No longer can you meander along at your own pace, letting your story take shape as it will; you’re on a contract now, and you have deadlines – you know, those things that Douglas Adams loved for the whooshing noise they made as they flew by. People are Counting On You.
So you deliver the script, and in due course a book happens and is launched upon the world, and feedback starts to come in. This is not nearly so daunting as it was for your precious-baby debut, but is oftentimes more perplexing.
For instance, you get the reader who adored your first book, but is lukewarm about the second one. It isn’t anything to do with the prose, they say, or the plot, or even middle-book-in-a-series-itis. It’s more that you took their beloved characters and put them through the wringer, and they came out the other side a different shape. You broadened the scope of the story, so it wasn’t so tightly focused on one individual, and these other characters are now perceived as some kind of distraction from the main event. Even though the reader doesn’t actually say it in so many words, you can’t help but feel that they’re not so keen on Book 2 because it wasn’t the first book all over again.
I can understand where they’re coming from. I’m a reader too, and I know what it’s like to fall in love with a character, to gasp when they get hurt and swoon when they fall in love, then cheer them on from the rooftops as they go into battle. But the thing is, if you put someone through a life-changing event, they will not be the same on the other side. They can’t be, because that’s kind of what ‘life-changing’ means.
Maybe they’ll have been improved by the experience, transformed; maybe it’s unlocked reserves of courage or self-reliance they never knew they possessed. Or maybe they’ll come out of it broken in ways they can barely articulate. Either way, the event has left its mark on them, for good or ill.
But I also understand that whilst some authors have made very nice careers out of basically writing the same book umpteen times, just with different names in, I am not one of those authors. My books are driven by the characters, not by plot, and that means those characters have to grow and change on their journey through a story. Sometimes that growth only comes as a result of taking them into dark places to find out what makes them shine.
And if my characters aren’t growing as a result of what they’ve seen and done, then I’m not doing my job properly.
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