Wren likeability & covers – 2020 Writing Week 16/17

Mike Grist Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This past 2 weeks (I totally lost track of time – the days just meld into one long smoosh now – but a smoosh that included my 40th birthday – hurray!) I somehow got sidetracked onto reworking Saint Justice.

It was probably started by some bad reviews, or maybe a sense that my readthrough from book 1 to book 2 wasn’t as high as I’d liked. I started asking people if Wren was likeable or not.

I got lots of answers. Here’s what people said:

  • He’s not relatable. He’s a cult survivor, cult leader, fentanyl/booze addict commando. There is no moment where he seems like a normal person.
  • He’s an ‘abusive hero’. This is a great term. I did this because of Jack Bauer in 24. When there’s no time, there’s no time to be half-decent, friendly, to accept no for an answer and come back with a better offer. He can only constantly compel people, my way or the high way. This means-
  • He never barters with other people. He never ‘gvies’ anything. It’s always his plan, his way, right now. The reader just has to accept this. More than one person said this made them uncomfortable.
  • Nobody pushes back against Wren. Nobody gets to suggest their idea and then maybe approach things via teamwork – except maybe the old lady at the end, who tells him ‘No, son, I’m driving the semi.’

Those are fairly damning. They are certainly clear. Notice these issues were not the issues I used to be dealing with. Before it was all about the extreme violence, the gore, the disbelief that he could survive. People aren’t saying that so much right now.

Better problems.

So what can I do?

  • First up, I wrote some flashbacks. There are now 4 flashbacks for book 1, showing his life with his wife and kids, how they get along, with plenty of funny/normal moments. BUT – the book was already carefully calibrated to NOT give this stuff away too fast, if at all. Wren spends all his time NOT thinking about this stuff.
  • So where does it go? I put it in. I took it out. Now it is out. Maybe I can add it to later books, or find another place for it, or make a prequel, or… Having written it now, it certainly informs him going forward.
  • Plus, I feel a little that trying to resolve this through flashback doesn’t resolve Wren’s unlikeability in the present. That’s the key. So:
  • I stop the constant rush. there were several instances in book 1 where one of his Foundation members said – “Can we talk?” and Wren said “No, not now” but also thought about how he was letting them down. Ugh. I can fix this. He can make a little time. He can say please and thank you.
  • I also make everyone push back on him more. He has to work a little harder to get what he wants – and his first go-to maneuver is not to compel them, but to try to win them around. To expain. He can compel as a backup strategy. This begins now with Eustace – Wren doesn’t force him into the Foundation. He gives him a choice.
  • I’m thinking where I can add more teamwork moments. Banter would be good, though he is largely solo in this book.

Right now, I like it better. I always felt he really cares about his Foundation members, but that wasn’t necessarily on the page. I’m putting it in.

In other news, I’ve been working on covers.

I made a new cover for Saint Justice, inspired by other authors in the genre who are doing well. A hero striding toward something meaningful – a building of some sort. I found an awesome image of a dark desert motel and put a new Wren with a gun in front of it. I shared this on a writer’s forum, and the response was overwhelming.

The new one is better.

But, to my horror, I found the image I’d used was actually not available to be used as a book cover. I had to scratch the whole thing. I spent most of a day trying to recapture the look of it by compositing other photos, but I don’t have the skill for that. So I’m back at the old cover, but with the gun guy, a new font and a new tagline:


I like the tagline. The old one – ‘It takes a cult leader to kill a cult’ was clever and interesting, but not exciting. This new one is, even if it is cliche. Cliche is a pretty good tool actually, I think.

Further inspired by this embrace of cliche, I wrote a new blurb:

Justice will be done

When rogue DELTA operator Christopher Wren uncovers a vast human trafficking operation in the deserts of Utah, he aims for the payback to be fast and righteous.

But Wren soon learns there’s more than thousands of caged humans at stake – this conspiracy threatens to destroy the very idea of the United States itself – and Wren will never allow that. Not on his watch.

Wren enlists the help of his off-book vigilante ‘cult’, the Foundation, but that only brings all the heat of the CIA down on his head. Now hunted on all sides and fighting for his life, Wren must race across the country and against the clock to take the terrorists down, before the country he loves blows apart at the seams.

It’s faster. It’s snappier. It actually gives less away – which I think means more sizzle, less steak. It’s probably not perfect, but maybe it will draw people more.

And what about new words???

Yes yes, I was talking big the last time about how I’d hit 40,000 words by the end of last week, maybe 50,000 this week. Well, I have been writing, though intermittently, and am curently at 44,000.

Remember, of course, I wrote about 8,000 words in flashbacks which I’m not using currently. So I wrote a fair bit, just not forwards 😉

Now, for sure, I am redoubling my focus on Book 4. Until I hear something more about Book 1. At which point I’ll probably go back and change it some more. It is kind of unavoidable – if book 1 won’t sell, then nobody will read 2, 3, and certainly not 4. A higher readthrough rate would be killer, and make all my ads more effective.

So, yes! Book 4!! 55,000 by next Friday!

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