Can You Love It and Still Find Flaws?

Reading over the comments from my last post, I started to wonder if it is possible to want both validation for our work as well as suggestions of ways to make it better?

I know when I first start working on a story I love it. I mean, you’ve got, right? Or why bother writing it in the first place? But to tell the truth once I’ve worked on it for so long, rewriting, revising and tweaking it’s darn near impossible to be objective. I get to a place where I don’t know if what I’ve written is any good —as in someone wanting to invest their time reading it.

My thinking is this, it would be nice to have someone tell me if the characters pulled them in, if it was a pager-turner, etc. etc, but of course only if it was. But at the same time I’d also want someone to point out any flaws. Hmm I suppose that would be called a critique, right?

This brings me to this question: Can you honestly like a story yet see ways that it could be improved? Or does it mean the book/the story isn’t any good if it has a number of flaws?

I’m thinking about the editing involved once an editor gets hold of your manuscript. They make suggestions, point out flaws and yet they still made the decision to publish your story. But how can that be if they still want you to make changes? I mean they want to publish it. Doesn’t that mean it’s already perfect?

One author told me her editor changed three words in her manuscript. I say wow! I don’t expect that will ever be my experience. Bitter, Sweet had 5,000 words added to it, extra scenes, a shift in one chapter from third person into first person plus some tweaking I did along the way. I worked with the suggestions my editor made and the story ended up much stronger because of it. I’ve read what other writers have said about the editing process for their books and it sounds quite similar to mine.

Right now I’m reading a book that took me a little while to get into it, but now that I am I would describe it as a good book. I like the main character and I’m enjoying the plot and I hope things work out for him. The thing is, as I’m reading this particular story I find myself being critical. Too much of this and a little too much of that. I’m not quite convinced that some of the character’s actions ring true for me. I find myself questioning it. It’s not a matter of not liking the character’s behaviour so much as it is a matter of believing their behaviour.

Yet I still call it a good book and it is truly worthy of publication. Perhaps other people would read the book and not notice what seems obvious to me. We all have different experiences with the same book and even interpret it in different ways. Or maybe I’m just cranky and looking for something to complain about. I’ve read this author’s work before and really liked it. Perhaps I’m super sensitive since I’m doing the same thing with my manuscript at the moment.

So in your opinion, is it possible for a story to be both good and flawed at the same time? And if a story is both good and flawed how much tweaking and polishing is really required considering the fact that an editor is going to want to make changes once the manuscript is going through edits?

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28 Comments

  1. I think that a story can be good and flawed at the same time. There’s no such thing as perfection.

    I think that if the basic structure is well contructed, and the characters and plot are strong, they will shine through despite the flaws.

    A good editor must be able to recognize the jewel under the dull stone and know that all that’s needed is some polishing to reveal the story’s beauty.

    Reply
    • I like the way you said that, Cathy, about a good editor recognizing the jewel under the dull stone. Of course there is no such thing as perfection but it makes me wonder just how close to perfection our manuscripts must be.

      Reply
  2. When I first read the title to this post, I thought you were talking about men. :) Hah!

    But my answer is yes, of course you can love it and still find flaws. Nothing is ever perfect. The mystery series I’m addicted to right now has many flaws, but I still love it. Whenever it makes me roll my eyes too much, I take a brief break.

    I’ll always be able to find room for improvement in my own work, as well. Whenever you think your manuscript is perfect, let it sit for six months and go back to it. Or read it out loud to someone.

    It’s the flaws that give us character, right?

    Reply
    • LOL! Men..Now that’s a totally different blog post, Holli.

      I guess it’s a bit of a strange thing for me with the book I’m reading now. Usually when I like a book I don’t process the flaws. I do blame my own manuscript on that, at least in part.

      Reply
  3. Storyteller makes a good point. Men are flawed, yet women love them. :-)

    If you enjoy the story, nothing else matters.

    As writers, we train ourselves to spot things that reader who are non-writers would seldom see.

    Reply
    • I do think the over all story is what matters in the end. I personally don’t like picking someone’s work apart and being critical of their work. Yet we all do it from time to time.

      Reply
  4. Absolutely! This is because there are so many elements to a book. You may love the storyline, but not care for the main character. Or maybe it’s only one aspect of the character or the story you don’t like. And maybe the story and characters are great, but the technical side lacks: word choice, syntax, flow.

    And I agree with Diana, readers gulp down things another writer might choke on.

    Reply
    • I guess it’s not realistic to think that we would absolutely love all aspects of a book. As you point out there are just so many elements to be considered. I’m sure readers don’t question these things and I guess maybe that’s a good thing.

      Reply
  5. There are no perfect people, or writers, so how could there be a perfect manuscript? At least one publisher must love it in spite of its flaws. Then the edits begin. As readers, we must love it enough to read it, in spite of its flaws.

    I think writers are pickier readers, because we are reading with a critical eye, looking through an editor’s eye. Blessings to you, Laura…

    Reply
    • And thank goodness publishers do love our work in spite of the flaws, or nothing would ever be published. Maybe sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to perfect something that can never be perfected.

      Reply
  6. The short answer to your question is “Yes!” I can think of very few manuscripts that haven’t been tweaked/polished before publication!

    Wendy

    Reply
  7. I think as writers we are much more critical readers. Since I have started writing more seriously, I tend to find more flaws in the novels I am reading. But like men, I still enjoy them, flaws and all. The story, characters and interesting settings are what really count for me. I love reading the classics and they certainly don’t follow the rules we follow today, but they are wonderful nevertheless. I am sure there are flaws in this comment but I hope it is OK.

    Reply
    • Thanks Darlene, I think you make a good point. I’m sure sometimes read a story with a critical eye, although I must say I don’t often do this. Sometimes I just want to let the story carry me away.

      Reply
  8. duke1959

     /  February 25, 2011

    Sure its possible to be both.

    Reply
  9. I also find some of the “magic” disappearing from a story after re-reading and editing it too many times without an objective eye.

    I think it would be almost impossible for a published person to not use their “technical eye” when reading a manuscript because they’ve been through the process themselves and can recognise probable ‘edits’.

    If it’s an “informal read for an opinion” maybe a person should just point out the things that don’t “jell” and let the writer decide what to do about it before sending it off for a formal edit? Then again, it also depends on why you were asked to read it in the first place.

    I’ve read a few books which would fit nicely in that “Too much of this and a little too much of that” and “It’s not a matter of not liking the character’s behaviour so much as it is a matter of believing their behaviour” categories. Lucky for writers reader tastes varies, else very few works will get published.

    Reply
    • I’m sure that is very true. If we were looking for the perfect book out there we’d probably find fewer books out there for us. I really don’t like to pick another writer’s published work apart. I certainly know I’m not perfect and just because I might see something that doesn’t jell for me that certainly doesn’t mean everyone would feel that way. We all have different tastes.

      Reply
  10. I so seldom read a book that I don’t secretly want to suggest improvements. Same with movies or television series. It starts off with a bang, you’re glued to it, then it just stops or suddenly sags, then bang it’s over. Other times it starts in the wrong place, picks up speed, really captures my attention, then it’s over and I’m thinking MORE please. There are so many facets to the whole process. It’s like when you buy the car of your dreams and within a week you’re wondering if it was built on a Friday because they missed a few spots. Or what about when you buy a pair of jeans and you think, if only they’d tucked it in a bit at the back, then the jeans would be perfect.

    Fixing is my biggest problem. I never know when to say STOP. I’m so sure I could make it better. That’s why I don’t dare read Broken But Not Dead after it’s published because I’m sure to find a few places that should have been tweaked. You can drive yourself crazy over this stuff.

    Reply
    • Don’t you read your work after it’s published, Joylene? That’s the first thing I always do, I can’t help myself. But once it’s published I know it’s too late to change anything so I just try to read it for my own enjoyment..You know, those “basking in our own accomplishments” moments.

      Reply
  11. I try NOT to critique mentally when reading, I do enough of that with my own work & prefer to escape into a book (or ebook) for entertainment & forget about everything else. I read pretty fast (100 – 150 pages per hour when I’m not distracted) so that helps. Good & flawed is okay – to a degree. I should point out that I have, despite being a man, zero flaws. You can ask my wonderful wife.

    Reply
    • Well Dave, since Deb’s not here defending you in your perfection, we’re just going to have to take your word for it. And I’m pretty sure at this point YOU wouldn’t ever stretch the truth. ;)

      Reply
  12. One has to admire a man with zero flaws, as rare as the manuscript with none, I’m sure. ;)

    I would say YES to your question, Laura. A manuscript can be good and flawed at the same time, in my inexperienced opinion. And I would add that the more I write the more I see the flaws or places that I would like to see written a different way in books I read.

    Reply
    • Yes Lynn, a man with zero flaws should definitely be admired and perhaps written about so that many, many people might come to the revelation that perfection is not an impossibility. ;)

      Reply
  13. I feel less than perfect today, staggering around under the influence of the Ativan taken for a morning dental appointment… and nerves still shaky from the process of getting a crown affixed on one side, and preparations done on the other side for another crown. Yuck! I’m still groggy but have put together the ingredients for homemade chicken soup which I hope will settle my tummy butterflies once and for all. Except that the soup won’t be perfect either. I added a can of turkey to it instead of a can of chicken. But it will still be warm, easy to sip comfort food and I’ll appreciate it.

    Reply
  14. I don’t think any book is perfect. But as I blogged earlier this week, there’s a point where you have to stop revising and say, this is as good as I can make it right now.

    Reply
    • Hi Peggy. Welcome to my blog :)

      Resisting the urge to over revise is a trap that we sometimes fall into. But I’ve definitely come to realize that we certainly can over revise. At some point we have to be ready to move on or else we could stay stuck revising the same work for an eternity.

      Reply

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