I'll preface this post by sharing with you, dear readers, that my day job is in student services at a large university. If I wanted to I could probably go all anonymous and write a snarky blog about the stuff I run into on a daily basis. Suffice to say, answering dozens of student (and faculty) emails and phone calls a day led me to the following conclusion: There are no stupid questions. But there are questions that will get you laughed at in the staff room.
This is related to writing. Stick with me. Promise.
When I get a question that is particularly ludicrous--something so bizarre that I can't even imagine how they thought of it or why they assumed I'd have any clue whether the Universtiy of Galaxy Galgamex7 has a course equivalent to A502, which they don't need for their major, but could it be substituted if, in fact, the Universtiy of Galaxy Galgamex7 does offer an equivalent course, and would it matter if the course is taught by a fruit bat (but if they could harness that imagination they'd write some damn good books)--I have a facial expression that I try to control, but it usually slips through.
I call it the Confused Puppy.
You know, that expression that dogs get when they have no clue what's going on? Kind of a slight head tilt and a wrinkle in the forehead, between the eyes? One eye probably raising a bit from the other?
The Confused Puppy.
But writing? I keep the Confused Puppy in mind. The reader should never do Confused Puppy while digging into your book. Your query letter shouldn't induce a head tilt. Your opening chapter should be captivating, not result in a wrinkled brow. I know what the heck I'm talking about, but I have to remember--nobody else does.
So--step back, whenever is good for you, whether it's during drafting or at that first revision or a few times in edits, and pretend you know nothing about your characters, your world, your story. If you do Confused Puppy, it's time for changes.
Better yet, get yourself a beta reader--if your guinea pig does Confused Puppy, you're not only in danger of cross-species mixed metaphors, you've got some revision to do.