Authors, who are usually as human as the rest of us, are as prone to mistakes and insecurity as the rest of us. That said, sometimes authors worry about creative decisions when it comes to their stories. We’ll look at a scene, or a character, or even a whole plot, and think to ourselves, “Is that the right thing to do here? Should maybe we change it?”

We end up second-guessing ourselves.

Actually, some pretty famous names have second-guessed their creative decisions in the past. JK Rowling went back on her decision to have Hermione end up with Ron in Harry Potter, and that Harry might’ve been a better match for her, which still has the fandom in a tizzy (personally, I still ship Harry and Cho and wonder what could’ve happened if they’d actually gone to the Yule Ball together). Stephen King has expressed regret of ever writing the novel Rage, which has been connected with several incidents of gun violence (I’d still like to read it someday). And Anne Rice has actually said she’s not proud of the crossover novels she’s written with her vampires and witches.

And they’re just a few among many.

I’ve been having this problem at a lot of points in Rose, including last night. I’d just finished editing the latest chapter (only nine more to go!), adding over a thousand words of material while I’m at it, and I find myself thinking, “Wow, there’s a lot of just high-tension moments here. Very little time where the readers and the protagonist can just take a moment and breathe. This whole chapter, it’s just boom! Boom! Boom! One thing after another. I wonder if that’s maybe too much excitement in the story. Maybe I should add some more quiet moments, where we can explore the characters?” And then I find myself arguing back that plenty of great horror movies and novels, such as Annabelle: Creation and Gerald’s Game, that are like this, where there’s very little breathing room and just one thing after another of scares and high-tension scenes. And there are scenes that are “quieter:” they are usually exploring the protagonist’s past, which is a mystery to even her. They’re not moments like in It, where the main characters are just building a dam or something, but they’re slightly calmer and do develop the characters a bit more when they happen.

This argument went back and forth in my head even after I went to sleep, making for some interesting dreams.

But it’s not just this whole “are things too exciting?” issue that’s got me second-guessing. I think I’ve mentioned before that there are scenes in Rose that I would like to expand. Most of these are in the final third of the book, and one particular scene, a flashback scene, has me wondering if I’m making the right decision in what I want to do with it. On the one hand, there are about a hundred ways I can push the envelope with it, and I’ve already set up in previous chapters clues that point to the importance of this scene. But at the same time, if I were to push the envelope on this scene in some ways, it might be indulging in certain cliches I prefer to use sparingly at best. Also, I worry that if I were to go in those directions, it might actually take away from the main reason for this scene rather than reinforce it for the audience. It’s something I’ve been worrying about since well before I started this draft of the novel.

So yeah, authors do a lot of second-guessing. And it can cause a lot of headaches, anxiety, confusion, and the occasional burst of anger. Is there any solution for when this happens?

Not really. Yeah, I usually have solutions for stuff like this, but I think it varies on situations and stories and authors. I think every author will second-guess themselves at several points in their careers, sometimes during the writing, sometimes before, a few times after. And sometimes solutions will present themselves. While writing this post, I’ve figured out one of the problems I’ve been second-guessing in this post, which I honestly didn’t expect.

Honestly, I guess the best advice I can give is to try one way. If you don’t like it, try another if the opportunity is available. If you’re still unsure, let beta readers give you some much needed feedback. That’s what they’re there for.

Honestly, I’m probably going to encounter this issue throughout my writing career. I’m second-guessing some possible routes for a novel I haven’t even written yet, if you can believe it. And if you’re a writer, you’ll probably going to deal with it too throughout your career. All I can say is, you may argue with yourself plenty. You may have to try more than one way to write the same story so as to see what works. But eventually, hopefully, you’ll work through it, and come up with something great.

And if not, there’s always a chance that people will still like who the characters end up with (I hear Harry and Ginny are great spouses and parents. Especially if you don’t read/see the play. Also, Ron and Hermione’s storyline actually mirrors a lot of anime couples, so I guess if it works in those shows, why not?).

What are your experiences with second guessing? Any tips for fixing this problem?

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Comments
  1. I’d wait until you’re finished and rereading it as a whole to see if the pacing is right or not. I know I make adjustments at that phase a lot of the time because things seem soooooo slow as I am writing (especially if I am doing it slowly) or re-writing, and later I am surprised how fast it moves.

    But yeah, I second guess pretty much everything except my short stories. Okay. No. Even my short stories. In the end I whine and ask my mom and brother “was it okay? was it boring?” then leave it as it is and agonize forever. i still get anxiety when someone says they’re reading Shades of Gray (which has been out since 2009) because I have a second guessing routine with it (even though I have reread it a couple years ago and was surprised how much I enjoyed it – having forgotten a lot of it, ha ha! Though I liked the second book even better, which is weird because I am in such a habit of being embarrassed by it because it was the one that got the most bad reviews. So it is a weird paradox). The only second guessing advice I can think of is to ask someone you really trust. If you’re like me, though it will never help. (I hope you’re not, btw! It’s horrible!)

  2. Roger says:

    Some people have said my novels are like travelogues because I can’t let my characters sit still. But then their individual predicaments won’t allow them to sit around. I usually wait until it’s all done, take a few weeks off and then see if there’s just too much/not enough action here or there and come to a final decision. My wonderful beta readers usually put me straight. I always ask them not to be nice but truthful.

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