Do you feel like they just don't get it?

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Meemossis

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OK, from the title I bet you're thinking "it's just what everyone else is going to think when they read your book".

Anyway here's my problem. My story is set in the present day. The MC is in her early twenties and is at university. After an inciting incident, she decides to go onto a seedy retro chat room to get her groove on with other like-minded patrons. There are reasons I chose a chatroom instead of discord, or Facebook, or even a phone app like tinder, and that's because she wants zero human interaction and complete anonymity. I didn't want anything that could link back to her, have strict rules about what she can or can't say in the chat, but most importantly, it doesn't ask for a picture. I've constantly written that the main character is a fan of 80s and 90s nostalgia, so the modern stuff doesn't appeal to her.

Now, I've sent my book to an editor that does free beta reading, and the first thing they said was "kids nowadays wouldn't use chat rooms."

Is it my problem that I haven't emphasised the reasons why I chose it. Or are all people going to make assumptions straight away, saying this is unbelievable? No woman in her early twenties would use something like that?
 

stephenf

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I find pople can't be trusted to read things as carefully as you might think . On the other hand , you can't blame the reader if your being misunderstood .It is something I have become aware of in my short stories. Some readers will pick up the wrong key words and carry it forward . I have neglected constructing good paragraphs that are written in a chain . It is a process of introducing the reader to ideas , before it arrives.
 

Lakey

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It sounds like an interesting bit of characterization — so why not use it as such? Have her think through the decision to use the chat room, think it through on the page, so that it’s clear why she’s doing it and adds to characterization.

Also — I used chat-rooms occasionally in 90s, and if I wanted to use one today I wouldn’t even know where to go to find one. So you can have her thinking through not wanting to use discord because X, not wanting to use Facebook because Y, but boy, one of those old-style chat-rooms would be perfect because Z. I wonder if they still exist...?

You could achieve all of this in as little as a sentence or two, and it would be material that does double duty (my favorite kind of material): enhancing characterization, while dispelling a doubt that readers might encounter.

:e2coffee:
 

Meemossis

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I've felt down all morning because of feedback from a beta.

I loved my book; it was juicy, funny, and has a fantastic sex scene (if I do say so myself). Then comes along a beta who poo-poos the whole premise of the book.

I even said to my husband, "What's the point? Should I just throw it on Amazon with a homemade cover and leave it as is?"

Lakey, you've restored my faith in my book and given me ideas to work with. You've made my day with your feedback.

Thank you. xxx
 

RaggyCat

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To me, it's not immediately intuitive why a woman of your MC's age would choose a chat room rather than another medium (even Facebook is old school these days to anyone under 35 going by everyone I know), so I can understand someone stumbling over it. However, so long as you make it absolutely clear that she makes a choice to seek a chat room out, I think you should be fine - especially if you signal that this choice says a lot about her as a person. This isn't a hard fix for you to write in, and should help the rest of the book stack up right.

Basically, this is a +1 to everything Lakey says. As a reader I'm willing to buy most things as long as I believe a character would do them.
 

Ari Meermans

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Google "Do chat rooms still exist?" or "Are chat rooms still popular?" I found that yes, they do and yes, they are. Check them out; see if there are any that match the vibe your MC is looking for. There's Omegle, for instance, which doesn't require registration and actually promotes anonymity.

Characterization is key—your characters should be as individual as people are and it's perfectly understandable and believable that your MC will have the quirk you are describing. It's all in characterization and it's possible your beta reader hit the same "huh?" moment I did in your brief description above where you stated your MC was looking for a chat room but didn't want any human interaction. Frankly, that bit is a head-scratcher for this reader.

When readers don't "get it" it's usually because the writer didn't do their job. It's very easy to fall into that trap because we know exactly what we're visualizing but don't quite translate that vision to the page in a universal or easily understandable way.
 

Meemossis

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They say to write what you know, and that's what I did. About 18 years ago, I used to go on one. Just before I started writing my book, I went back on to see if it was still there and it is--busier than ever.
 

lizmonster

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My kid is 15 and lives on Discord, but if she wanted complete anonymity and no interaction, she'd absolutely look for something else. The rationale you present for your character makes perfect sense to me. You might consider, given your beta's remark, if her rationale is present enough on the page - but if it's not, that's a super-easy fix.

Keep loving your book. :)
 

Ari Meermans

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Like most writerly advice catchphrases, "write what you know" is limiting and doesn't convey much substance. I'm not sure anyone knows what that's supposed to mean. Does it really mean only write about topics you know? If that were true, we'd all be one-note writers. Does it mean to write what you know or can find out? Probably better advice but still with only minimal substance. For me, the better advice is to write who you are (be authentic) and what you know or know to be so wrt human emotion. Everything else is research.
 

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First, there's a nomenclature thing going on.

If you mean a digital text-based synchronous shared space, yes, chat rooms still exist and are popular.

The very first such technology IRC is alive and well.

Google Hangout is being used as a chat room.

There are a few other technologies as well; and chat rooms are built into most of the Learning Management Systems or are available as an ad on; these are the special software suites used for online instruction. So college students entering today will likely sometimes use chatrooms for education as well entertainment/socializing.

But users and developers call the technology different things.

Zoom is essentially a chatroom; it just offers audio and video in addition to text.
 

Woollybear

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Now, I've sent my book to an editor that does free beta reading, and the first thing they said was "kids nowadays wouldn't use chat rooms."

Don't let this particular point get to you too much. Editors are invaluable and priceless, like beta readers, but they do occasionally say wrong things in my personal experience. They are not a guarantee of perfection, and they do not claim to be. I've paid several editors for help, two who were recommended here, and one recommended in DM off site, and the copy editor I hired after 'interviewing' seven on reedsy.

I could give you examples of some of the silliness that came back to me. I'm on the fence about doing so, because it feels a bit gossipy. But in brief, you will see comments that make you scratch your head. (On the plus side, you know the editor is giving you their truest opinion.) One editor was adamant I needed to make a particular itty-bitty change because everyone would misunderstand the thing otherwise. It was a bizarre suggestion to begin with, and strange that she was so insistent, and the many readers on the project had no issue with the point she had raised.

Part of getting critique is learning to evaluate the critique you are getting--which is what you are doing. Stick in the suggested edits, mentioned up thread. If they feel right the next time you read through, keep them.
 
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mccardey

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What did you send your piece to a beta for? For an honest opinion - for feedback. She read your book, gave you feedback. It doesn't matter if you think she's right or wrong - what she's given you (assuming you trusted her and that's why you put her to work for you) is a valuable indication of what one or some or many or most readers might think.

You can fix it or not - Lakey has already made the suggestion I'd have used - but it's not something to have a meltdown about. Nor is chucking a book as is up on Amazon because you got a bit of feedback you didn't like a respectful response.

Respect your betas. They're gold - and unless you're paying them, they're doing you a favour.
 

Lakey

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meemossis, I was just thinking about you and this thread, because I have been grappling with the opposite problem — I am working on a story about a teenager who is obsessed with a long dead 20th century author, and the feedback I got from critiquers is that my protagonist doesn’t use the internet as much as a real teenager would. Why would she comb used bookstores instead of just going on Amazon or eBay for copies of her obsession’s books? Why would she just read the Wikipedia page for biographical info about the author and stop there? No, she would find archived news articles, even interview clips on YouTube, she would do a deep internet dive. Kids today live on the internet.

The root cause of these problems is that I don’t know a damn thing about modern teenagers, so when I imagined the story, I imagined myself at my protagonist’s age, which would have been like 1989. It may turn out to be a story-destroying problem! I have tried to work in both more internet use and character-based reasons why my young protagonist would resist using the internet, and both have left the story dull, overworked, and flabby. It’s been pretty frustrating!

I hope your version of the problem has been easier to solve than mine.

:e2coffee:
 
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Meemossis

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I think I've overcome this problem by explaining myself better in my earlier chapters. I still don't know if it'll pass the beta test though, but I'm hopeful.

P.s. It was nice to know you were thinking about me.
 

aceafer

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meemossis, I was just thinking about you and this thread, because I have been grappling with the opposite problem — I am working on a story about a teenager who is obsessed with a long dead 20th century author, and the feedback I got from critiquers is that my protagonist doesn’t use the internet as much as a real teenager would. Why would she comb used bookstores instead of just going on Amazon or eBay for copies of her obsession’s books? Why would she just read the Wikipedia page for biographical info about the author and stop there? No, she would find archived news articles, even interview clips on YouTube, she would do a deep internet dive. Kids today live on the internet.

The root cause of these problems is that I don’t know a damn thing about modern teenagers, so when I imagined the story, I imagined myself at my protagonist’s age, which would have been like 1989. It may turn out to be a story-destroying problem! I have tried to work in both more internet use and character-based reasons why my young protagonist would resist using the internet, and both have left the story dull, overworked, and flabby. It’s been pretty frustrating!

I hope your version of the problem has been easier to solve than mine.

:e2coffee:

Lakey, could she live somewhere with a bad internet connection? I have friends who are barely online because the internet coverage is so spotty that there's very little point!
 

Chris P

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I just bumped into this thread for the first time.

In the most general terms, we need to balance our characters versus what the reader expects from a character. This brings to mind the "No True Scotsman" fallacy, which says that what a character says or does cannot ever be inconsistent with some idealized notion of how that character would act ("No true Scotsman would EVER say/do/think. . ."). There is some truth to this; get too far away and the character isn't believable. However, all of us, and the characters we create, are individuals and have our own reasons for not complying with the dominant narrative.

The difference is in how we describe them. Taking myself as an example of a middle-aged male American character, I am no longer on Facebook, and I tell people it's because it was making me mean. "I don't want what might have been my last words to that person to be those." That's a believable deviation. Now, if I had said I never had a Facebook account, that might still be believable if I had a more substantial reason. If I had said I had never heard of Facebook and didn't know what it was, that would be too big a stretch short of an exceptional reason (raised in anti-tech commune, etc.).

It sounds like you reached a resolution to this, however. Great! :)
 

Lakey

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I just bumped into this thread for the first time.

In the most general terms, we need to balance our characters versus what the reader expects from a character. This brings to mind the "No True Scotsman" fallacy, which says that what a character says or does cannot ever be inconsistent with some idealized notion of how that character would act ("No true Scotsman would EVER say/do/think. . ."). There is some truth to this; get too far away and the character isn't believable. However, all of us, and the characters we create, are individuals and have our own reasons for not complying with the dominant narrative.

Just to make explicit what was implied in your paragraph about your own use or non-use of Facebook: As an author you have to know what your characters' reasons are for not conforming to their type(s - most people fit into more than one typical category), and you have to know when to make those reasons clear to the reader. Of course our protagonists should be rounded, and not merely cut-out instances of this type or that. But when a character conforms to a type in some ways, and then deviates from it in a significant way, you have to address the deviation. It's not enough to say in your head "well my character is well rounded; she is not merely a type." If your readers will in any way react with surprise that a person of that apparent type is doing whatever it is you show them doing, you have to acknowledge the surprise. Sometimes a half line of dialogue is all it takes! Other times the story behind the deviation is enough to take over the main story, which is what is happening with my teenager protagonist.

aceafer said:
Lakey, could she live somewhere with a bad internet connection? I have friends who are barely online because the internet coverage is so spotty that there's very little point!
Thanks for this interesting suggestion. I don't think it would work for a number of other reasons, among them because she does need access to some information about her obsession. But more than that -- if I tried it, it would raise more questions of the kind I am talking about above. If I tried this, the character would have to be, in a whole host of ways, believable as the kind of person who grows up in an area where there is no internet coverage. I think that would be an even harder problem to solve (for me, personally).

:e2coffee:
 
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TrapperViper

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I've felt down all morning because of feedback from a beta.


Lakey, you've restored my faith in my book and given me ideas to work with. You've made my day with your feedback.

Thank you. xxx

She does do that often.

It sounds like an interesting bit of characterization — so why not use it as such? Have her think through the decision to use the chat room, think it through on the page, so that it’s clear why she’s doing it and adds to characterization.

Also — I used chat-rooms occasionally in 90s, and if I wanted to use one today I wouldn’t even know where to go to find one. So you can have her thinking through not wanting to use discord because X, not wanting to use Facebook because Y, but boy, one of those old-style chat-rooms would be perfect because Z. I wonder if they still exist...?

You could achieve all of this in as little as a sentence or two, and it would be material that does double duty (my favorite kind of material): enhancing characterization, while dispelling a doubt that readers might encounter.

+1
 

TrapperViper

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meemossis, I was just thinking about you and this thread, because I have been grappling with the opposite problem — I am working on a story about a teenager who is obsessed with a long dead 20th century author, and the feedback I got from critiquers is that my protagonist doesn’t use the internet as much as a real teenager would. Why would she comb used bookstores instead of just going on Amazon or eBay for copies of her obsession’s books? Why would she just read the Wikipedia page for biographical info about the author and stop there? No, she would find archived news articles, even interview clips on YouTube, she would do a deep internet dive. Kids today live on the internet.

The root cause of these problems is that I don’t know a damn thing about modern teenagers, so when I imagined the story, I imagined myself at my protagonist’s age, which would have been like 1989. It may turn out to be a story-destroying problem! I have tried to work in both more internet use and character-based reasons why my young protagonist would resist using the internet, and both have left the story dull, overworked, and flabby. It’s been pretty frustrating!

I hope your version of the problem has been easier to solve than mine.

:e2coffee:

Is it possible your protagonist's parents would very much disapprove of the author your protagonist is obsessed with? If that were the case, perhaps your protagonist is very afraid of her parents searching through her internet history. Maybe they have done so in the past and they have all the software that tracks everything your character does online. Just a thought...
 

Lakey

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Is it possible your protagonist's parents would very much disapprove of the author your protagonist is obsessed with? If that were the case, perhaps your protagonist is very afraid of her parents searching through her internet history. Maybe they have done so in the past and they have all the software that tracks everything your character does online. Just a thought...

Thanks. I should have made it clear that I am not looking for suggested solutions to this problem at this time. I know what my character's reasons are for resisting using the internet in this case. Those reasons actually fit rather well with the themes of the story and my character's arc. It just turns out to be rather difficult to write, that's all. But I'm really not looking for different reasons at this point, though I do appreciate the effort of making suggestions.

It goes to what I said in response to ChrisP, above. Sometimes a line or two of dialogue is enough to motivate a character's atypical choices. Other times, the atypical behavior gets at something much deeper, that affects the story at its core.

:e2coffee:
 
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