Can’t see the story for the words – a warning against personal bias

What is the hardest part about writing a story? Character development? Creating a fictional scenario so real the reader can easily suspend disbelief? Writing a coherent story line?

I would say none of those.

The hardest part for an author, when it comes to writing a story, is getting past our own personal bias. Writing a story, be it a short story, novella, or a full blown novel, is an intensely personal experience. To create a story, the author has to live, at least during the time of writing, in that fake world. We have to see the characters as if they were our friends, acquaintances and enemies. We have to envision the world we create as if it is the world around us.

It is for that reason a bias comes into play.

For an author, the story we create, even those stories that are widely panned, is a living, breathing creation. It is part of who we are when we write it. We get anxious at parts, elated at scenarios, almost depressed at happenings; because of that, we tend to think the story we have created is amazing and wonderful and incredible.

Yes, some stories end abruptly. I have written tens of stories that never got past twenty pages. I couldn’t believe what I was writing with some. Others, I didn’t care about the characters; but for those stories that get into the hundreds of pages…Those stories take on a life of their own, and it’s a life I (and other authors who get to that point) want to believe is amazing and will find a treasured place in the hearts of those who read it.

Therefore, when it comes time to polishing and editing, just to the point it is good enough for a professional editor or agent to look at, we are fighting an uphill battle against a fearsome adversary. That adversary being: personal bias.

We read the book through. Then read it again. Then again. And again. Each time, trying to tell ourselves to be outside the box. Look at it from the perspective of a person who has never heard of any part of the story. To be frank and honest, it is damn near impossible.

It is the multiple readings that cement in our mind the story is wonderful, if only I could add just another scene here, tweak a scene there, it will be wonderful! Thus, we get to the point we can’t see the story for the words.

Talking from personal experience, I recently completed a story I thought was great. I didn’t think it was wonderful and that should have thrown a red flag, but it didn’t, because at over 400 pages I was too invested in the work. I read the book multiple times, each time telling myself another reason why I enjoyed the book.

“It’s fast paced.” “It’s easy to read.” “People don’t like complicated story lines.” “People want simple stories to follow.”

Multiple reasons I gave myself why the book is great, all because of the bias I had towards my work. As I look back on it, I realize I should have threw up my hands and relegated the story to the folder “Stories that will never see the light of day”. Hindsight is 20-20 right?

I actually gave the story to my agent. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason why the story didn’t work, it just didn’t. I got all uptight when he told me that. He must be wrong, I told myself, even though he has a penchant for picking stories that sell a lot of books. So I went on Goodreads ready to find some readers for the story and…I couldn’t think up a summary for the book. I have a detailed synopsis, but I couldn’t condense it down to a few paragraphs. I tried for a week, and couldn’t get more than one word written down. It was then I realized my personal bias prevented me from actually seeing what I wrote.

I learned a great lesson from this. If you are writing a story and have to tell yourself multiple reasons for why it is good enough to be published, it is not good enough to be published. A story you believe in, needs no reasons (excuses) for why it’s great. You just know it is.

I felt that way with ANDROID HUNTERS, and I still do. I can honestly say, I have never once told myself a reason for why ANDROID HUNTERS is a great story. I know it is. I know without a doubt it’s a wonderful story and the series is going to be phenomenal. I just know it. I don’t need to tell myself it is because of reasons x,y, and z. I love the universe I have created, the story I have written, and I find it is a joy to write.

So to all of those who are writing their first story. To all those who have written many and are writing a new one:

If you have to give yourself reasons why your work should be published, and find yourself concocting new reasons nearly every day…Well, I guess now is a good time to shelve that story and move onto something else, personal bias be damned.




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