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Explain the story—how much or how little?

Bondi Beach

I've had a couple of notes about Goddess, polite ones, telling me they didn't get the story. A single inquiry, OK, probably it's on the reader. A couple of inquiries, well, maybe it's on the author, at least in part. Or at least worth asking the question.

Goddess plays fast and loose with the myth of Persephone and asks whether the encounter was as non-consensual as we're led to believe. In answering the inquiries I limited myself to saying more or less exactly that. That's not giving away much.

How could you go into detail about your thinking without destroying whatever magic, for lack of a better word, the story has? I don't think you can, but is there ever a reason to do that?

OK, I can think of one: you are approached by an eager Ph D candidate who wants to make you and your oeuvre the subject of her thesis. That hasn't happened to me yet, but I'll keep my notes in order for when it does.

bb

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  tppm
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Bondi Beach


In answering the inquiries I limited myself to saying more or less exactly that. That's not giving away much.


That might be part of the problem there, if you can't explain the situation until later in the story, many will be lost.


How could you go into detail about your thinking without destroying whatever magic, for lack of a better word, the story has? I don't think you can, but is there ever a reason to do that?


If the readers are complaining about 'not getting it', I doubt they're worried about your motivations for writing it. Instead, you've failed in how you relate the story somehow. Anytime I get responses like that, I like to back away from the story, and consider what's not working in it.

I had a major existential writing crisis recently after I asked readers to contrast the writing style in two books in the same series (written some time apart). The responses weren't good. Essentially, they said that if that was my new style, that they wouldn't bother reading any more stories.

However, that flew in the face of the statistical evidence. They asserted that my efforts to minimize the backstory hurt the character development, and the latter focus on short chapters and action, left them feeling uninterested in the shallow characters. However, the ratings for the early chapters were uniformly low, and the scores mounter over time (once I finished with the back story) and peaked with each action scene.

It wasn't until I got another complaint from a long-time contributor who provided more detail, that I understood the issue. He pointed out that he couldn't understand the motivation of the main character's sister, and instead of developing her further, she was simply dropped later in the story.

That parallels what you're facing. Essentially, you're dealing with general complaints (i.e. either 'I don't understand the story' or 'I don't like the characters'). In those situations, the author has little clue about what is specifically wrong with the story.

After getting the follow-up with the more specific problem, I understood. I'd initially quit the story as being largely unworkable, as it read like three different stories. 1) The intro featuring the MC and his sister. 2) The main character running away with a new character, and 3) the later section, featuring the main character and several people from the original book.

In short, there was no consistency throughout the book, and everyone the readers felt involved with, got shuffled off, while the later characters were never got fully developed. It wasn't that I was writing shorter chapters, or trying to improve the flow of the book, it was the book itself.

I'd realized the issue initially, but when my beta-readers urged me to publish it anyway, I was so focused on fixing secondary issues (minimizing the back story), that I completely forgot about the main issues with the story.

Since I hadn't found any way to successfully combine those separate aspects of the story, I decided the story couldn't be saved. But in other cases, once I figured out what the problem was (say a particular character was extremely unsympathetic), I'd go back, read through the bothersome section, and flesh out the character, explaining their motivations and why they behaved like that.

That approach usually fixed the problem. The readers still didn't appreciate the character, but they at least understood them and could put their actions into context.

I'm afraid that you've got to go back and get some more specific answers. That's what beta-readers are for, but they often never spot the very issues which trip up most readers.

Good luck with the issues, though, as I know how tough it can be second-guessing incomplete complaints.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach

@Crumbly Writer

Good luck with the issues, though, as I know how tough it can be second-guessing incomplete complaints.


Thanks for your comments.

Not sure I would characterize the comments I received as complaints, more as "Help me understand what you were trying to do."

As for explaining at the beginning or middle or end of the story, the blurb talks about goddesses, "Hebe" and "Persephone" appear in the first chapter, so those are big clues that perhaps there's some myth involved. And if Persephone arrives on the scene riding a Harley, that suggests some literary (or other) license ...,

But I"m not blaming the readers. Grateful to have them, grateful they cared enough to write to me. I agree that if readers don't understand what you're doing, the answer is probably in the story first, and whatever events inspired it a distant second.

bb

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Bondi Beach


As for explaining at the beginning or middle or end of the story, the blurb talks about goddesses, "Hebe" and "Persephone" appear in the first chapter, so those are big clues that perhaps there's some myth involved. And if Persephone arrives on the scene riding a Harley, that suggests some literary (or other) license ...,


I'm guessing the problem is with a lack of familiarity with the original myths, so you may need to include more details. Perhaps some flashbacks on the part of the characters, or even a note at the beginning explaining who each mythical character is and what they're known for.

As for resolving story issues, I generally find that stepping away from the story is the best help. I take long walks along the beach, or in the woods, without any music or other distractions, and simply let my subconscious work on the problem. Eventually, a solution will usually appear after a short while. But as long as you're staring at the story, it'll allude you as you focusing on details, rather than the forest/book.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer


I'm guessing the problem is with a lack of familiarity with the original myths


That's a good reason to have a prologue.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


That's a good reason to have a prologue.


I'd do a preface--explaining the basis of the story--rather than a prologue--which sets the story up by revealing additional information about the characters not included in the rest of the story. The difference is that a preface is about the story, while the prologue is a part of the story itself. The downside, of course, is that few readers read either. Only about 20% of science fiction readers will read a prologue, despite the heavy predominance of them in most stories. In other genres, the number is assuredly much lower, though I've never seen any stats on it.

tppm
Updated:

@Bondi Beach

Do your readers know the myth of Persephone? Does your story stand on its own without knowing the myth? If not, they may be missing references which are necessary to carry the plot.

Maybe include a synopsis of the myth, or maybe a link to Bulfinch or similar, at or near the beginning.

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I'd do a preface--explaining the basis of the story--rather than a prologue--which sets the story up by revealing additional information about the characters not included in the rest of the story. The difference is that a preface is about the story, while the prologue is a part of the story itself. The downside, of course, is that few readers read either. Only about 20% of science fiction readers will read a prologue, despite the heavy predominance of them in most stories. In other genres, the number is assuredly much lower, though I've never seen any stats on it.


I understand the theory [of a prologue or a preface] but just can't stomach the thought of either. In really extreme cases, perhaps, but still ...

I guess we could have a discussion now of the terrible terrible state of education today if no one knows who Persephone or Demeter were (Answer: Let's not!), but one of the things I like about a story is figuring out from the story itself where we are and who is doing what to whom (and was it hot).

EDIT: Here's an example (links to Goodreads, not Porno Central)-what's a "crut"? We don't really need to know. You don't even have to have read The Big Sleep to enjoy the little scene.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/30593898

Of course, that brings us back to the story-how well did the author carry it off?

And don't forget the Internet. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who reads with a separate browser window open to Google.

bb

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Only about 20% of science fiction readers will read a prologue


I remember a lot of discussion on wattpad of hating prologues and not reading them, except when they get lost in the story they'll then read the prologue. Duh, why not just read it up front? If the author provided it, he must have thought it was important.

Bondi Beach

@tppm

Do your readers know the myth of Persephone? Does your story stand on its own without knowing the myth? If not, they may be missing references which are necessary to carry the plot.


That indeed appears to be big issue. I think the story does stand on its own, but evidently not all readers agreed. In other words, I thought you could read the story literally, so to speak, and still enjoy it even if you didn't get the references, but perhaps not.

There were clues, though-the cover, for starters. She's a cute chick with a gigantic jar, but something about her sure says "not modern" to me. And there were chapter notes here and there with leads-Bernini's sculpture, for one.

But all that's just me talking. It's true, most readers got it, but if there's more than one "What the hell just happened?" query (they were more polite), then clearly it wasn't as clear as thought it was. If Persephone, in her testimony, keeps telling the ranger she hasn't a clue where she was or how she got there, I figured that was a big "don't worry about it, guys" message, but perhaps not.

Anyway, lots of folks read it and most seemed to have liked it, which is all good, and comments here are helpful.

Bulfinch! Haven't thought about him for years, but of course he's an obvious source.

bb

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Bondi Beach

Bullfinch, the alternative to (Harry Truman's) manure.

sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

I'm guessing the problem is with a lack of familiarity with the original myths, so you may need to include more details.

I'll go along with that. Over here we don't have the greek myths (or were thy Roman?)and apart from our older classes being grecians - deputy, button or just a Grecian, one had to be a classicist to even possibly hear such stories.
I had heard the name Persophene (as being something nautical I think) but Hebe is a plant to me. Ergo the story passed me by - I got to the end and like some others didn't get it.

awnlee jawking

@Bondi Beach


I guess we could have a discussion now of the terrible terrible state of education today if no one knows who Persephone or Demeter were


How about wikipedia (spit!) links to Persephone and Demeter on the story page?

AJ

Replies:   Bondi Beach
Crumbly Writer

@tppm

Maybe include a synopsis of the myth, or maybe a link to Bulfinch or similar, at or near the beginning.

Switch's idea has merit here. I started out my "Great Death" series with a reference account of what happened. You could take a similar approach. Include a Preface which relates the myth before the story begins, so your readers are brought up to speed, and then tell your story which presents a more modern day interpretation. I suspect your readers would prefer that approach, as it gives them a context to evaluate and contrast your story.

As for knowing mythological references, I'm pretty up on my classical education, yet I can't remember either Persephone or Demeter, so I doubt many others would. And anyone from another non-European culture wouldn't either. Even if readers don't normally read a preface, if they're confused they're more likely to. It also makes explaining the situation easier: "Go back and read the damn preface!" ;D

Finally, you missed my earlier point about external references in stories (it might have been in another thread). If readers won't read a prologue, which is a part of the story, because it takes them 'out of the tale', then do you really expect them to stop mid-story and Google the details?

Bondi Beach

@awnlee jawking

How about wikipedia (spit!) links to Persephone and Demeter on the story page?


Thank you! Done in my blog entry of April 1, 2016, note added to the story description.

And if the reader doesn't like Wikipedia, there are something on the order of 1.5 gazillion other links to follow.

Cheers,
bb

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