In today’s edition of the Mirage Weekly Newsletter, I discuss the voice that guides my hand when writing, one of the greatest graphic novels ever written, and the ancient art of gardening.
Today I’m introducing a feature to my website that I’m very excited about. The Mirage Weekly Newsletter will be out every Friday, and you can consider it something like a mini-blog.
You’ve probably noticed that my blog updates are often infrequent, as I only like to post when I have something worthwhile to say. Ergo, these newsletters will offer a great avenue for keeping my readers up to date with my writing exploits. It also allows me to say a few things without committing to a thousand-word blog every time.
I first encountered The Dark Tower in early-2008. I had just devoured Stephen King’s The Stand, and after doing a little bit of post-flu research, discovered that King’s entire life’s work shared a single, slightly convoluted universe, existing on several levels of some elusive tower at the nexus of space/time. I was intrigued, so I entered a generous bid on a copy of the first volume of The Dark Tower on eBay. I won it without contest, yet as soon as I paid for it, I had to buy a second copy when I realised that during my haste I had accidentally purchased the original iteration of The Gunslinger, instead of the revised and expanded edition. Who would have thought that impulse could be a bad thing?
Over the course of 2008, I ambled through the seven book series. When I put down Song of Susannah, I actually wrote a three-page letter to Sai King as an insurance policy, expressing to him how much I had enjoyed the journey, solidifying my thoughts in the event that he somehow screwed up the ending. As it turns out, my fears were faultless. He didn’t screw up the ending, and I finished the final book, after an 18-hour reading streak, in the nothing hours of night on the 2nd or 3rd of January, 2009. I laughed. I cried. I screamed. I cried. And I cried. My copy of the final book is still stained with my tears of yore!
And the Coda? It destroyed me. My stomach swallowed itself and I was left with an utter sense of dread that has never quite withered away. Few endings can rival The Dark Tower’s completely apathetic finale, which simultaneously stabs readers in the gut then whispers a powerful and resonant precept into their ears.
All of this is to say that The Dark Tower books left an indelible impression upon me, as they have for so many others. They are not without fault—I could talk for hours about what King did wrong—but they are as perfect as they need to be, telling a worthwhile story, with characters who are out of this world, weaving profound morals of primal potency. I only wish I could still find my letter, because from everything that has been glimpsed about the upcoming movie spells disaster in every sense of the word. I can’t help but feel we’re all on a train that can’t be stopped; a pink bullet with the split mind of a maniac, and no riddle in this world or any other can stop this movie from alighting in cinemas on 4th August, 2017.
I’m not going to sit here and talk about the blatant changes that everyone seems to be crying foul about. Yes, Roland is now black, and his blue, bombardier eyes have been washed out by the casting director. No, if Detta comes into the mix, which is highly unlikely, especially any time soon, she will not be calling Roland a “honky mahfah”. I’m sick and tired of everyone beating a dead mule—its bulging eyes gone, having been et by Zoltan, say sorry. Who gives a fuck? Is Roland’s skin colour and Detta’s racism the only things you have to complain about? Yeah, I get it, the changes suck the big one, but put a little bit of constructive criticism into your goddamned arguments and actually watch the fucking trailer! Can you honestly not find anything else wrong with this piece of garbage cinema that has completely contorted the original story and altered the complex and nuanced characters of the gunslinger and the man in black into rivals with binary ideologies?
By now I’m sure you’ve all seen the trailer, and because I don’t want to give that atrocity of a teaser any more free publicity, I’m not going to link it here. If you’re one of the three people that haven’t seen it and you’re morbidly curious, you’ll have to find it for yourself, but I plead you not to be Ka-Mai. Some things are better left untouched; some doors better left unopened, unfound. Don’t you remember King’s final warning? The one we all ignored?
I’ve told my tale all the way to the end, and am satisfied … I hope most of you know better. Want better … And so, my dear Constant Reader, I tell you this: You can stop here.
We never listen though. We never stop. In the end, we are all Ka-Mai. If you haven’t watched the trailer, you will watch it. Even if we know it’s going to be fustercluck—written by the grave wordsmith behind the phenomena of Batman & Robin and I Am Legend—we’ll still all go and see it. It’s in our nature. It’s a part of our curse. We’re tower junkies, as Eddie would say. The world has been saved. The beams are being renewed. Roland has crossed the threshold and passed into eternity. We have no reason to keep searching for the obsidian edifice on the horizon, but we keep looking anyway.
At least Roland would understand.
Before I get into the meat of my complaints, I’d like to address a few points of contention against Nicolaj Arcel’s interpretation of The Dark Tower, based on my observations of the tardy trailer. I’ll keep these brief, as they could easily devolve into nitpicking:
- Jake looks fine, but his McGuffin obsession with the eponymous tower is asinine, especially considering he has never been to Mid-World before, as far as we can tell.
- The portal through the house on Dutch Hill is electrifyingly aesthetic, but it’s a stark choice. What was wrong with a literal door between worlds? It wasn’t sy-fy-y enough, that’s what. It also looks very advanced, as if the portal was designed by our old friend, North Central Positronics.
- The exposition is hard to swallow and textbook simple.
- Roland’s outfit is too Hollywood. He looks like he just stepped out of a Marvel movie.
- The tower itself looks okay. It’s a dark tower, they can’t exactly get it wrong. The beams, however, are totally uninspired. I’ll give them a pass for manifesting them as physical streams of energy, as we are now in a visual medium, but why do they jut out awkwardly from the middle of the tower though? The last book clearly states that the beams converge above it. Only three beams are supposed to be intact by the time of The Gunslinger as well, yet all six appear to be functioning. And why aren’t nearby clouds being manipulated and pulled by the beams, like in the books?
- Walter apparently manifests the demon at Dutch Hill. It might just appear this way due to how the trailer has been edited, however. I hope so. The demon itself actually looks quite good.
- Why do Roland’s guns glow?
- “I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.” Just because you say it doesn’t make it true, Roland. You literally closed your eyes and let your gun auto-lock onto your target like a video game. Cort would thump you good for that one.
Yeah, a lot of bitter choices, especially for Constant Readers. They’re also choices that can’t simply be swept under the rug by claiming “It’s a new cycle!” It’s a shame, but I could probably live with these offences and a dozen more if Roland and Walter had remained faithful to their counterparts from the books. Alas, they are both as butchered as the rest of the story and setting.
I was cautious of Idris Elba’s Roland a long time before the trailer landed, not so much because he’s now suddenly black, but because of the peculiar overview of his character, as depicted on Wikipedia. Apparently this portrayal of Roland is based upon Nicolaj Arcel’s interpretation of the character, and it will follow his own individual vision of the character’s journey. Elba also purportedly had a unique vision for the character that he wants to share. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but all of this sounds like the preface to a lot of ludicrous fan-fiction. We don’t need a personal interpretation of Roland by some avant-garde director! He’s not a fairy tale figure, not anymore; he stopped being the man with no name once he realised he still knew how to love.
Several lines in the trailer only exacerbate Roland’s bastardised character. Instead of the infallible anti-hero from King’s books who would stop at nothing to reach his godforsaken tower, it seems we are being treated to a down-trodden survivor who needs a pep-talk from a twelve-year-old boy to understand and appreciate the importance of his quest. I guess not so much a “tower junkie” as a “tower dreamer”, maybe?
This promotional poster only adds to the Constant Reader’s frustration (and don’t worry, I’ll get to its counterpart in a minute):
Anyone who has read the books will understand that Roland was never sworn to protect the dark tower. By the time Eddie and Susannah come along, the only thing that Roland knows is that he has to reach the tower. He doesn’t even know what he’s going to do once he gets there, and once the world and the universe have been saved, he still marches forward, seeking to satisfy his perdurable urge. When he lost everything in the world—and then the world itself decided to move on—he just needed something to keep him going, and the tower gave him that. He may be a warrior of the light, but he’s still a junkie just the same, and it’s his very obsession that fuels the fire of his recursive curse. Something incredibly vital toward the character is forgotten for the sake of paraphrasing the slingshot struggle into a two-hour movie. It’s insulting.
Then there’s Walter Padick, and do I really need to say anything else? Walter Padick. Not Walter O’Dim. Not Marten. Not even Randall Flagg. Walter Padick. For whatever reason, Arcel refers to the name the ageless stranger promptly abandoned approximately 1,500 years ago, when he ran away from his father, Sam the Miller, at the tender age of thirteen. A name that rendered him inert when Mordred Deschain whispered it into his soul; a name that made him realise that his quasi-immortal life was about to come to a lurid and violent end. Yet, according to Arcel, Walter must have had a change of heart, because now he wears the name—the name of a peasant, the name of no one—with pride. I guess the new cycle rubbed off on him too, eh? Good for him.
Now we come to the crux of my indignation, the second half of the promotional poster I just shared:
I don’t even need to say anything. All I’m going to do is borrow a quote from the last book in The Dark Tower cycle. It speaks for itself:
Walter O’Dim had wandered long, and under a hundred names, but the tower had always been his goal. Like Roland, he wanted to climb it and see what lived at the top. If anything did.
He had belonged to none of the cliques and cults and faiths and factions that had arisen in the confused years since the Tower began to totter, though he wore their siguls when it suited him. His service to the Crimson King had been a late thing, as was his service to John Farson, the Good Man who’d brought down Gilead, the last bastion of civilisation, in a tide of blood and murder. Walter had done his own share of murder in those years, living a long and only quasi-immortal life … Yet through all that he’d kept his gaze on the Tower.
[Until] he’d had Roland to complete him—to make him greater than his own destiny, perhaps—Walter O’Dim had been little more than a wanderer left over from the old days, a mercenary with a vague ambition to penetrate the tower before it was brought down.
I can already hear the defenders of Arcel’s vision lighting their torches and raising their pitchforks. “It’s an adaption!” they’ll say. “Things need to change to suit a wider audience!” I agree, for the most part. Change is necessary with any shift in medium. The plot being condensed doesn’t have bothered me. Tertiary characters being consolidated or shuffled around won’t have me losing sleep at night. Even the colour of Roland’s skin and the distinctive shade of his eyes are paltry points of dissension when you really start to analyse this pitfall of conscious and reason. The only thing that mattered to me was for the two most important characters from The Gunslinger to remain true to themselves. And they haven’t.
How will the movie inevitably fare? I don’t know. Perhaps Arcel’s streamlined interpretation will find an audience, and perhaps a new franchise will be born. I don’t think the chances of that are very high, but stranger things have certainly happened. Time will tell, I suppose. There will be water if god wills it.
For one moment, however, let us imagine a movie penned by an intuitive screenwriter, brought to life by a faithful director with an eye for detail. We could have seen Roland pass over the desert. He could have met Brown and recounted his brief and bloody visit to Tull, painting a picture of a man who answers with lead. He could have met up with Jake at the Way Station, and crossed to the mountains where Roland would be raped by the Speaking Demon, taking his seed for later exploits. Then they would burrow underground, closing in on the man in black. As far as we would know, it would be a thrilling and authentic recreation of a beloved story. And then, at the pivotal moment when Jake falls, Roland would reach out with iron fingers and clasp the young boy, hoisting him back up onto the trestle. Every universe on every level of the tower would cry out—in pain or reverence, who knows—and then the past would open up. The man in black might get away, but we would know that Roland was closer than ever to finding the peace he has searched for since time untold.
It would have been the sequel the books—and the Constant Reader—deserved.
First drafts suck and there are no exceptions. I’ve read that these days Stephen King pens only a single draft that is edited a couple of times before it hits the printers. While I do not believe the validity of this statement, even if it is true, I would never endorse such wayward behaviour. Remember, Stephen King has written over 200 stories, and even if his process has grown lax of late, more than a couple of them still suck. I wonder how long he spent on Lisey’s Story? I bet it wasn’t long.
I believe a first draft is something altogether terrifying, mystic, and beautiful beyond on any spectrum. It is an opportunity for a writer to go nuts; to weave convoluted metaphors that would never go to print; to act a bit careless with colourful dialogue; to experiment with character actions and motivations; to do things an editor would likely frown upon, without any repercussion. And if something doesn’t work? Who gives a fuck? It’s a first draft, just keep on writing until it all comes together! It’s also really the only time you have an excuse to say “I’ll fix it later” without sounding lackadaisical. How awesome is that?
Some might even argue that this doesn’t classify as a draft, and I’d probably agree. “Proto-draft” might be more appropriate, yet my point still stands. It sucks.
The idea is great, and the thematic elements perfectly align with the final product. Some of the prose is even preserved, such as an overview of Ralph’s prodigious delivery history, yet does this proto-draft have any business in a published medium? While the story and a few ancillary details remain the same, virtually nothing about the final execution matches the initial messy scrawl. And there is a reason for this.
One of the details that is noticeably lacking from the proto-draft is the model of Ralph’s truck. In Prime Mover it is a Kenworth, yet the proto-draft boasts nothing more than a lonely, empty line where the name of the model should be. I find this poignant. Why the line? Why not simply name any model of truck? Even if it isn’t a great choice, surely it can be changed later?
True. It can be changed later, and that isn’t the problem. When I was pumping out the proto-draft, I had a salient image in my head of Ralph’s truck. Something tall and proud, almost like an effigy of sorts. I always wanted the truck to be a character onto itself—which is even more evident in the intermediary drafts—and while I knew exactly what she embodied, I couldn’t immediately verbalise those thoughts, not to the extent of jotting down the name of a model. I left a vacant space there because I didn’t want to waste time flicking through my mental index of trucks until I found the right one, or even more calamitously, wasting time on the internet, browsing for pitch-perfect solutions. If I’d stopped to figure out the finer details at such an early stage, I probably never would have finished.
It’s a great allegory for any draft: It doesn’t matter if it sucks—it doesn’t matter if elements are lacking or even missing—the only thing that does matter is getting it done. An empty canvas is nothing but a lack of content and a deficit of tangible ideas. As long as there’s something there, no matter how bare, it can be moulded into something magnificent.
There’s no limit on how many drafts it takes to produce something worthwhile, which means you have all the time in the world to fix the failings of early attempts. If you sit there and wait for perfection, however, it will never come. Don’t obsess over minute details, they can be patched in later. Just write. That’s all it takes.
Stayed tuned—I really don’t know if that metaphor applies anymore, but you know what I mean—for the third entry in Scrawling a Short Story! It won’t be as big of a gap this time, I promise. Things are finally on track over here, and you should be seeing a lot more content over the coming weeks and months. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.
Happy reading, happy writing, happy life,
Slightly off-topic blog today, but don’t worry, the second edition of Scrawling a Short Story should be available soon!
Tomorrow is ANZAC Day, and as some of you may know, I’m not a huge advocate of the otherwise revered day. Some may view this as unpatriotic, or perhaps insist that I need to avail myself of more facts before commenting on a sacred occasion. I must digress, for beyond my initial views of war, politics and blatant brutality, there is a plaintive purpose behind my stalwart point of view.
I must preface this by saying that I do understand the legend of ANZAC. I appreciate the patriotism, and the Dawn Service is an admirable tradition that encourages a sense of responsibility and esteem in a relatively stale culture; tradition is the hallmark of any great society. I also have two direct relatives—both great-grandfathers—whom served in WWII, Corporal Norman Gerald Hope, and Sergeant Leslie Charles “Cookie” Carpenter. I know my ancestry, and I know what it means to be Australian, but I also possess the ability to question and query history. Remember that history is written by the winners, so is it so wrong to wonder whether the bona fide story is known or not?
First, we must understand the true nature of the Dardanelles Campaign. To cut a long story short, King George V wanted to pry open a rear way into Germany, and the only feasible way was to come up through the Dardanelles and force an army across Eastern Europe. Alas, the Dardanelles were under the control of the crippled Ottoman Empire, which had been failing for a couple of centuries. Now, while the Ottoman Empire had entered a secretive agreement with Germany against Russia, they were not required to enter the war. They had neither the resources nor the zeal to directly enter the engagement, yet King George V consistently acted aggressive toward the Ottoman Empire, eventually seizing a couple of their vessels for his own purposes.
This caused a lot of tension between the two empires, and when Germany (without permission from the Ottoman Empire) closed off the Dardanelles, it was unanimously agreed among the Allied Forces that the Ottoman Empire was in league with Germany, and war was declared. Ergo, the Ottoman Empire had no choice. They were thrust into a war they initially sought no part in, and eventually declared jihad, seeking to reclaim any land lost to them in wars of yore. Could you blame them? Of course, the Armenian Genocide followed, but that’s a story for another day, the details of which are muddied.
The ANZACs were eventually sent to the Dardanelles by King George V to reclaim the strait. Ultimately, no matter how you colour the canvas, the Dardanelles Campaign was an invasion of a sovereign nation. Was it the right move? I’m not one to judge, but we must understand that we did not venture forth into the Great War as noble men with a cause; we were the pawns of a bloody campaign. It was violent. It was cruel. It was unprecedented. Those men—those boys—did not march forward like the Sons of Atreus to reclaim a woman from across the sea; they died without humility and without fanfare far away from their warm beds. Thinking about the atrocities of that campaign is sickening, yet putting a lampshade over the truth is beyond disingenuous—it is an insult to the memory of those thousands of lost souls.
Moving forward, I feel I must also recall the immediate impact of the distorted ANZAC legacy on Australian tradition. Active women and Aboriginals were essentially erased from the legends, the latter of which were legally forbidden from serving in the Australian military, and it is ironic that these pioneering Aboriginals who went to war did not go at the request of King George V, a demonic baron in their humble eyes. Instead, they went to fight for the country they loved, not as pawns, but as knights, yet they were conveniently forgotten.
Men who hailed from a city life of white collar careers were also abruptly ignored, as the legendary ANZAC figure primarily embodied an archetypal presence indicative only of outback Australia. It was deemed that men with smooth fingers possessed no noble skills, and were therefore fodder among the much prouder soldiers. There were also the men who did not serve, who were considered cowards for not offering their life. They were vilified by their communities, considered less than dogs.
Many of these distasteful traits have since been washed out of the ANZAC legends, and a far more mutually inclusive and patriotic tradition awaits millions of weary-eyed Australians on the morning of 25th April. Yet how many of these know the truth? How many who relentlessly spout the phrase “Lest we Forget”—deriving from a poem by Rudyard Kipling nonetheless—for the sake of tradition, truly understands the genesis of ANZAC or the revolting hypocrisies that followed the end of the Great War. ANZAC has, of course, evolved into a day of remembering every soldier who has ever served in the name of Australia, yet while it would be far easier for most Australians to simply brush the unsavoury parts of the legend under the rug and pretend they didn’t happen, we must endeavour to preserve the past or be doomed to repeat it.
Most importantly, however, we cannot be selfish. We cannot claim that we were the victims of the Dardanelles Campaign. We cannot thrust a murderous finger at the Ottoman Empire for defending their land against an invading force who came with the intent to kill, for they never called us their adversary, but rather brothers of the soul, both sides fighting and dying for something neither could possibly understand.
So while tomorrow when, with a touch of melancholy, you remember the many young Australians who died a senseless death, remember that many young Ottomans shared the same fate. They were not our enemy; they were our friends, we just didn’t know it yet. And while The Ode might suffice for the fallen sons of every nation, I think there is a far more poignant oration that should also be observed. It was delivered by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the man who secured the Ottoman Victory of the Dardanelles Campaign and eventually founded the Republic of Turkey, and it is beautiful:
“Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well.”
If there’s only one question I see more than “How do I write?” it is: “How do I keep writing?” I would like to preface this blog by saying I do not possess the definitive answer to this question, because there is no answer. Every writer will have a different experience, and no amount of goodwill preaching can crack the quantum code. Don’t listen to those overly-charismatic e-commercials that promise to make you the next Stephen King with This One Simple Trick! Writing has always been a journey of discovery, and if you press forward long enough, in the end you’ll find something magical. My only hard advice is to keep writing, no matter how hard it might seem, and do not be thwarted by a lack of immediate success: a small success should still be seen as a success.
With that being said, today I’m going to introduce the first in a series of blogs where I intend to detail the process of writing my latest short story, Prime Mover. From its initial conception, to the drafting process, to finally publishing it on a very poignant day, it is my intention to offer some insight into the life-cycle of a short story. This is not a How To Guide or a Writing Short Stories For Dummies book. Remember, if you want to write, then write. Nothing I say is going to make you want to pick up your pen. This blog series is more of an exposé; a chronicle of the process, which is more educational than instructional. At the very least, there will be a few cool tidbits along the way, so I hope you’ll join me.
If you haven’t read Prime Mover, I won’t spoil too much. It’s not mandatory—this isn’t Short Stories 101, there are no textbooks, nor a final exam—but I encourage you to give it a read just the same. If you email me and cite this blog, I’ll happily send you a complimentary copy. How’s that for a good deal?
For those of you who have read Prime Mover, you’ll know that it begins as a relatively grounded story, and becomes more and more incongruous as the narrative progresses. This is a great metaphor for the writing process, which always has humble beginnings before it pirouettes out of control and becomes nothing like you originally conceived. All of the best stories grow organically. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t plan ahead, but you should always allow the characters and events to come alive and sway your hand, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.
The following picture is the hand-written first page of Prime Mover:
And the back of the page for proof:
For those of you who don’t know, for my day job—which is actually done at night—I work as the manager of a small logistics company, delivering newspapers. The first embodiment of Prime Mover was scrawled on the morning of Wednesday, 11th February, 2015, on the back of the previous day’s invoice for my Daily Telegraph delivery pallet. I can’t exactly say why inspiration struck at that particular time, except that I had nothing else to do. This is by no means my normal modus operandi. I usually do my best thinking when I pace around my office, but for some reason, my inner-voice spoke to me that morning.
I’ll transcribe the page for those who can’t read my hasty penmanship:
Ralph Mortimer had clocked over 1.5 Million kilometres in his ________ truck, and she sailed the bitumen roads as if she was only a week off the lot. Nineteen years it had been. Nineteen years of pallet-drops, poultry, pig faces, newspapers—not for a good decade now though. He was one of the many blood cells of the Australian body, zipping to and fro along the spiderweb highways, hauling the weight of worlds for petty cash.
He picked up his last load on November 19th, at 2:16 from Chullora, and by the 6 o’clock news that night all of Australia knew his name.
Compare this to the opening paragraphs of the published version of Prime Mover:
In thirteen years, Ralph Mortimer had clocked over more than one million kilometres in his Kenworth prime mover. She was a twin-stack, blood-red, 15-tonne mistress, and he had spent more nights with her than his own wife.
Ralph had carted everything from company cargo; to live poultry; newspapers; furniture; even pallets stacked with pig faces and festering with maggots, due to be churned into gelatin and stuffed into roadside pies. He operated as an independent contractor, so when his services were required, he offered them without query or complaint. He was half-convinced the trailer he’d picked up from Wilcannia some years ago had been brimming with marijuana—the sweet aroma far too reminiscent of his misspent youth—but he hadn’t asked any questions, and his eventual fee had been handsome. So long as Ralph was paid his dues, he didn’t really care. Not too much.
Of course, there was the all-too-frequent bastard who cheated him out of more than a few bucks, and once in a while the man (or woman) he was working for would vanish, never to be heard from again. He had lost thousands in his time on the road, and there was shit all he could do about it. It was just the nature of the beast. You took the good with the bad, the bad with the ugly, then you got on with the job. That was all there was to it.
It’s amazing what two years and a dozen drafts can do, eh? As you can see though, while there are a lot of notable differences, the core of the narrative is still the same. I’ve taken the brief bouts of exposition from the first draft and expounded upon them, giving depth and character to Ralph’s experiences.
I have a lot more to say about the changes therein, but I’ll save them for another blog, as they’re quite extensive and definitely warrant a more thorough examination than I can offer now.
I hope you enjoyed the first entry in Scrawling a Short Story! It’s great to be able to share this experience with you, and if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.
Happy reading, happy writing, happy life,
I was doing my rounds of the internet earlier today—investigating a few writing forums, clicking through a couple of resources, employing an iota of effort to network—when I stumbled upon what claimed to be a resource for burgeoning writers. Great! I thought. There can never be too many resources to help nurture growing talents and tighten the bonds between those with common interests. Let’s face it, writing is a solitary art. Sometimes you just need someone to give you a good piece of advice; a positive word to motivate you to the next chapter; a little something to let you know that all this time and effort you’re expending isn’t in vain.
Alas, while this particular website—which I won’t link to—might have once provided some fertile soil and a little bit of love and care to budding plants and blooming flowers, it seems to have devolved into a cesspit of negativity, where virulent weeds and cutthroat briars strangle the life out of any spot of greenery. Essentially, instead of offering some heartfelt advice and respectful writing tips, the regular prowlers of this website opt for an all-too-common attitude of accentuating the negative, forgoing all the worthwhile traits of a talented beta reader in favour of under-the-belt punches to make themselves appear superior. From nitpicking petty grammar mistakes, such as a misplaced comma, to belittling a young writer for having the audacity to not proofread their draft, not one piece of criticism on the website was worthwhile or warranted. It was all quite violent to be honest, and unforgivably hostile.
When selecting a beta reader, no matter how far along the writing process you are, even if you’re picking up a pen for the first time since Creative Writing in Year 8, you need to find someone who is objective, yet carries a degree of benevolence. Unfortunately, the internet is swarming with (what I call) pseudo-grammarians, who have no credentials to their name, yet hand out criticism like a card dealer at a casino. They think they’re providing a service by pointing out an absent apostrophe, but at the end of the day, they lack the finer skills to offer any kind of guidance, and only exist to boost their own digital ego.
There are five core components to any successful novel: Characters, Worldbuilding, Story, Style, Execution. It is learning these core components, and learning them well, that is the hard task. Grammar and punctuation do not matter, at least in the beginning—they come with time, providing you read and write as much as possible. No new writer needs to be lectured about a spliced comma, most definitely in the drafting stage of a tentative book. It’s insulting. Editors exist for a reason, because even experienced writers aren’t infallible. Funny that, eh?
I wrote this blog not so much to disdain this particular website, but to offer a word of warning: Choose your friends wisely, and employ even tighter parameters for your beta readers. I can’t help but pity the fresh writers who offer up their work for criticism, expecting an intelligent, well-formed response, only to have their legs torn off before they even learn how to walk. I only hope they can take a little inspiration from the adorable axolotl and learn to regrow those limbs.