Every writer struggles with criticism. A friend of mine breaks out the M&Ms every time she gets a revision letter from her editor. All of us handle it differently, but like grief, it tends to follow a pattern.
It's easy to get stuck between anger and bargaining. Anger gives us a sense of purpose. In workshop, this is often when we start to think or say bad things about our critiques, because that's better than believing bad things about our writing. My friend (see above) is more likely to breeze past anger and jump into bargaining (right after the very trope-ish but true dependence on chocolate). Me, I like anger, so if your first response is to launch into a vehement and often silent argument with your critiquer? I get you.
But at some point, hopefully, I chill out enough to move to depression (no chocolate, just deep self-loathing). Finally, I get to the more balanced response of acceptance: Ok, so they don't get my genius. It's not their fault, because my vision doesn't unfold on the page. What do I need to change, fix, delete, add-to, in order for the reader to get me?
As you review any criticism, consider how you can move to a more balanced and emotionally-healthy response. Acceptance isn't acceptance that your writing is bad. Acceptance is the realization that you're human and your writing isn't perfect. Acceptance is the realization that your critiquer--be it teacher, classmates, or editor--may have a point.
See my YouTube video about some typical responses to workshop: Seeking Blessings for the end of the world
AWP is Association of Writers and Writing Programs, with the conference open to faculty, students, and writers (independent of a college) held in San Antonio this year. So here's some cool new stuff on the relationship between persona (typically discussed in regards to creative nonfiction) and character.
[As background, I have both an MFA (fiction) and an MA (creative nonfiction) in creative writing]
When I went through my MA, I started with a personal essay class because my mentor needed one more student for a particular class to go. I fell in love with the genre and proceeded to take every class I could. In the personal essay class, we studied Dinty Moore's book on the topic. In my memoir class, we studied Sue Williams Silverman's Finding Innocence and Experience: Voices in Memoir. The first personal essay I polished and submitted won a contest and a Pushcart nomination. Jill Christman was the judge.
So, imagine walking into a workshop where all 3 of these writers were presenting. It was surreal, and wonderful, and educational. :)
Persona isn't something we talk about in fiction, because we know the characters are fiction. There's no need for a persona, but in CNF, the writer is on the page, yet it's not fully the writer. It's a persona. It's a piece of self without the whole being.
Dinty Moore, during the presentation, said that persona is the embodiment of self but tidied up. “Constructed of the truth but not fully the truth,” creating a more consistent character than the self. "Persona is a consistent and engaging personality on the page." Persona is a glimpse of who we are. We dial it up, emphasize, and stretch" without embellishing or misleading.
[the same can also be said of plot in CNF... Books have a consistent plot, but real life does not.]
Jill Christman clarified more: "The I is a mark on the page. It is not you on the page. You can try to make it a version of you, but your 3-dimensional self is a multitude of I’s. The persona will not contain all your selves."
Ok, so how can we use this information in fiction? On the face, there is no tie, because we're not writing about flesh-and-blood people, but when we look deeper, persona ties directly to characterization. It's very easy to write flat characters, those one-dimensional beings who are there to serve the needs of the writer and the plot, but easy doesn't equate to good. In this case, a flat character annoys or bores the reader, so the same elements in selecting character traits also applies to fiction.
If you want a round character, you have to demonstrate their roundness. You need to find those ticks and traits that you want to demonstrate. The character must remain consistent (a thief doesn't suddenly become a priest... at least without motivation/change), but the character should show some of their different traits when encountering different situations.
Here's an example I use with my undergrads. You use a different voice on Facebook (where grandma can see it) than you do in Snapchat where it's just your friends. You know, often intuitively, what type of posts you can get away with on the different social media platforms.
The same is true of persona. As the writer, you can adjust the character's behaviors based on who is around, so a character in a thriller might act one way with a client, another with a coworker, and yet put on a different persona when they're dealing with criminals (or suspects). Give your characters some depth, some roundness, by pulling out true-to-life traits and personas.
If you're struggling with a character, consider what some of his/her traits and personas might be and how they would manifest within the story. If you don't like the character, or feel they're flat, consider giving them different personas that makes more sense for the story.
In the end, fictional characters will never be wholly human, wholly realistic, but we can give them multiple dimensions so they're interesting and full. How can you use persona in your work?
Every time, and I mean every time, I submit to my publisher and/or an agent, they ask for comp titles. Don't get caught flat-footed. Do the research before you get ready to submit. Know where your book fits into the literary marketplace. When a publisher sees the comp titles, they start to figure out where to market your book.
If you're struggling to find comps, ask one of your critique partners or BETA readers as they may have a more objective view of your story. Or, do the research:
So, how do you do that? Well, reading voraciously helps. I sometimes offer comp title suggestions to my students, and I can do that because I have read a wide-variety of books and I notice similarities. Note that comps work when the similar work is well-known. If you give a comp that's obscure, you're giving the impression that there's no market for your book. Eek, that's not what you want to do!
In the end, comparable-titles are a way to demonstrate your knowledge of your genre and the literary marketplace. They're also shorthand for a longer discussion on market, niches, etc. If you have to do the research, and for reasons beyond me you don't ask a librarian, at least have fun with it!
Post your comp titles in the comments below.
Writer Reference (Blogroll)
Show Don't Tell
To Be verbs
Wired for Story
Genre by any other name
He for She
A Little is Enough
Writing 17 minutes at a time
The Unlisted List:
The best women nonfiction writers.
Aubrey Hirsh' Beginner's Guide to publishing with format templates and more
Agent Query 15 posts on writing query ltrs
Platform Action Plan
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.