Thursday, May 19, 2016

Am I Done? Finishing a Novel at Last.

I have finally finished my ninth Alafair Tucker mystery. Well, "finished" may be a bit premature. The manuscript is with my first reader, now. (Also known as Beloved Spouse). As fellow Type M-er  Charlotte Hinger pointed out so truly, most authors have no idea if what they have just produced is any good or not. In that respect, I am very much like most authors. The new book took me a long time to write. I am not a fast writer, but this book was particularly time-consuming, mainly because I changed the beginning at least five times. I ended up at one point with three beginnings in one manuscript, and as any reader will tell you, it's a much more satisfying read if a story only begins once.

I wrote one version of the story with an ending so grim that I feared readers would be suicidal after they read it and never pick up another book of mine. Believe me, it was a very clever plot twist, but sometimes you just have to kill your darlings before your editor kills you. I have to admit that even if I do have the ability to write dark...and I do mean inky black...this traditional mystery series just does not call for that sort of book. So, I ended up rewriting the entire second half of the novel so that everything turns out all right. More or less.

So this is the conundrum faced by any author of a long series. What would happen if you went off the rails for one installment? Suppose a long-standing and popular character dies? Suppose a character who has been a good guy for eight books suddenly does something unforgivable? Suppose a spouse who has been faithful for a literary decade decides to cheat on his/her spouse? Suppose a formerly innocent and naive character starts cursing like a sailor? Will your readers forgive you if you shake up their expectations too much? Or is it a good thing to shake up expectations? It seems to work for Game of Thrones. Somehow I think if I want to write a novel that is wildly different in mood and tone from all my previous books in this series, I'd be better served to write a stand-alone or start an entirely new series.

Any thoughts on the subject, Dear Readers and Writers? taking out much of the shock and horror of the situation, did I water the tale down too much? Is it now a pale imitation of its former gut-wrenching self? Or is it now an infinitely more satisfying resolution. Beloved Spouse will give me the first clue. Do I have something or not?


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Unknown said...

I think that in fiction, especially mystery fiction, a "happy ending" isn't as important as feeling justice was done and the puzzle solved. As for killing off a beloved character, Dana Stabenow did it and fans hollered--but they keep buying her books. (She left us thinking her protagonist died at the end of her last book and is killing us by making us wait for the next one.) What bothers me is when the writer, often because the editor made him/her, twists the ending to be "happy." I can often tell when the story is heading for one ending and suddenly changes to be "happy." So it depends on how well you rewrote it and how important the original is to you. (And whether your editor would publish it. You could, of course, skip this segment and go on to the next.) I loved the twist at the end of All Men Fear Me. It was the perfect twist. I did not see it coming, and it made perfect sense.

Vicki Delany said...

As long as the author stays true to the characters, then I think it's okay to head in a different direction. But be careful of changes in character that come out of nowhere. Killing off beloved characters? Sure, it's life. People die, and other people have to go on. A long-running series should be an accurate reflection of the protagonist's life. Go for it.

Donis Casey said...

I have killed people a few times and had my editor "advise" me that perhaps I might want to rethink whether that person really needed to die. In consequence, I have unkilled characters once or twice. p.s. About the twist at the end of All Men: Thanks, Tricia. I loved that twist.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Donis, my new mystery Fractured Families is simply much darker than what I usually write.