More ways to fix the Chris Wren series – 2020 Writing Week 29.5

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Last Thursday I wrote up the results of my fan questionnaire on the Chris Wren series – read that here. In summary, I had 62 responses, the majority were about reducing the price, with a handful of others saying the topic of Monsters book 2 was a big problem, some comments about Wren being unlikeable, and several comments about the book not being engaging.

Well.

I’ve thought about it all. Su’s been reading book 1. I’ve reflected. Then on Saturday I bit the bullet and bought the k-lytics report on the vigilante justice genre. It was only $40, but I had no idea if it’d be worth it.

I think it was. Here’s what I learned:

  • There’s about $800 million at stake in the top 2,000 odd titles per month. Obviously, we fellow authors are in competition with each other for this money. There used to be prominent authors saying we are not in competition with each other. We clearly are. I can see the competitors right there in the top 100. I it seems am currently ranking around 150 in the genre. A good goal would be top 20.
  • Books in the genre often use justice, blood, wolf, vigilante and other tough words in their titles. Similarly, in their blurbs. A lot of vengeance, revenge, avenging, and such. Valuable.
  • Perhaps most important of all was the breakdown of crimes that needed avenging. Far and away the most sold ‘crime’ was murder. Nothing came close. I realized my blurb for book 1 doesn’t even mention this. It talks about human trafficking, organized crime – crimes that are barely 1% of the market. I’m hawking something only a minority wants.

I also had some strong feedback on Su on the choppiness of early Saint Justice chapters. I agree. I started thinking about big changes. Here they are:

Titles

First up was titles. Only Saint Justice remains the same.

  • Book 2 Monsters, banal and perhaps genre-confusing, has now become No Mercy.
  • Book 3, Reparation, is now Make Them Pay.
  • Book 4, the vague and not very vigilante-sounding Ghost War, is not False Flag.

Are these better? 2 and 3 must be. 4 may not make much difference. Now they really signal vigilante. They are exciting titles, I feel, rather than interesting/intriguing ones. Always my major issue.

I rewrite the blurbs. I won’t go into this too much. Basically, I foreground murder, background the trafficking/kidnapping.

In-cult POVs

This is the biggest one.

Su has said it. My manuscript assessor a year ago said it. The character Charles DeVore, the wannabe child abuser whose POV we nauseatingly share in book 2, should be removed completely.

I couldn’t imagine removing him. He is grotesque, but surely I need that thrilling opening scene to hook readers to the book? If I remove him, don’t I lose all the fascinating insight into what it’s like to self-radicalize? And if I do cut him, do I also cut all the insight POVs from all the other books?

I can answer the second question of those easily. While DeVore’s opening sequence is gripping and intense, it also has put people off. I only hear from the one’s who stick with it. But I think he’s driving people away.

My biggest concern is trimming all the POVs from the other books. It feels massive. Isn’t that the charm point? Those sections are some of the ones I worked hardest on!

Anyway. I just decided – give it a go. Take DeVore out. He can’t disappear wholly, but his POV chapters can go. We won’t be in his head.

I did it. It didn’t take that long. I had to add in a few bits in Wren’s POV, to fill in the gaps he left. But probably it actually makes things tighter and tauter. We’re really in the dark with Wren. We don’t have any escape from his hunt.

It’s already out there – the version that’s for sale. I can’t think of any reason to put DeVore back in… A lot of the ‘thrills’ of his opening scene get recapped and replayed later anyway for Wren. So, maybe no need at all.

So what about the other books’ POVs?

I like things to be uniform. Doing this for DeVore makes me look at the others. Book 3 I can imagine will be a benefit. The opening scene of the billionnaire getting torn apart is gruesome. There’s a big difference between us seeing this happen live, and having it be reported afterward.

I think people can handle a crime scene a lot better than actual live cruelty. It goes the same for latter scenes, which are often all half witnessed by Wren anyway. Again, we lose the richness of their POV interiority, but we do gain excitement from only seeing things from Wren’s POV. Book 4 likewise.

But book 1? The Mason opening is not gory or horrific. People like Mason a lot. But then there isn’t any Mason for 20 chapters, at which point he is just treated really poorly. His chapters have become shorter over time anyway, as there used to be a lot of nonsense racist theory poured on his head, which I took out because it was – like DeVore – nauseating.

Another issue since I added the Wren flashbacks – in response to several people saying Wren left them cold, he felt inhuman – is that we currently have Mason, then Wren, then a Wren flashback. 3 jumps right at the start of a book is pretty disengaging.

A final issue with Mason – his kidnapping happened almost a year earlier. That might annoy people, when they realize it. It is a tricky bit of writing.

So cut Mason? Only give the reader Wren to focus on.

Then this sends me off in another direction. Without the hook of Mason, Wren has to carry all the narrative weight. And this helps point out weaknesses in the flow. People have mentioned how bitty the early parts are. Wren meets Eustace for a chat, then Jay Durant, then Henry and Abdul, then Demeter, then Alli, and they all play a bit role.

It seems exhausting. In Jay Durant’s case, he just brings a semi. Demeter gives some background on the sheriffs. Why do we have to meet them all?

It’s because I was building out the world. Also because I was having Wren stumble a bit blindly – his focus was on breaking the Vikings more than anything. But why was he doing that? No reason.

He needs to be trying to get his truck back. So why dick around at the bar at all? Why not just assault the warehouse straight out? It doesn’t exactly jive, now.

So cancel it all? Unintroduce those characters – but I need Henry, Abdul and Alli for later. So…

Tricky.

And if removing Mason reveals this to me, then it’s not like this wasn’t always a problem. It always was. People say engaging is a problem. It takes 15-20 chapters before Wren is singularly focused on hunting for Mason.

So, yeah.

The thing is, I can spend a day doing this, then if I feel bad and don’t like it, I’ve only lost time. I can go right back to the original. Part of me thinks I probably won’t, though. Whatever the case, the book doesn’t get good enough readthrough for it to be properly profitable. So I have to make changes whether I like it or not.

Hooking

The one big problem this brings forward is the issue of hooking the reader. All these prolog POVs bought me a little time to introduce Wren. Now I don’t have that luxury. We have to get into it fast. Well. OK.

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