I am currently writing a novel. I am currently avoiding finishing this novel, as much as I can stand, because of a major decision I have to make.
As often ends up being the case, there is a character that I have fallen in love with. This has nothing to do with me killing off someone everyone loves: the premise of the book is that he is already dead, before the audience even gets a chance to know him (sorry). He is that character you want to know more about, and gradually learn more about as the present story moves forward.
I love this character and everything he stands for. He appears in flashbacks and is the driving force behind both MCs’ narratives (his name is in the title). Yet I have the choice to reveal something about his past that will change the way he is perceived (by readers, by the characters, I’m not really sure). I could just as well never reveal it, or leave it as subtly implied as I have up until this point, and let readers (if there ever are any) interpret it how they will.
But that would be so easy. It would be the safe thing to do. But would it be the right thing?
Some days, I swing one way. Some days, I swing the other. I’ll tell them; wait, no, I can’t. But as time has gone on, I’ve realized that one of very few things keeping me from going with the less desirable option is that I am afraid how future readers (if applicable) will react to it.
There are other factors that will go into making the final decision. But this one bothers me the most.
As writers, we cannot please everyone.
Try as we might, it just isn’t possible. There are always going to be people who write to you and tell you how they think your story should have been written (sigh). If that’s what makes them feel better, let them do what they will do. But there are also going to be people who, at least overall, like what you have written. Some of them might even understand that the way you wrote the story was meant to be, and that a strong emotional response to a story does not always have to be a bad thing (SIGH). Honestly? We all care about what people think. But even though a published story is no longer “ours,” that doesn’t mean we lose the right to be proud of what we have written.
But sometimes, the easy way is also the right way.
We should never make a major decision about a character or facts in a story based on comfort level. We can still be uncomfortable with a decision and know, deep down, that it’s the right thing to do. It’s important to always keep our story in mind above all else – meaning that regardless of what other people might think, if we are confident that a certain event or ending to our story is how it is supposed to be, we have to let it unfold that way. We can’t change it just to please someone else. People will always find things to criticize. But if you know it’s the right thing to do, you have to let it be. Be factual, be considerate, be honest, but tell the story the way you know it should be told.
We have to pay attention to our story. Our audience’s opinion … doesn’t matter.
That is not me saying the people who might one day read something you write don’t matter. The exact opposite is true. Your audience members are going to be some of the most important assets to the success of your published works. However, even though there will be people who hate on your decisions and people who support them, those who understand why you did what you did will always support you. Those who just don’t get it might be angry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t pick up the next book you write. Some won’t. But many might.
I won’t tell you what or when I decide how my story is going to play out. My hope is that within the next few years you will get to read it and see for yourself (no guarantees, but I can dream). You will come to crossroads like this all the time when writing. The more you write, the more confident you are in the risks you take. I would love if, when I published something, no one would hate it. But that’s not reality. I’m sorry that person didn’t understand or didn’t resonate with something or didn’t agree. But that doesn’t make the work I have done any less valuable.
Never let another person devalue your craft. Opinions can hurt. But they are just opinions, after all.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.
Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.