Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Same But Different

Catriona writes: I'm not here (again!) but that's  very good thing because instead of me, you get a real treat in the form of UK ex-cop, seasoned thriller writer and all-round good egg Matt Hilton.

The Same But Different

Oxymorons aside, I’ve come to realise after writing eleven books in my on-going Joe Hunter thriller series, that there’s a certain expectation from readers that each book should be the same…but different. By that I don’t mean conducting an exercise in cutting and pasting, changing a few names and locations here and there, but in that there should be familiar characters, themes and a similar level of explosive action they’ve come to expect from Hunter’s exploits. It stands to reason, I guess. Readers probably picked up the series because they enjoy the kind of characters, themes and explosive action promised by a Joe Hunter book, and stick with the subsequent books expecting more of the same. And being the scribe of Hunter’s adventures it’s my responsibility to ensure that my readers’ expectations are met. To which I try my hardest.

But the old adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time is true.

Joe Hunter is a British ex-counterterrorist soldier, who now works with his old military buddy, Jared “Rink” Rington’s PI outfit in the US. By his own admission, Hunter isn’t much of a detective, so usually takes on the role of bodyguard, fixer and even sometimes vigilante where necessary. By virtue his exploits tend to be hard and fast-paced, and often of an uncompromising variety. 

Over time I’ve taken to heart some of the negative criticism levied on Hunter (and me) and tried to redress the complaints sometimes aimed our way. To me it’s kind of obvious to what market the Hunter thrillers are aimed, and yet I still attract negative criticism from reviewers who perhaps are seeking tales a little more staid or cerebral. The books are action thrillers, and so they contain action – usually with a capital “A” – and quite often a high body count, and my writing is often accused of being over the top in this respect. So, being objective and sensitive to this feedback, in the last few books I’ve toned down the action somewhat, and even in the latest Hunter thriller (book 11) – No Safe Place – ensured that Hunter manages to get to the end of the book without killing anyone (although there’s still plenty of action). But here’s the rub. I’ve now attracted negative comments that Hunter isn’t the indomitable action man he once was. To new readers it doesn’t matter, they’ve enjoyed the book, but to some of my long time readers they’ve bemoaned what they perceive as a softening of the character.

Over the course of the eleven books (and various short stories) I’ve tried to give readers what they want from Hunter, and have thrown him into various situations wherein I can challenge him, and also allow him to grow as a character in readers’ affections. He has faced a serial killer, an international assassin, domestic terrorists and a drug cartel, but equally he has also been involved in “smaller scale” cases confronting small town corruption, a family of demented rapists, and even a black widow murderer. I’ve been conscious of tempering the series when I’ve felt it has grown overblown by inserting a smaller tale to bring it back down to earth again. We are all familiar with box office movie franchises that follow the pattern of trying to be bigger and brighter with each outing only to fall into the realms of the ludicrous, and it has been my aim not to allow that to happen to Hunter. In doing so though it does open up the series to criticism from those who want more and more bang for their bucks.

With this in mind, I’ve sat back and taken the criticism onboard, and come to a simple conclusion after asking myself a question: do I write for my faithful readers or my critics (who might very well never read another of my books any way)? There’s surely only one answer. Faithful readers all the way.

Except, therein lies the conundrum.

Obviously I want to engage new readers. If they have been attracted to the series by the tamer books, will some of them be dissatisfied by ones of a larger scale? I guess so. But then an equally large number of new readers might love reading something the same…but different.

So, if I can ask a question of my fellow authors and readers (I’m both after all), do you follow a series with a sense of expectation, where you feel confident that you’ll get your usual fix, or do you prefer to be surprised along the way by something slightly different from the norm?

The Devil’s Anvil (Joe Hunter 10) is available now in the USA from Down and Out Books, with No Safe Place (Joe Hunter 11) to be published in the USA November 2016


Unknown said...

Hi Matt. Thank you for talking about the problems of series and who to write for. I like stability in a series that I'm following, with a slow arc. I don't want the main characters' lives to develop too fast, because then they have to either die or get married and settle down, either way ending the hook. But I also want the protagonists to get somewhere, by degrees, and in a believable way. Maybe that kind of gradual change will attract new readers but keep your faithful on board?

Author said...

Hi RM, thanks for commenting. Yeah, you're right. It makes sense to evolve the characters and story arc by degrees, otherwise there's the danger of totally throwing off readers that have been there from the beginning of the series. But I also enjoy injecting something different into the mix so everything doesn't stay same-samey all the time. Sometimes it works, others, not so well. But I guess it's all a learning process and keeps me thinking rather than just turning out boiler plate or cookie cutter adventures all the time.

Kate Pilarcik ~ absolutely said...

Hey there, Matt Hilton

I dig the pulse pounding ACTION of a good Joe Hunter and find the answer to your Q somewhat of a blend . As reader and appreciator of good thriller writing, I naturally wish to be thrilled . . . so samey-samey indeed has to be thrown under the bus, train or other heavy machinery. We know Joe and Rink and know what they do and how they do it -- so when we come along AHA moments or new jolt to the forward action that you slipslide in, I sense we grow right along with characters known to us.

Now that's building readership in the prolifics of your output. And an author man who can push his oxymorons aside to let his conundrum vibrate, is a rough and tough crime fiction thriller author indeed.

~ suspense author Kate Pilarcik