Brutality in my books, Massive Edits & Confirmatory Reviews – Writing Update 2019 Week 44

Mike Grist Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

It looks like I had a lot to say last week, as I wrote two extra blogs about the following topics:

The upshot of both is that I finished editing book 6, The Laws, and moved on to Book 7, The Lash, where I faced the old challenges – simplifying complex technobabble, reducing repetition, speeding up action scenes – as well as a new one – losing sympathy for the main character when he goes too dark.

I was aware when I wrote book 7 that Amo’s turn to the darkness – essentially using the people around him to train himself to enjoy being cruel, so he can be completely thorough in destroying the bunkers – was tough. I pushed the envelope pretty far.

Too far, I think. People told me that directly. In tackling it the last few days – in particular a scene where Amo whips a helpless guy with his belt, and enjoys it – I can see how there’s no pleasure to be had in reading further. At this point our hero becomes someone else, loses his basic decency and seems unredeemable.

Going forward from that point, I found myself losing any sense of why I should care. This is always a tell-tale sign that something went wrong earlier. I lost my own sympathy. If he can do awful things with no cost, where’s the tension? The interest comes from a good person forcing themselves to do awful things, and hating it, but doing it because the other choice is worse.

So actually enjoying it? It takes that tension away. It compares to book 1, where he slaughters thousands of the ocean and hates it so much he kills himself.

It’s a tricky line to walk. Too much inner monologue about how unpleasant this all is starts to sound like whining. Too little and the character appears monstrous.

This is further relevant because I’ve had feedback on a similar scene with Christopher Wren in book 3, Reparation. Wren is in an interrogation situation, under fire, where he’s got a group of cult-followers briefly captive and needs to get something out of them in seconds.

He picks a pregnant woman, puts a gun to her head, and threatens her. It’s pushing it about as far as it can go.

Of course I’m thinking, and know, that Wren hates doing this. I know that it’s a bluff, and that he regrets the bluff because of the damage it will do, but also that he believes with absolute certainty that if he doesn’t get the information he needs, countless people will die.

It’s the torturer’s defense. But then, he is a vigilante – it’s what we sign up for when we pick up the book, frontier justice. He’s done the same thing before to varying degrees.

Maybe though I sold his bluff too well. People are turning off him because of this. There is no inner monologue throughout to soften things for the reader. It’s presented starkly. I can’t see how it would hurt to add that monologue in a little. Reassure the reader he hates this, regrets it, and that it’s a bluff. It’s all still awful, of course, but at least we’re not in the head of an evil man. Morally compromised, certainly, but agonized over it.

It’s good to think about this. Editing these zombie books is definitely giving me lessons I can apply to Wren. Fix one thing, and more interesting problems appear.

Before I go on to book 4, I’ll probably do a quick sweep through Wren 1-3 to smarten them up and file off a few sharp edges. Less horror, basically.

Facebook Ads!

On another note, I’ve been trying a new ad on Facebook. I took the image from book 5 of Anna, wrote a much sharper, shorter copy, and fired it up. It’s only been a day, and it’s getting clicks for half the price the old ad was getting. More sales though? I’m not seeing it. It’s odd, because it’s the same audience. Why would they click then not convert when it’s only 99c?

Mystery. Answers may come. Hopefully they’re all KU readers and I’ll see a massive spike in page reads coming soon. Here’s the ad:

I also made a short video version – it’s doing well so far.

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