutch his head with both hands. His eyes bloodshot and thin like red veins. The sound of rubber rolling on linoleum rounded the corner and they both turned and watched an exceptionally fat man roll down the hall in a wheelchair. A doctor got paged and stood abruptly and rushed out the double doors. Now, this section occurs between two lines of dialogue and was originally written to denote a pause in a tense conversation at a hospital. The question is: do all the extra details make it undeniably better? Do all the extra beats in the pause produce more tension or less? Could some of these details like “seven years” be given later? Does it need to be here? Obviously, out of context, it’s hard for someone else to say with certainty. But I made the decision to go with the original way I wrote it. Why? Because it just sounded more like ME, my style that is. And the other version didn’t seem objectively better in a larger story sense. Obviously, sometimes you want more desc., longer sentences. Everything’s a balance. But the critique-er definitely favored longer, more baroque details. I had this funny image of Hemingway being edited by Faulkner. Not that I’m Hemingway! But you know what I mean. Now, with all that in mind, I actually ended up agreeing with a third of what the critique-er suggested, just not in that instance. After all, a certain amount of push-back is good; it challenges you to either rethink something or stick to your guns, which is all part of the learning curve, right? Really, there needs to be workshops on how to absorb feedback and how to rewrite. The two most important skills, IMHO, to being a writer. Anyone can write a first draft; anyone can get an opinion. But it’s those next two steps that are the deal breaker for 90%. So, yeah, I’d love to hear other people’s experiences in the style vs. story feedback debate. It’s only taken me 20 years to begin to understand it. Haha.