More Chris Wren noodling – 2020 Writing Week 35

Mike Grist Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Today’s thinking about the Wren readthrough takes in a new direction.

Yesterday I remade the cover and rewrote the blurb, but am thinking one or both of those may have been missteps. Here’s the ‘new’ cover (quote marks because it may not be the cover for long).

I made it dark after feedback from the 20books thriller group, and a survey of other dark thriller books out there. One key is – there’s a lot of black, often they’re monochrome, and often feature red heavily.

I do rather like this. Maybe it’s too much though – could be signaling horror, dystopia, apocalyptic even?

Here’s the Facebook ad I started:

Pretty good.

Here’s the new blurb:

????? “A gripping dark bombshell of a thriller from start to finish.” – Eclectic Reviews.

Hundreds of homeless people ripped off the Chicago streets. Branded like animals. Brainwashed like slaves. Launched to some terrifying fate.

Rogue CIA agent Christopher Wren walks into a biker bar in Price, Utah after three weeks on the road. Traumatized by the loss of his family, he’s looking for anything to keep the dark memories at bay.

The bikers oblige, attacking Wren, leaving him for dead and stealing his truck.

Now he’s going to get it back.

From a secret warehouse in the desert. Ringed with fences. Filled with human cages.

Wren despises slavers and sets out to destroy them all, but as a nationwide terror conspiracy unfolds and the body count mounts, secrets from his own dark past emerge.

Wren must reckon with a hideous truth that could tear his tattered mind apart, before the slavers can plunge America into blood and chaos on an epic scale.

Saint Justice is a serial killer/vigilante justice thriller that delves into cults, white supremacy, brainwashing and the mind of a mass murderer, ideal for fans of Dean Koontz’ Nameless, Stieg Laarsson’s Lisbeth Salander, Barry Eisler’s Livia Lone and Terry Hayes’ Pilgrim.

It doesn’t pull punches. Maybe it goes too hard right off the bat. Words like slaves, branded etc… Then it dicks around with Wren’s truck and the bikers. Trying to be organic. the thing is, a CIA guy getting beat up by bikers is not a massive injustice. It’s not great, but we get the impression he can handle himself.

Here we come to my new thinking this morning, something which is obvious, but here it goes.

Why people read Vigilante Justice books

Because they want to read about justice being done.

It’s super simple. It starts with a horrible injustice. A badass hero vigilante gets inserted. The injustice gets resolved and justice is meted out.

This is it. It’s simple. Is my blurb doing this? Is my story doing this?

The blurb is only doing it with summary words. Not with emotion. I’ve heard from many people that the opening chapter of Wren, featuring Mason getting snatched up, is an agonizing injustice. But he is not named in the blurb. Reduced to an amorphous ‘homeless people’.

People can’t emotionally connect to that. It’s a statistic, not a story. They might feel guilty, but they won’t feel emotionally engaged. So I’m part-hooking people on a vague, pretty grotesque-sounding injustice, then expect them to get upset about Wren getting beaten up, when he sought out the fight himself.

Then the actual story. Am I delivering?

The Mason chapter definitely opens with injustice. Wren comes in hot and proves himself an interesting, tough vigilante. Is justice done?

Honestly, no. I make justice impossible in the broader sense – which is one of a happily ever after. Part of the reason we like Mason is because he adores Wendy so completely. But by the end of the book, Wendy is dead. Mason killed her.

That is unutterably bleak. It’s miserable. Wren’s whole reason to get involved with this thing is to try and save Mason and Wendy. So he fails. In earlier versions, Mason was dead as well. Basically everybody was dead.

Reading this book is just bleak. There is no happy ending for anyone. Not for Mason, not for Wren, not for anyone. It’s like the movie – Requiem for a Dream or any other down ending story, like Memento or We Need to Talk About Kevin. It breaks the covenant with the reader.

There’s no call for sequels to those movies. They are landmark movies, but you don’t enjoy them. Real damage is done. The injustice at the end is larger than the injustice at the start. And who wants to feel that way, book after book?

Nobody has said this in feedback. Not once. So maybe I’m way off base, but I’m lookng at other similar books in the genre and comparing.

Mark Dawson’s book The Cleaner has John Milton fall into the orbit of a woman and her son (named in the blurb) who he’s going to help get out of the gang life. Imagine the son dies by the end of the book, and the mother is left deeply physically and emotionally damaged.

Would you feel like justice was done, just because the gang was arrested? Would you want to read the next book?

Imagine the A-team roll into town. Take out the bad guys. The victim of the original injustice is left in a vegetative coma, but oh well…

It’s not good. It’s too bleak, justice isn’t done, there’s no endorphin spike of the good guy triumphing.

So what about Game of Thrones, season 1 ending? The Red Wedding? I’m not sure, really, except to say that those carry over the same injustice to the next book. With the A-team, that could be a double episode special. A further injustice calls for even greater justice. They wouldn’t do it, but yes, it’s not injustice done, then move on to the next story.

It feels less realistic to me that Wendy will survive. The real results of human slavery and abuse are awful. But that reality doesn’t work well with a happy ever after.

New plan

My new plan is to give vicarious justice thrills. Rewrite the blurb so it is 3 paragraphs – injustice (with emotional engagement), Wren introduction (focus on being damaged but badass), and acceleration of stakes (move toward civil war).

In the book, it means unkilling Wendy. I can do this easily. I can even keep all the psychological shenanigans intact, and pull a bait and switch. It’ll seem cleverer still. And Wendy will be alive. Mason can rescue her himself at the end.

Justice done.

It won’t be bleak anymore. Are the other books bleak? Book 2 introduces several injustices with Charles DeVore. I may put him back in, or swap him out for another viewpoint on the same events. Book 3 is a powerful injustice. Book 4 too. Also Book 5, in the works.

Is this it?

Will this improve readthrough? I don’t know. As I said, nobody ever mentions this. But it’ll certainly make for a more visceral, vigilante justice emotional reward. Close out Mason reasonably happy, and we can accept that Wren moves on to take on deeper, broader injustices. He succeeded here.

One further thought – it even says this in the tagline for the book! Justice Will Be Done. I have to deliver on that promise. Also in the title. Saint Justice.

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