win some, lose some

Found my first negative review of Doppelganger today. (I knew there would be some. No book ever pleases everybody.) As I’d hoped, though, I find that I can take negative commentary in stride if what the person objects to is something I chose to do deliberately.

In this case, the reader put the book down after about twenty pages because, although they liked the swift opening, they soon found themselves confused about who the people were, and felt I was doing a bad job of introducing my characters (and the world in general). It isn’t quite true to say that’s an approach I took on purpose, since when I first wrote those scenes I wasn’t yet experienced enough to make choices like that on purpose, but through the various passes of revision, I chose to refine it in that direction. Why? Because the characters in those first twenty pages all know each other very well. Ergo, I chose to show through their behavior that they are familiar and either friendly or hostile by long habit, and to convey why and how they know each other through an accretion of brief comments, rather than an outright explanation.

For a lot of you reading this, that probably evokes a “well, of course” reaction. Not for everybody, though, and maybe not even for everybody reading this journal. Some readers prefer clearer explanations. It was a point of negotiation with my editor when I was revising Doppelganger — not the character introductions, per se, but the introduction of other information; I don’t always explain things when they first appear. Sometimes I drop them in and hope you’ll stick with me until the explanation arrives (which it usually does not long after). This is a technique that doesn’t work with every reader, and I know it. It’s my personal preference, since I find it more graceful. But it also means some people may get confused, and of those who get confused, some (like the reviewer) will not choose to stick with me.

You win some, you lose some. One of the commentators on that post went on to write a very positive review of the novel on her own blog, so hey.

(The negative reviewer also didn’t like my writing style. That aspect of fiction, more than anything, makes me roll my eyes and chalk it up to taste; you can try to make arguments for objective standards of plot or character or whatever, perhaps, but not writing style. I’ve gotten people telling me they love my writing style and I should never change it. There is absolutely no style I can use that will make everybody happy. Which is probably good, since it means I can stop worrying about it and just write in the style that the story feels right in.)

So, first negative review successfully survived. The choices I made didn’t work for that reviewer, and I’m more or less fine with that (“more or less” because, let’s be honest, I want everybody to love my book — what author doesn’t?). We’ll see what future reviews bring.

0 Responses to “win some, lose some”

  1. azorielios

    Having just finished the book, I can understand that reviewer’s point, but I take the opposite approach – instead of putting it down I dove into it. As I told , “Set some time aside for this one – it’s a dense read.” My usually fast reading speed was cut in half as I processed everything that was coming at me in the book – and, in truth, I liked that, as it engaged me more fully into the novel.

    The thing is that a lot of fiction nowadays, especially fantasy, tends to hold your hand and spoonfeed you information – which is not necessarily bad, as some of my favorite fantasy authors do this, but sometimes I’d like something with a bit more texture to it, no? But with that kind of approach so prevalent out there, I can see how some people might be a bit intimidated by the very different approach you took with Doppelganger.

    Bah. Rambling.

  2. Anonymous

    hmm

    Where is this negative review?

  3. Anonymous

    Negative review

    Well, I thought the general lack of infodump at the beginning was in harmony with the writing style–it’s fast-paced for the most part, and action/event-oriented. In more liesurely books, lengthy introductions to the characters, their relationships and the world are more called for (I’m thinking Tolkien here, e.g.); but not in a book like yours.

    -jsb

  4. princess706

    I admit I was a bit confused at first with some folk having two names, but I got to a “Oh! Ok! I get it!” point pretty darn quickly, so I loved it.

    And now if I could just find the damn book. I set it down halfway done and it seems to have grown legs and walked away..

  5. mindstalk

    Sounds like Ken MacLeod or China Mieville novels, among others (Jo Walton? Philip Pullman?), where you’re dumped in the middle and have to figure out what kind of world you’re in, which may take much of the book. I tend to like that — sounds promising!

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m glad you think so. I’ve gotten several comments from people who liked that approach, but it’s funny how the one negative response tends to echo so much more loudly in my head.

      • mindstalk

        Yeah, we tend to do that — either focus on the negative, or tune it out. Bayesians Rn’t Us. Silly humans.

        As I told you, I read it overnight and liked it (hard to read something that way if I don’t like it!) I’d forgotten about the in media global res thing by then, and hardly noticed it — in retrospect I guess I wondered what the witch and Cousins thing was in the beginning, then got sucked in and let it all come to me.

        Though if you asked me for details now I’d probably mostly have criticisms, because my mind works that way. “I really liked that! — Hmm, now that I think of it, what about –?”
        ๐Ÿ™‚ Mostly of worldbuilding details in this case, I don’t remember any negative writing or plotting observations.

  6. matociquala

    Oh the other hand, is currently saying nice things about it.

    (*g*)

    • Marie Brennan

      So I’ve seen. ^_^ Of course, one has to calculate in the Insecurity Factor, which weights all negative comments by a factor of twenty or so. I do periodically have to take time out to cuddle with the positive reviews I’ve gotten, just to remind myself that there have been more of them than the negative ones.

      • matociquala

        Indeed.

        The good news, if you want some useless unsolicited advice, is that after a while you realize that none of the reviews mean anything, and the only relationship that matters is the one between you and the fans.

        If you are getting your readership what it needs, you are golden. Everybody else can go hang.

        • Marie Brennan

          See my most recent post. <g> I find reading the reviews interesting anyway — call it my anthropological side peeking through, I guess, since I find myself just as interested in data from the non-fans as from the fans. I mean, as fun as it is to pat myself on the back, rest on my laurels, etc, it might be instructive to see if there are any themes in what made some people dislike it. They might not induce me to change anything, since they might dislike something I’m doing with intent, but it’s still interesting to know.

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