Wren 1 rewrites: back behind the DM’s screen – Writing Wk5 2021

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Well it has been heck of a week in rewrites. I already said everything I’d do to Wren 1 in the last post, in line with vicious comments I got from a Fiverr beta reader, and this week I did them, and was left feeling strangely bereft…

But do not shed a tear for me, Argentina. Stats are very early to come in on the effect of this new rewrite, really just a week since I put a half-finished new version of Wren 1 on Amazon, but it’s looking good so far, with readthrough up from 27% to 50% to book 2, and holding the same to book 3!!

If this is due to the greater readability of Wren 1, I call that a massive win. Time will tell – as it could also be due to some random foible of advertising or purchasing behavior.

If it is 50% or 50%+ though? Transformational. If I can continue selling book 1 at the same rate via ads, that 50% readthrough will not only double revenue – it should apply a 4x or higher multiple as more people read through the series. I’m dreaming big. It might make this whole endeavor far more viable.

But why bereft? (sad face)

Bereft at the loss of Wren 1 weight

This feeling hit at the end of redrafting the whole book. I hadn’t intended to redraft everything at all – only to suture parts where I’d taken out flashbacks and Mason.

But. Taking out Mason made me notice areas where, thanks to the Mason distraction, I’d skipped over parts in the Wren narrative. Maybe this is why some people called the story incoherent? More on this in a minute.

It also drew my attention to flow and line-by-line edits. I found my old tricks a few times – write something, write something else, write the same thing again. In these instances, I probably got excited with the imagery of a scene, or realized I’d skipped an important scene-setting detail, so just wrote at greater length.

In these instances I need to go back and synthesize so I only say it once, with clarity, then move on.

On this note, Su and I have been watching the K-Drama ‘Signal’. I really dislike this show’s style of repeating everything multiple times, always being dialled stupidly up to 11 (adults constantly taking arguments to semi-comical fisticuffs or taking grief to extreme, lingering wailing), showing the same narrative from different time periods via a profusion of flashbacks, and leaving out essential information the viewer should know.

I hate it. Maybe I do it. Flashbacks, check. High emotion, check. Repetition, check. Forcing the reader to construct the narrative somewhat themselves. Pretty much check. And this brings me full circle (again) to the first Story Craft post I wrote over 10 years ago, regarding the Dungeon Master’s screen.

The DM’s Screen

Here’s that original post – https://www.michaeljohngrist.com/2010/07/fictioner-1-the-dungeon-masters-screen-and-toast/

I was talking there about my epic fantasy with Sen – where the style I wanted to write in was various kind of ‘chunks’: here’s a world-building bit, here’s a character bit, here’s a dialogue bit, etc… Like the book of ideas a D&D Dungeon Master has. I wasn’t great at knitting these ideas together in a story. If anything, I resisted it.

It lets me see I am really not a natural storyteller. Terrible admission to make – but it’s not a new one to me. I thought I’d overcome it in recent years, and especially with Wren, but it seems not, because what purpose does Mason serve in Wren 1? What is the purpose of the flashbacks?

They are weight. They add body. They round out the world. They are, however, pretty much devoid of narrative drive. Mason’s story is the story of things happening to him, not of him as a character with agency. It’s not really a thread on its own because you couldn’t read it on its own – it’s just him suffering. Same with Wren’s flashbacks – they’re not propulsive on their own. They only worked when tethered to the main story.

And that weight clearly drags the main story down. It chops it up, makes it harder to swallow, forces readers to construct the meaning of these sections for themselves.

Tough going for the mass market, who want to be told a story. And who can blame them? Reading a thriller isn’t supposed to be such work.

Removing these scenes made me tune in to the main narrative more – how it should hum like a taut wire, not sag from decorations. As ever, there’s room to say things only once. Wren’s backstory should be there only so much as it’s relevant, and only in small doses. We can’t have huge dollops of it at once, disrupting the flow.

The book is now much shorter. 67,000 words, down from 100,000 when I first finished it. Short. But I think people will leave this book maybe wanting more. Previously, I offered such a rich banquet they didn’t need more. I’m quite full, thank you, they were saying. That’s enough for me.

I want to leave them sated but still hungry. I thought about offering the Mason side story as an extra – but do I really want people reading that extra? Quite likely it’ll still be stodgy. It’ll fill them up and get them thinking, hmm, actually I don’t need to read book 2 now. I’ve had enough.

NO, I say! No more stodge!

So…

I already ran a similar edit on book 2. Very briefly, though. Not line-by-line. We’ll see how readthrough looks. If 2 to 3 remains strong, I don’t need to dig in much. If it’s poor, I will. Most of all – I’m very curious what new readers will make of book 1 now, with all the weight taken off.

Will it work? Will they be left wanting more? It’s quite exciting.

Word count

Only negative, I’m afraid this week. Cutting words. I’ll get back to book 6 soon. Seems every time I do a rewrite, I need to take a little time to recover and adapt. That’s fine. Hopefully the latter books are taking on these lessons learned from editing the earlier books, as I go.

I have noticed some of that happening in the latter books. The side stories of suffering began to bleed into Wren’s narrative – often with him watching a video of what happened. I can pretty easily make this shift total – we’re entirely in Wren’s POV. We see the threat entirely from his eyes.

It cuts repetition clean away. Now the mystery remains – until Wren solves it. We the reader are none the wiser than Wren.

Facebook group?

The Facebook group’s doing pretty good – up to 26 members now. I’ll keep posting content, push it to my newsletter, and try and offer value to my most engaged readers. It’s fun, too.

Facebook ads

One further thing to note – yesterday FB lifted its limits on my ad spend, so now I’m also allowed to import my newsletter and make a lookalike audience from it. I did that yesterday and started serving dynamic ads for both the zombie books and Wren. Thus far, getting very cheap clicks. Too early to say if they’re profitable.

Again, time will tell ;).

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