This is a comparative post about two different story lines and how they would best be served, the feedback I received on writing my last novel and the feedback I have received on writing my current novel (s). Therein lays the dilemma.
I will try not to ramble. These are thoughts floating around in my head, so they may come out a bit disorganized. My head is like that.
If you have read “Red Clay and Roses” this will make much more sense to you, but you should be able to follow the idea even if you have not. “Red Clay and Roses” really turned out to be a family saga. It was; however forced into one book which covered a long time period. Being a fictionalized true story presented challenges. I did not want to deviate tremendously from what actually occurred.
Not setting out to write a novel, I wrote the book the way the events actually happened:
The Introduction: In 2012, Hannah recalling finding the ledger in 1992.
Part One: The interviews of interesting people involved in what occurred in the 1950s and 60s that took place in 1992-93 when Hannah found the ledger.
Part Two: Followed that with the story learned from Sybil, a cousin of Hannah’s who was deeply enmeshed with ledger and those people involved in the 1950s and 60s. This story that was gleaned from her diaries was put together in novel form rather than as diary entries.
Then, the conclusion, again in 2012, was derived from Hannah’s personal experience in bringing her lost family members together after so many years.
The problem here is that Hannah is a main character, but is not even born until 1960. She should have never been a main character. In fact, she might not have been involved at all until 2012 when she pulls the strands of the family together in a most hopeful outcome.
I struggled with determining main characters from the get go. Whose perspective did I want this book written in? I wrote it in Hannah’s because that was the perspective that I could most personally relate to. Part One ended up being written in first person and Part Two was written in third person. We go back to first person in the conclusion.
While the family saga played out nicely as a story line, the writing styles were fucked up. They muttled the story line making things somewhat confusing to follow. There was an enormous amount of ground to cover as cohesively as possible from 1953 to 2012. The back story derived from the interviews, which I read two opposing viewpoints on just today, could have easily been used for character development. The story could have started in 1953, culminated in 1971, with the finale in 2012. Instead, I have these two characters, Moses Grier and Ms. Bea, the good doctor’s wife, ancillary characters actually, relating events that occurred in their lives in the 1930s and 1940s. How fucked up is that?
So, the severe critique that I received recently has me thinking about the main character’s importance. I used the good doctor as an ancillary character, when he could have very well been the main character. I don’t know if I would have done a trilogy as the critique suggested, but approaching the story from that angle could have certainly simplified much of the story. There would have been a lot less unnecessary information, and the other characters would have been strengthened in their roles as they related to him.
Okay, this is all hindsight. I won’t be re-writing this story. I have no plans to turn it into a trilogy. But the critique has me thing about my current work.
“Red Clay and Roses” is a very good book, if you have the intelligence to process the purpose of Ms. Bea’s psychosis into how it relates to the storyline, and Moses’ grief and how it relates to the story line. Covering such a long time span from 1953-1971 in the bulk of the story was an enormous amount of information in a 445 page book. The pace was good and there was a lot of action (certainly not the kind that has flying unicorns with stars shooting out of their rainbow colored wing tips). It is a deeply reflective story, powerful and thought provoking.
I can’t expect all readers to have that sort of mind. Especially with all of the simplistic formulaic “book mill” material people are producing and reading these days, both traditional and independent. True literature is fast becoming a dead horse. People don’t want to think deeply, they want TV action.
I am; however, looking at my current work in progress and trying to assure I don’t make similar mistakes with the character development. I am also trying to decide if I need to do this as one book or; perhaps, a trilogy.
I feel a need to say something here: I don’t write, nor do I plan to write mainstream genre fiction!
SEROIUSLY, IF YOU BELIEVE THAT EVERY WRITER ASPIRES TO BE TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED YOU ARE WRONG!
While there are many traditionally published books that I love, there are also many independently published books that I love. There are traditionally published books that I have laid down and could not finish and there are independently published books that I have set aside. I don’t feel that traditional is synonymous with quality. I also don’t feel that traditional publishing is synonymous with success. I have known many amazing and talented musicians who never cut a recording deal. Does that make them any less talented or amazing?
There is a lot wrong with traditional publishing in my opinion. It has become far too formulaic and genre specific for marketing purposes. It has become a commercial industry losing its value in the area of creativity. Industry standards govern production to a point where authors are telling authors what is right or wrong about their product based on genre specific sales data, rather than literary merit. I don’t mean helpful writing advice or suggestions, but how to make it fit into a marketable box. The tired, but tried and true, heroes and heroines with their happy endings in romance, and the criminals/villains with no color captured by the enterprisingly clever crime fighters bore me to tears. But they sell tons.
Are you trying to write an overnight marketable product or are you trying to develop great literature? Truly great literature, like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, Anne Rice and John Grisham, Tolkien and Rowling started as something much smaller than a best seller. There are many pieces of great literature that are only one book. Here are ten popular books by authors who never wrote more than one book:
Maybe I am in this thing for the wrong reasons. I don’t have a writing career objective.
I write with passion for the pure pleasure of writing.
I read volumes of historical fiction. I like learning about different time periods while I read. The stories are varied and colorful and often have unpredictable outcomes. My husband reads volumes of crime novels. He can always predict the outcome, but he has gotten bored with the traditionally published novels. He reads two or three a week and it is the same story told ten thousand ways. Good guys catch bad guys. If it weren’t for some regional authors, he would have given up on them long ago. He is starting to branch out into some interesting independent work that has him fascinated. Misha Burnett’s series is an example. I am proud of them both. Misha for writing such a captivating set of books, and my husband for giving them a try.
Now that I have rambled off topic for a few paragraphs, let me get back to my point. The trilogy idea.
This new work in progress is also a family saga of sorts. It also takes place in the 1950s and goes into the 1990s, so I am seriously thinking of breaking it into a three book series, not necessarily for marketing purposes, but because of the time span involved. I don’t want to rush or gloss over important relationships.
Not being altogether a true story, there is no inherent need to lay it out as it happened. Book One will cover Claudette and Carol coming of age struggling through a sordid past and dealing with the humiliations of mental illness.
Book Two will cover Carol’s suicide, Claudette’s dealing with the suicide and her healing process that involves helping others heal through music.
Book Three will cover Claudette’s own daughter’s suicide and how she processes through that while guiding her niece through the loss of her cousin who seemed like a sister to her as they grew up together and both became professional nurses; the latter book giving me opportunity to write my own autobiography contribution of sorts that I have been working on as a side project, and including my story in theirs.
This might actually lead to a Book Four.
I don’t intend to do this for marketing purposes, but to write three or four compelling novels that stand as a series. I would not release one, until I had all three or four ready for release. We are talking years down the road, but what do I have but time? I am not paying any bills here.
If you have managed to follow this long ramble on my disordered thought process, what do you think, stand alone or series?
Another question, and one I struggle with in all of my writing, what person to write in?
In a series, do I need to stay with third person if I start with third person?