On critique and personal characters

So. For the first time in a very long time (as in, I can’t actually remember the last time…) I am nervous about submitting something for critique; I’m defensive, protective and scared. And that’s not a nice feeling for me.

I’m in the happy position where my major piece isn’t that personal. Green Sky is my writing, true, and the characters are very real to me. But it has moved on a long way from the original story where I was the main character: S’ian was ‘me’, but she became her own person back in, oooh, about 2002. Even Eli in Shadows, who was the closest for a good many years, isn’t me any more. My characters and I have diverged so far that I don’t have to draw on myself too much to get into their skin.

I’ve been writing a lot in the Dresden universe (based on our role-playing game), which has been awesome; for some reason, it’s really caught my imagination, and it’s also incredibly challenging (which is brilliant for me as a writer). But because I have to play Dini and almost live her as she reacts to certain situations and circumstances, it makes it very hard to think of her as an impersonal set of character traits and decisions. It also means that I am drawing my writing from the heart and soul, and this has created certain problems.

One of my recent Dresden pieces involved another character. I – very nervously – handed it over to the character’s player to see what he thought, as he knew I was writing the piece: luckily he thought I’d done pretty well with it, which was nice – although it’s rare that my critique includes “more sarcasm!” But another friend caught wind that I’d been writing, and asked if he was going to see it.

I was honestly surprised by my own very defensive reaction. I did NOT want him to see it; I was even defensive about handing it over to the character’s creator. And I then had to sit down and work out why I was so defensive and nervous about this particular piece, when I’m not over something like Green Sky. It came down to three reasons.

The first was a standard critique reaction. It was my writing, my work; I’ve mostly got over the “you’re attacking me” reaction for Green Sky critique, but that has taken some personal effort to be able to do. Writing is such a personal thing that even good critique is hard to take; it’s the simple act of handing it over to someone else and not knowing what they are going to say that’s terrifying! My erotica gives a similar reaction because it reveals too much about me; if someone else critiques it, they’re criticising me, and it does take a lot of mental effort to be able to step back from that and allow the critique to be objective.

The second was the nature of the story. Although it didn’t cover anything too deep, it did cover something fairly personal to both characters, and I had to admit that I wasn’t happy giving that to someone outside that situation who might not understand the context. The use of someone else’s character also added an extra layer of uncertainty. While I could potentially be ok with handing my character’s emotions and reactions to someone else to judge, was it fair of me to hand his character over as well – particularly when the situation was actually very personal to that character?

And the third was that specific circumstance. The story is written in the context of a game world that other people use, adapt and twist; they play their own characters, working against or with my own. The story reveals something that could be used against both characters; do I want that extra information placed into a game where it could be used as a weakness? My writing reveals things about my character – and the other player’s – that aren’t generally known yet; they might be potentially found out in the future, but right now I don’t want those complications in play. I’ve got enough of a split brain to be able to know what I can use and what I can’t, but I don’t know if I can trust anyone else to not use what they find out.

So…I haven’t handed that story to anyone other than the character’s creator. I’ve written other pieces that aren’t going to be handed to anyone. For the first time that I can remember, I am defensive about my writing; I am too tied up in it emotionally to be able to take critique, and I am too invested in the story to want to hand weaknesses – either in myself or in my character – to other people who will only see it as a piece of writing or a character construct with nothing behind it. It’s a very strange feeling, and one that I don’t entirely like. I want to be able to show off my writing, and I want to get critique so that I can improve; but right now, I can’t face what I would see as an attack on myself.

Int’resting, huh? I’ll be back on Green Sky soon, and that’s a lot easier to deal with!

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at writingandcoe.co.uk. When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.