Still, who welcomes criticism?
On a rainy Sunday, I chose to hear the critics. I churned out three pages.
For my novel, that's a minor miracle.
This novel, in the works since 2006, takes place in the "not-too-distant future" (what a cliche!) and features a number of boring characters. Why are the characters so flat?
Two unrelated sets of aunts and cousins from Maryland (a border state that must inspire literary common sense) gave insightful, unsolicited answers at their respective dining room tables: there is no back-story for when and how the cataclysmic event was covered up and why the deceivers went wrong.
"No one is all bad," said Aunt Aimee over a late dinner, referring to my story's primary creepy government leader and cover-up master. "He probably thought he was doing the right thing for the country."
Duly filed in the brain's hard-drive. For later. Maybe.
Yet today's dreary, overcast morning prompted a rereading a November/December 2008 edition of Writer's Journal and Christina Hamlett's article: "When Eels Go Bad, What's their Motivation?"
While editing a client's screenplay, Hamlett lamented that the villainous eels that sought to take over the world had no back-story for terrorizing the human population. To her disappointment, the eels were not "fitted with microchips programmed by evil scientists" or "possessed by extraterrestrials." In other words, the reader was forced to accept that they were evil "just because."
Uncovered in another mindless treasure hunt through Great Essays, a tiny paperback published in 1960 by Washington Square Press, were words that urged me to listen to these critiques of my beloved cliche-of-a-novel. From Montaigne's "Of the Art of Conversing":
Opinions then that are opposed to mine do not offend or estrange me; they only arouse and
exercise my mind. We dislike correction; we should meet it halfway and welcome it, especially
if it comes in the form of a conversation and not of a school-lesson.
And which opinion must be welcomed? In this case, it's the opinion that even creepy government drones deserve a decent biography, an honest motivation.
In the essay, Montaigne goes on to quote Cicero: "We must consider not only what each one says, but what he thinks, and why he thinks it." Motivation! What's the back-story?
In light of these critiques, today for the first time in five years, characters from the not-to-distant-future arrived on the page as young teens, vividly living out their back-stories in present-day New Jersey.
For three fun pages!
Here's to the critics!