How do you choose the novels you read for pleasure? Do you seek out brilliant, original, ground-breaking work, the kind that is reviewed in literary journals, or do you go straight for your tried and true authors, the ones you know you can rely upon to provide a great read?
Apparently in difficult times such as the current economic downturn readers prefer the familiar. Fantasy readers go for series by their favourite authors, set in well-loved worlds. That’s part of the reason I find myself this year writing yet another Sevenwaters book, even though a couple of years ago I thought I would never go back to the setting of my first trilogy. When writing is your bread and butter, you can’t afford to ignore the wishes of readers, agent and editor, especially when they (mostly) agree.
I’ve blogged here previously about Heir to Sevenwaters, published in 2008. That book marked my return to the setting, characters and storytelling mode of my first series. It had been a seven year gap, during which I had written seven non-Sevenwaters novels. It felt weird to be going back. There was something intangible that readers loved about the Sevenwaters trilogy. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, nor was I convinced I even wanted to write like that any more.
Despite those doubts, I loved writing Heir to Sevenwaters and was quite proud of the end result, which was a little different from the original series but captured at least some of the old flavour. The novel was popular, which meant the editor and agent wanted more of the same. So here I am in the early stages of a sequel, and I’m determined to set myself some writing challenges. It would be dangerously easy to slip into the mode of delivering ‘more of the same’ and end up writing books that became little more than products. They might sell, but I wouldn’t be proud of them.
How do I plan to please the devoted Sevenwaters fans while setting myself interesting writing hurdles in this new book?
Setting: Change the setting, add spice to the flavour. We’re now out of the uncanny forest of Sevenwaters and onto Inis Eala, island home of a famous school of warcraft. This allows a different kind of story, with a masculine edge to balance the female narration. We’ve kept several of the same characters and a continuing plot thread.
Voice and viewpoint: All the previous Sevenwaters novels have been told in first person with a single female narrator. While readers loved the way this allowed them to identify with the protagonist, I found it limiting in terms of storytelling. This time I’m splitting the viewpoint between two characters, one male, one female, both narrating in first person. The reader will still get the young female protagonist, but she won’t tell the whole story. The dual narration should allow added depth and emotional complexity.
Memory, secrets and lies: Nothing is clear-cut in this story – layers must be peeled back to get to the truth. One of the narrators has lost his memory. He is beset by visions and dreams – how much is real and how much imagination? When other people tell him his own story, is it the truth? Another character is hostile and withdrawn, seemingly unable to speak. Is she damaged by trauma? A third is all too ready to put words in the mouths of others. An additional complication is created by the lack of a common language between various players, including the two main characters. Nobody knows what to believe, least of all the reader.
I’ve never done a dual first person narrative before, and I have heard of some novels in which that approach only created confusion. I’m working on keeping the two voices stylistically different. My critting partners suggested putting the narrator’s name at the top of each section, so we know who’s talking. I’m not sure about this – after all, one of these characters can’t remember his own name. A solution will occur to me, no doubt.
My current medical treatment, due to continue for several months, means that I am only getting about half my usual writing time at present. My method of revising extensively as I go means this novel has not progressed very far as yet, but I’ve given it a great deal of thought. I am hoping the enforced slow-down will result in a better, more carefully crafted book. It may even be one of those novels that gets reviewed in literary journals!
Of course, the post-chemotherapy brain fog is perfect inspiration for writing from the point of view of a guy who’s lost his memory. I know exactly how he feels.