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I've joined an on line critique group and recently been running quite a bit of my writing through for review.
Interestingly enough, I just got a critique back on The Trial and it was almost like my critiquer had just finished reading Genre Elements. One of their criticisms revolved around the level of passivity that Va'del displays at certain times during the story, and how atypical it was for the genre, and then proceeded to give examples.
They specifically talked about Harry Potter and the way that the kids were always impacting the course of their lives, and it caused me to really pause, especially once I realized how close it was to some of the things I've said myself in Behind the Curtain.
In the end, I decided that I was largely ok. Oh, I'll go back and see if I can spice things up here and there, but actually my target audience wasn't quite as young as what my reviewer was thinking they were, and that makes more difference than you might think.
I think that it would be very difficult to write a children or early YA book that didn't have the children in the story taking an active hand in their fate, but something changes as we get older.
Once you're writing for adults or even late teens it seems like they are much more willing to accept the idea that sometimes there just isn't anything that can be done to change your circumstances. I think that Glen Cook's first book in the Black Company is a good example of that. The book is a remarkable example in that it resolves around common soldiers who really don't have the power to shape the momentous events around them.
What is it about us that changes so drastically in the span of just a few years? We go from optimistically believing the sky is the limit, to becoming the voices of the adults telling our favorite characters to just be satisfied with the hand we've been dealt.
Is it that we just don't know enough when we're young to really appreciate how the world works? Maybe a host of small and large disappointments poison us by the time we're adults? I find it interesting that during our youth, the time we're least able to truly impact our surroundings, we're the most optimistic. Later, as adults, when we should be much more able to impact the course of our lives we seem much less willing to accept that responsibility for determining our direction.
Maybe it comes down to the fact that we're setting the foundation in our youth. We can't generally make immediate changes to our lives during those formative years, but by relatively small actions we can greatly impact our future station. A decade or two later we're starting to see the fruits of our earlier actions every thing changes. Maybe it's because of the sheer work we know would be involved in affecting a given change, or maybe it's that the promises and commitments we've made constrain us against certain actions.
There's actually a couple take aways for me as I've been putting this together. Firstly just how much we can change our situation if we truly want to. It may take years, it may take more hours of work than we even want to consider at the outset, and it may require giving up many things that we really like, but it's doable.
Secondly, I'm mentally going back over some of my characters. Some of them are very much on the pessimistic side of things with regards to their lives and I'm starting to wonder just how they got there. Believable characters tend to have reasons for why they do things, and the more of that you can fill in before you start writing the more three-dimensional they tend to be. You probably won't share all of that back story with your readers, but the fact that it exists will tend to help regardless.