Author Topic: His writing is not all that and a bag of chips...WHAT Have I Done????  (Read 4742 times)

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Yarnspinner

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So this could go in the work threads, but since this patron has become something of a friend, I put it here, as this problem cropped up once before with another friend.

We'll call him Jason because that's not his name.

Jason is well into his 70s and has found a great creative outlet in writing.  He writes nonfiction and nostalgia pieces for the local paper and in that he is really quite good...not Nobel prize winning, but there's a nice flow and they are fun to read.

Unfortunately, he has made a foray into fiction....and he's just not...very good at it.  I won't bore you with all that's wrong with his writing.  Most of his stories read like synopsis of (very bad sensationalist) novels.  (I just received a piece that was one page long and included enough plot for three novels.)  Also, he has got caught up in the vanity publishing business and is excited because they keep asking him to publish more books with them.  "I didn't think I was that good!"

So...I figure however he wants to spend his money is his business....but I no longer know what to say about the written pieces he brings by now and then for me to read and comment on.  It was EASY to praise the nonfiction essays because they were charming bits of history about the city in which we live.  But the fiction???  Yikes!

On the last piece he sent I did in fact say that the "short story" read like a synopsis for a novel that could be told from several points of view and he may want to consider researching several angles. He LOVES writing and (as an unpublished writer who can't even finish a short story myself) I don't want to discourage that.  But I am running out of noncommittal responses.  "You have a vivid imagination" only goes so far.  And "You write well" only applies to the nonfiction. 

Anyone who has encountered this problem with other friends and have successfully dealt with it....I would love to hear your solutions or nice ways of being complimentary and noncommittal.

I promise never to force you all to read something I have written.  Honest.

ETA:  Changed the title because the word is "chips" not "chicks".



« Last Edit: June 14, 2014, 11:33:26 AM by Yarnspinner »

Sharnita

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Could you respond that you prefer his non-fiction because (insert specific compliment to his non-fiction here).

Promise

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You could say something like, "I know I work here at the library, but You are getting to a point with fiction writing that I just don't have expertise in with giving you an opinion. Here's a local writing class/group. Consider signing up. I bet they help each other evaluate their stories."

Bethalize

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Time to suggest he needs someone more qualified than you and point him in the direction of a tutor or writers group.

VorFemme

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Perhaps you could say that you find his non-fiction pieces about *your area* very interesting and ask him to concentrate on them a bit - there are any number of writers (and other artists) who have made an entire career about painting the area they grew up in, whether in words or actual paints...

Steer him toward what he does best instead of discourage him from what he isn't doing well enough to capture the attention of local readers?
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m2kbug

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How about some of what you just said. 
  • You have so much going on in this one story, you could actually break it up into several different stories.  You have enough material for three different plots, right here, and three separate publishings.  Try breaking it up and expand on one idea instead of working three at a time. 
  • Tell each part of the story separately, like for different character's points of view of do a series of stories, building one on top of the other.
  • You have X, Y, and Z going on and it's really busy.  Maybe just do X and then do a separate story about Y. 
  • I'm really not the person to ask about the your fiction stories.  I can't really critique those all that well.  I love reading your nostalgia stories, so keep those coming.

bonyk

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"Oh, another short story.  How nice!  I'm more of a non-fiction gal.  (excitedly) Have you done any more nostalgia pieces lately?"

Stricken_Halo

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I'm sorry, I think I'm missing some backstory. How did it come to pass that this gentleman expects you to critique his fiction?

Is he looking for honest criticism and feedback or does he just want validation for something he obviously enjoys?

If it's the former, I think m2kbug made some excellent suggestions.

SoCalVal

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I'm sorry, I think I'm missing some backstory. How did it come to pass that this gentleman expects you to critique his fiction?

In the original post:
So...I figure however he wants to spend his money is his business....but I no longer know what to say about the written pieces he brings by now and then for me to read and comment on.  It was EASY to praise the nonfiction essays because they were charming bits of history about the city in which we live.  But the fiction???  Yikes!

I'd go with this, too
How about some of what you just said. 
  • You have so much going on in this one story, you could actually break it up into several different stories.  You have enough material for three different plots, right here, and three separate publishings.  Try breaking it up and expand on one idea instead of working three at a time. 
  • Tell each part of the story separately, like for different character's points of view of do a series of stories, building one on top of the other.
  • You have X, Y, and Z going on and it's really busy.  Maybe just do X and then do a separate story about Y. 
  • I'm really not the person to ask about the your fiction stories.  I can't really critique those all that well.  I love reading your nostalgia stories, so keep those coming.

My former BFF writes for a living, but it's all nonfiction.  Years ago, she was in the middle of writing a novel and sent me the first chapter to read.  It was horrible -- it was boring and didn't flow well at all.  It really was just one long chapter describing the guy she was obsessing over at the time (she based the character on him).  She specifically wanted me to read it to give her feedback.  I tried being constructive like m2kbug suggests, but I don't think FormerBFF took it very well.  Oh, well.  I don't know if she ever finished it but, last I checked, she's not doing anything related to fiction-writing.




Amara

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The words you want to use really depend on your relationship with him. For the sake of my answer I am going to assume you have a warm, good one, one that is open enough and trusting enough that you can be honest. If that is the case I would see myself saying something like "Friend, I love your nonfiction pieces. They are charming, carry a hint of nostalgia along with fascinating history and wonderful insights. Your talent really lies in this direction! I don't think anyone else here could do it better. However, and in all honesty, you don't have that same talent for fiction. It's just not your thing. It's like me; I write too as you know but I know I can't write humor. I've tried, and believe me when I tell you mine is beyond awful. It comes across as so angry, and I don't know why. So I have given that up, and stick with the format that is best for me. I don't want to discourage you if you feel this strongly about it, but I have to say that I have a strong preference for your nonfiction and would prefer to read that. As for fiction and publishing, have you ever looked at the Backspace or Absolute Write forums for excellent advice? They are honest and outstanding, and you can't go wrong seeking advice there."

ETA: OP, I do not mean what I said to sound harsh or worse. But from your original post it sounds like he has little experience navigating today's publishing technology if he honestly believe vanity publishers look for good writing. They look only for good money as you know. If you feel this is the case, then my priority for my friend would be to be honest, to direct him to good writing sites, and to avoid being too gentle (as in "oh, I don't read much fiction to be able to comment") replies, and yes, to discourage his forays into areas where he can get ripped off and eventually very hurt when his books don't sell.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2014, 06:48:42 PM by Amara »

Possum

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Re: His writing is not all that and a bag of chips...WHAT Have I Done????
« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2014, 06:53:58 PM »
Do whatever you can to get him involved with a writers' group that offers gentle but helpful critiques.  He'll likely take some of their suggestions very hard at first, but hopefully he'll stick with it.  It sounds like he's got the mind for writing, but he may be intimidated by longer pieces, thus cramming all the plot into a few pages.  A writers group can be a great impetus to expand your horizons, and a great support as you do.

lakey

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Re: His writing is not all that and a bag of chips...WHAT Have I Done????
« Reply #11 on: June 14, 2014, 07:39:22 PM »
Is there a local college where he could take a class where he would get some professional advice on how to improve his writing?

Marbles

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Re: His writing is not all that and a bag of chips...WHAT Have I Done????
« Reply #12 on: June 14, 2014, 08:37:01 PM »
Ask him what he thinks he needs to work on or what skills he is developing at the moment. Then agree with him.
"Oh, yes. I can see how that isn't as tight as your nonfiction work."

And ask what he's doing to learn the skill.
"Are you working on learning that with someone?"
"I understand the local community college has some classes on fiction writing."
"Have you looked at going to a writer's group?"
"We have some books about that in our ___ section. Would you like me to help you find them?"

baglady

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Re: His writing is not all that and a bag of chips...WHAT Have I Done????
« Reply #13 on: June 14, 2014, 09:33:42 PM »
It's very difficult to make the transition from writing nonfiction to writing fiction. I have a friend, also in his 70s, who recently published his first novel. He is a respected history professor who has written a ton of scholarly articles and books -- some targeted to fellow scholars, others to laypersons who have an interest in the history of X subject.

His novel isn't awful, but it's obvious he is a nonfiction writer who hasn't internalized many of the basics of good fiction writing, such as "show, don't tell." The background on his characters tends to be very long-winded, dry and expository. And I told him so -- but in the Amazon review he requested for his novel rather than face to face.

I like the idea of explaining that as much as you love his nonfiction work, you don't feel qualified to critique his fiction writing, and steer him toward some (real-life or online) writers group that might be helpful. Also, you might suggest that he attempt writing fictional stories based on his knowledge of local history and culture. I've known a couple of writers who did some wonderful series of humorous short stories based on their hometowns, changing the names of the towns and people. Locals enjoyed them because they recognized the setting and the colorful characters; non-locals enjoyed them for their humor and insight.
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nolechica

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Re: His writing is not all that and a bag of chips...WHAT Have I Done????
« Reply #14 on: June 15, 2014, 01:35:44 AM »
I like the idea to enlist outside help, but you need to figure out if he just wants praise or honest critique before doing so.