You can consider this a case study in how a writer sometimes won’t get out of their own way.
I’d hit a rut with Jasper. The prologue and first chapter weren’t working for me and I couldn’t figure out why. Maybe I’d read over them so much they’d started to bore me. Or maybe there really was something wrong with them. But there were bits I couldn’t let go of.
The prologue started as a dream sequence. This was a controversial choice, and I knew it. We’ve all heard that you should never, never ever start a story with a dream. I challenge the “never” part, especially because nobody seemed to give me their own reason why we shouldn’t do it. In Jasper, I knew that Edward’s dream at the start of the story was important. That’s his call to action. That’s what motivates him to start down the path he takes. I couldn’t not leave it out. But how could I make it work well?
Critiquers still hated it. You can’t open with that, they said. You’re being too inflexible, they said. You’ll make the reader feel cheated. I had the feeling I’d walked into a tech support forum with a Windows-related question, and all the responses were “Buy a Mac.”
I did tweak it a little, and made the dream into a letter about the dream. It kept the content of the dream intact while while letting the reader know from the start that what they’re reading isn’t really happening. I hoped it would be a decent compromise, and early critiques seemed to confirm such. I grew to like it so much that letters became a recurring theme, and correspondence between the brothers heralded the start of each act in the story.
It still didn’t work. The problem lay in the retelling of the dream, but I didn’t want to see it. The dream was important, and god dammit I was going to make that dream work if it killed my MS! Except it nearly did kill the MS, and I didn’t want that either.
I toned down the dream. Made the letter more of a quick, casual letter and less like a synopsis of a father’s worst nightmare. It was shorter and much less graphic. And suddenly things fell into place.
This is one instance of where I feel “show, don’t tell” doesn’t apply; it works better to tell you children died in his dream than to replay it scene by scene. And Edward’s point shines through without the distraction of child executions. Now we know the dream disturbed him, and why. Now we know he’s feeling doubts.
This leads to more changes I’m happy to make because I know they’re for the better and they tackle issues I haven’t been able to tackle before.
Part of me is still coming to terms with the fact that this change was necessary. It’s the side of me that doesn’t like taking orders. But as much as I hate being subservient, especially to rules I don’t fully understand, it’s not a good idea to dig your heels in the sand and play the “artist” card who knows what she’s doing because this plot point is important.
I’m usually the first to say you can’t please everyone. If one person finds fault with your MS, it’s probably nothing to worry about. But if ten people find fault with it, it’s time to reconsider something. This is true even if you’re writing primarily for yourself. If you expose your work to a larger audience, particularly for their enjoyment, it’s wise to make it more palatable for them.