I just closed out the Make Them Pay, Wren book 3 rewrites, and am feeling celebratory. I already wrote about everything I did to change the book, but as I accelerated toward the end, I was really feeling it.
This thing hums. I am getting better at spotting the bits that lag. I had 2 chapters that were kind of coda, catching up on where everyone was up to. Now I’m thinking that kind of stodge is a readthrough killer. If you give kind of happy-ever-afters to all the characters, and end with little sense of threat and a feeling of closure, who’s going to feel compelled to read on?
It doesn’t have to be a cliffhanger, either, although that works. I changed the ending by about 20 words, and suddenly there’s a compulsion to race onward. I feel it. The threat is closer to home than ever. We need to read book 4 to find out how it will play out.
Previously people had asked – will there be a 4th book? If Wren’s in jail now, is that it for him? and I can’t blame them – I had lines like ‘ Wren’s father might be out there, but it was OK, and things would work out’. Not exactly that, of course, but basically that.
I also had a bolted on ‘revelatory’ flashback, but it was a nothing revelation, easily removed. We already had our big revelations, we don’t need a minor added one.
The trick now is to keep carrying this momentum forward. It is super obvious to me now that book 4 opens too gently. The opening line is actually – ‘Wren liked his cell’. Are you kidding me? We need urgency from the start. We need a genuine injustice that threatens Wren to the core. Not too much, not to gross us out or make us uncomfortable, but being content in a black site cell is just silly. So, this plus lots of other changes. Here are some more I dreamed up, to carry the threat forward and spice things up generally:
- New Make Them Pay opening chapters. Instead of bunch of narrative fill for why Wren is up in Deadhorse, we’ll just show it. Have him tackling another Pinocchio cabal, put a child at direct risk, have Wren mop up those guys and get a clue on his father. Hi-octane, high injustice, high payout on vigilante justice done. Propel the narrative up to Deadhorse.
- New False Flag opening chapters. Now Wren is desperate to get a message out about his family, under direct threat by the Apex. At the same time, Humphreys is trying to break him via torture. Make this horrible. Put Wren up against an interrogator like Nurse Ratched, trying to crack him. This could even be a great way to intro all the flashbacks. Have Wren defeat the interrogator by turning the tables. Some real stakes. Then we move onto Humphreys and the main story.
- New Firestorm opening. This one can be Wren bouncing around hunting his father still. Can include the conversation with Gruber that is now delivered via loaded narrative summary. Have him raid somewhere filled with threat. Fill in the gaps – then go see the Ghost as the last resort.
- New No Mercy ending/tweak? Currently I think the kicker to threat is not there.
- New Enemy of the People opening. I’m about to refocus fully on getting this book done. It’ll be tricky to have an action opener, and I may dip back into Wren’s back catalog to get there. Maybe even a flashback to his Pyramid days, but propulsive. Then on with the present story.
Having these kicker opener and endings seems super key to readthrough to me. I’m reading the David Baldacci book A Long Road to Mercy, and he has such a killer opening. An FBI agent whose sister was killed be a serial killer as a child, now confronting that killer in a max security prison. Kind of Silence of the Lambs, but more intense because of their history. After that, the story goes super flabby and slow, but that powerful opening holds me still. Imagine if the body story was as powerful as that opening?
That’s the goal. Make Wren utterly addictive. It feels like super hard work. Crafting and crafting. But worth it.