As a fledgling writer, something I’ve been struggling with is how to handle criticism. My lovely readers may recall a post about that a little while ago on my reflections on Horrible Saturday. As a person, I admittedly don’t respond very well to “feedback” in general. I try to justify things, make excuses, rationalize. I tend to get defensive and hurt, and take things way too personally. I know this. It’s something I’ve always dealt with. It’s tough, because I really do want to improve as a writer, and I know that means identifying my weaknesses so that I can better address them. Generally, feedback falls into one of two categories. Praise and “constructive”. But what to do when confronted with something that doesn’t clearly fit into either box?
Some time ago, I posted the first (very rough) draft of a story called The Lesser. I got a fair amount of feedback on it, which I loved. Feedback means people actually read it, and to have people reading my stuff is a huge boost for me. Most of it was positive. Some was constructive, and I’ve taken it all to heart. Then there was one little comment, left by “Anonymous” of course, so I can’t ask for any follow up.
“Love your stuff! great work! Your too gimmicky tho. Focus on the writing.”
Blink, blink. Gimmicky? What? I’m not quite sure I understand. I sat there for a minute, staring at the screen, unsure of what to say or how to react. Gimmicky? Me? What could that possibly mean? I took some time to think about it, as well as speaking with some friends on the subject, and what I came up with is this: As a writer, part of my style has always been a tendency to rely on twist endings. Long winded literary puns, as one cohort said. Could it be that I am the M. Night Shayamalan of amateur horror writing? Maybe. But why? I thought about my literary influences. Shirley Jackson was one that immediately sprang to mind. The Lottery and We Have Always Lived In The Castle are famous for their remarkable twist endings. I thought about L. Ron Hubbard‘s Fear and the way that it leads up slowly, building suspense, pulling the reader into the antagonist’s growing hysteria before POW!, that sock-you-in-the-face ending. I thought about Thomas Tyron‘s Harvest Home and the way that story evolves, hiding it’s dark secret behind a cozy little home town facade. Then, I thought about my own work. Insofar as I can recall, The Lesser is the only thing I’ve ever written without a twist ending, therefor it just may be the exception that proves the rule. And you know what? I’m OK with that. I think it’s part of my literary identity and who I am becoming as a writer. At the end of the day, I like my twists. I like my endings. I like the idea of keeping my readers guessing, even if they think they already know what they’re in for. And after all, without a twist at the end, how do you know the story’s really over?