Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writerly Growth Arc

Writing a series is an evolving relationship with readers. I see the first book as a trial balloon—like a first date. I'm getting to know Clare, and so are readers.

Writing is also a profession that allows for endless growth. I think even the great writers die before they figure it out completely. How to express things just how they see them. It's an impossible goal, and the pursuit is where we find pleasure.

I'm three books and four years into my writing career. Here's what I've seen so far.

What readers liked from the beginning...

They enjoy my short chapters and quick pace. They like that I use multiple points of view, four or five per book, and switch the POV at each chapter break.

They tell me they have fun reading, that they keep turning pages even after they'd like to be in bed.

They like the dialogue. A lot of readers say they laugh out loud at my sarcasm, which I like to hear.

What readers have asked for that I've given them...

More Clare. In Dead Politician Society, maybe because I didn't realize I was writing a series when I started, Clare got equal air time as the rest of the characters. Going forward to books 2 and 3, Clare has taken close to half the chapters and the other POV characters have shared the rest.

Less swearing. Maybe this is just because I'm getting older and the second word out of my mouth isn't “fuck” anymore. But I've listened to some readers who have said they don't mind how bad language gets but they felt in my case it was gratuitous. So I still use foul language all over the map (personal preference—I just like it) but I choose my moments more carefully than I used to.

More setting. I tend to skip setting when I'm reading, so I used to leave it out. Then I realized I only skip setting when it's overdrawn or takes up entire paragraphs of its own: I love to see a space when it's in the context of character development or plot furthering. So I've learned, with huge help from my editor, how to let a reader see more visuals without slowing down the story's pace.

More internal monologue. When I started writing I took the saying “Show, don't tell” a bit too literally. I thought I had to show the entire story in action, as if my novel was a movie. But a novel isn't a movie, and in Death's Last Run I added a fair amount of internal monologue that I think enriches each character without slowing the story down.

Direction I still hope to grow...

I want to get deeper, more honest and raw and real with each book I write. This is a largely internal process. It's about (a) getting in touch with my own emotions and (b) being comfortable sharing them. The books I love to read are the ones where I'm reading along, thinking Oh yeah. God, I feel that way too but I've never put words to it before.

I think that the best books of all are the ones that come from very, very deep inside the writer. So deep that they're tapping into the collective unconscious, and that's what truly resonates with readers.

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