I finished my rewrites for Blood Lust, the third Fallen Angels novel. It’s an urban fantasy, but I tried for fewer big battles in the book and for more tension between Enoch (the protagonist) and Feral (the antagonist). As a former mystery writer, I sprinkled clues here and there throughout the book to let the reader know that Feral’s devious, playing a game of cat-and-mouse with Enoch. I was proud of myself when I finished my polished draft and gave it to my critique partners. I didn’t feel quite as brilliant once I got their feedback. The thing is, I knew the hidden meanings behind some of the scenes I wrote. The readers didn’t. What was in my head didn’t come out on the page. And that’s why writers need critique partners.
Writers live in their heads. Their characters talk to them. Scenes scroll behind their eyelids. We see them, hear them. And we THINK we’re writing them. But not always. There’s a fine line between being subtle and trusting the reader to “get” what you’re not telling him and…just not telling him. I’ve written books where I’ve given away too much too early (that takes away tension), so in this book, I tried to make the reader WORK for the clues. Except I was the only one who realized they WERE clues, and my readers just got frustrated. I know that feeling, too. I’ve read stories where the author withholds exactly what’s happening to try to titillate my interest, to keep me guessing and turning the pages. That simply annoys me. If the conflict isn’t enough to keep me turning the pages at the start of the book, trying to guess what the conflict IS irritates me even more. Keeping the reader in the dark is NOT tension.
Most books have a simple concept. Usually, in the opening scene, something happens to the protagonist that he doesn’t like. He wants to fix it. How he decides to fix it makes a book, because the fix is never easy. Nothing ever goes according to plan, and things keep getting more and more complicated or harder and harder to cope with. (Same goes for writing the book:)
I got the concept part right in Blood Lust. But once a writer introduces the problem the protagonist has to solve, the rest of the book is about cranking up the tension. It’s about teasing the reader with the idea that behind curtain number one, there’s a fix that’s going to make everything in our protagonist’s world better. We dangle that in front of the reader, and then we don’t let him reach it, or we take it away. We keep taking it away until the last one or two scenes of the book. I didn’t crank up my tension enough, because the readers didn’t SEE the problem. Only I did. That doesn’t work, and that’s why critique partners say, “What the heck was this scene supposed to do anyway?” (That’s when you know you have great partners, because they tell it like it is). And that’s when you know the story you had in your head didn’t translate to the page.
The other mistake I made was trying to find a balance between the book’s big conflict and developing my characters more. One of the writers I really admire at Scribes (my writing group) always tells us she needs a place to “sit” in our stories for a minute, to catch her breath and reconnect with our characters. Too much action can wear out a reader. Getting that balance right, though, takes a rewrite or two. Hopefully, I’ve worked through all of my critique partners’ notes and I’ve found my balance for tension, story line, and character development. I sent the finished manuscript to my agent. She’s swamped right now, so I won’t hear from her for a while. But when I do, I might have another rewrite in my future. Such is the world of writing. If we screw up, we can usually can make it right:)