Contradictory critiques: what do you believe?

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”~Herman Melville, American author

Recent feedback for my Star trek MomMemoir is full of inconsistent whimsy.

I gave myself permission to do 4 edits on my short story of my journey with my mother through the love of Star Trek from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. It’s already published on Amazon, my response to the 8-hour eBook challenge, but now I’m giving it a complete revamp. I’m changing it so much that it requires a new ISBN, and I have plenty of those.

I completed three MomMemoir edits in 10 days, and then my mind blew up. I couldn’t look at it objectively anymore. I had to set it aside. During those 10 days, I took 5-page chunks to my Montclair Memoir 1 critique group. I might as well make the best use of my brain downtime to get additional feedback. Yesterday, I took the Grand Canyon part, which is the segment I have worked least on. The feedback I’m receiving is…fascinating. And contradictory. I feel that some people completely reversed earlier decisions on what elements and details are important. Two points stuck out to me.

The first is about time reference. I rewrote the Grand Canyon part based on earlier feedback that I need to explain references to things in the past that are no longer standard or relevant today. It is a form of dating the piece, but it puts the once-common experiences into context for the readers. Think about the phrase, “Back when I was a child…”

This is the part members commented on:

I had looked online to determine and find the time of sunset. Counting backwards, I planned when to leave do we’d have time

I had a map from AAA and directions I printed from the MapQuest website. There was no GPS then, at least nothing common, and I only had a flip phone recently from work to replace my beeper from work. Mom and I had to do it old school: read words off a piece of paper and hope the website had everything current and labeled correctly.

Back in the opening pages, people recommended I explain how movie-going experience in the 80s and 90s differs from the experience in 2017. Today, one-screen theaters are rare or called art houses. Back then, the word “multiplex” didn’t exist. Common events were “sneak previews” and “re-releases.” Not knowing those terms tripped people up.

I kept that in mind for this Grand Canyon rewrite. Who uses paper maps anymore? Do you know what a TripTik is? Back then, that’s what you had, and the few websites that provided directions were gold.

Some people said the GPS part “got in the way of” my interactions with Mom, and that is the focus of this section. However, if I just wrote “I pulled out the AAA TripTik,” todays readers might wonder why I bothered with whatever that is and simply used the GPS on my phone or in the car.

So which is it? Explain out-of-date details or don’t give background?

Another question to ask myself: “Is it relevant?”

The second issue that annoyed me was dialogue. In an earlier piece, I needed more dialogue between me and Mom to get aa sense of our dynamics. Talk don’t tell. Show me the dialogue. With that advice in mind, I added more in:

Mom was reclined on the couch watching TV, remote beside her. She was still in her Star Trek clothes and looked so content. I was not about to share my near-death experiences with her.

“Oh, it was fine,” I said. “Walked around. It’s really bright there, a big crowd, it’s best that you didn’t come along.” Not that Mom and I would have walked back to the hotel anyway, but still. You wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as the shuttle bus ride.”

I sat on my bed and tossed my tennis shoes in the corner. My breathing slowed to normal. It really wasn’t that late, maybe 8 pm, but the darkness of that road made it feel like middle of the night.

“Have you had dinner? Want to order room service?”

“Oh, that sounds wonderful,” Mom said. She pushed herself off the couch and walked over to the small desk where the menu was. “I was hoping we’d do that.”

As we ate at that small desk, Mom asked, “What are we going to do tomorrow?”

“Let’s talk about that after breakfast.”

The strongest feedback I received from that was: “Most of that dialogue is conversation. It’s too banal.”

Dialogue should move the plot along, but this part was intended to pause readers, to allow them to catch their breath as I did after my near-death experience. I planned it to downplay what I tell Mom, to demonstrate how kids like me often disguise and downplay danger to protect their parents from worrying, and to bridge the gap between tonight and tomorrow morning rather than just waking up. Apparently, none of that worked.

The feedback came without members actually reading that near-death experience. This dialogue, therefore, might not work as a stand-alone piece, but since I reference the near-death event in that first paragraph, it shouldn’t matter.

People referred to a later sentence in this piece–“No, Mom, we don’t have time.”–as a stronger show of personality. They said that line moved them forward, yet I feel it is repetitious given my action at that moment. Repetition can work when done well, or repetition can simply tell what you’ve already said or shown.

So which is it? Dialogue or no dialogue?

Another question to ask myself: “Should I tighten it to a shorter exchange, focusing on where I begin and end?”

What would you do?

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