Monday, January 24, 2005

Seed Planting or Relationship Building?

BTW...before I forget. I'm pretty sure there is a "comments" option on my Blog, and I'd love to read any comments anyone would care to leave. You know, agree, disagree, don't care, go away. That kind of stuff. Right now, since at this point I'm still speaking to the wind, I don't imagine I'll get any. But maybe someday, down the road?

Anyway, topic at hand. I've been working on a book. Yeah, duh. But I've run into a major decision stumbling block. In the book I - naturally - have a main hero and heroine. I also have a subplot that involves a sub-hero and sub-heroine. I love these sub characters, and I really want to carry them (and their evolving relationship) through not only this book - let's call it Book A - but through Book B as well, culmintating in Book C wherin they become the main hero and heroine.

Now, the problem arises when I read articles like this at Mrs. Giggle's website and also when I read discussions about readers' responses to subplots. It seems there is a general aversion to what people perceive as sequel baiting. This is the inclusion of characters who are clearly being set up to be main characters in future books. Things like giving the hero a few brothers and the heroine a couple of roommates simply so that entire lines of books can be written all with a common thread and, presumably, a sure-bet, will-buy readership.

I can understand why such a practice might annoy readers. It fairly screams "you must buy my next book to see what happens to Joe X and Susie Q." Frustrating? Very much.

Too, there is the problem when the sub-characters overshadow the main characters. Suzanne Brockmann has been accused of doing this. Often her secondary characters and their story are more intriguing than the main characters. In her latest release, "Hot Target," nearly every reader review on seems to say the same thing: the story of sub-hero Jules far outshone the main storyline/romance between lead characters Cosmo and Jane. And I have to agree that there is much validity in this claim.

And as a reader, I can see how that might come off as a very bad thing. It often seems that maybe the writer was either so much more interested by the subs or even that she (he) actually wrote the main characters' story simply to have a medium in which to deliver the sub-story. Therefore why make me buy two books to read about these sub-characters rather than just coming out straight away and writing their story in the first place? Skip the extraneous "main plot".

My problem is this. What if the relationship between the sub-hero and heroine is something that you want to develop over the course of time? What if you want them to meet first in Book 1, spend a few months apart, then meet again in Book 2? Their relationship changes upon this second meeting - perhaps deepens or becomes more complex, so there is reason for it. But it's not until even more time passes (a year or two) that they find themselves ready to take the final leap - to become the main characters in Book 3 wherein they work out their issues and find their HEA.

That's the position I'm in. In my Book 1, the sub-characters meet and have a brief encounter. The brevity of that encounter is key in their story. And I need some time to pass before they see each other again. Upon meeting a second time, they start to wonder if there is more to this than they originally thought, but neither character is in a place where they are ready to take the plunge. Thus they drift apart, only to re-connect in Book 3.

I don't want to write a book that is simply about these two people and their three encounters. Because of who they are and what they do, it makes more sense that they encounter each other with the space of time between each episode. And this cannot be accomplished in one novel within one story.

To give you a simplified example: Two strangers meet at a convention and have a torrid, one night fling (shown in Book 1). They go their own ways and live their own lives. Two years later, they meet again while both are vacationing in Bermuda (shown in Book 2). Their fling expands to a week, but both have lives they must return to. They part ways. Finally, they see each other again a year later when the hero unknowingly moves to the heroine's hometown (Book 3). Now they work things out and voila, an HEA.

Too, the sub-hero and heroine do play key parts in the main plots of Book 1 and Book 2, and each encounter happens within the scope of an independent plot as opposed to one long ongoing plot. Confused yet? Really, it makes sense in my head.

How in the world would you ever put that into one book unless there are literally paragraphs that say "Time passed. Two years later..."

Anyway, if I write Book 1 the way I want to, I will look very much as if I'm Seed Planting. Enough time will be devoted to the sub-hero and heroine that expectations for their future will be set. For those of you who've read Suzanne Brockmann, these two will be the Sam and Alyssa of the Troubleshooter series.

Now, I love Suzanne Brockmann's work. I love the way she introduces multiple characters and storylines - she's a master. And enough people buy her books and love them that it is clear there are those who accept sub-heroes and heroines. Perhaps the challenge isn't in deciding whether or not to do it at all, but more in being able to do it well.

And this boils down to the ultimate question, I guess. Do you write the book/story you want to tell, or do you write the book you think will be best accepted?

I've always gone with writing what I want regardless of how it might upset readers. In fact, in one story I wrote and shared with friends, I introduced a new character who became very well liked by the readers and then I killed her off. There was outrage from my friends. But that's the story I had in my head, and it's the story I told. Eventually my friends overcame their anger that this new character had died and saw that this end was the end that had to be.

But writing what you want is a luxury afforded to a published writer with some history of success behind her. Will publishers even give you a chance if you walk on the edge of the envelope? Wish I knew the answer to that.


Lynn M said...

Many thanks to Suzanne for pointing out that I hadn't set my blog to accept comments from anyone. Dang, this techie stuff is gonna kill me!

Thanks, Suzanne :)

Silver said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Silver said...

You know, I play the acoustic guitar, am a 40-something, and grew up in the acoustic-folk-rock era, therefore, also have written songs. I know that represents a snippet of a book. But. Write want you want. Write the story you have inside of you and are creating. If you can't write for yourself, I'm not sure why you would do it - it takes so much effort! Don't make the mistake of reading the review before you publish the book. My most favorite books are the ones that I KNOW were written because they needed to be.

Great reading so far,


KathyB said...

I'm not a big reader of fiction ... I have a few authors that I follow but certainly nothing that would put me in the "expert" category when it comes to what sells.

But ... isn't the fact that Suzanne Brockmann sells enough books that people actually discuss her work on the internet a pretty big clue that people actually like what she's doing with her books? :) There will always be critics! And there will always be readers who think the critics are on crack. ;)

I say write the story you want to write. You say you have trouble closing -- so why complicate matters by worrying about what might or might not be included in a reader's review? Tell the story you want to tell, with the characters you want to spend time with. The story will flow more easily and you will be happier while you are writing it.

Embrace your inner grasshopper! Write now. Worry later. :)


Lynn M said...

Thanks, Kathy and Dan, not only for the encouragement but for saying what I really most wanted to hear.

It makes sense to me to write what's in my heart and head as far as story is concerned. It's hard enough to maintain the enthusiasm for a long-term writing commitment without removing the passion from the equation.

Too, it seems reasonable to worry about the horse before you worry about the cart. Better to have *something* to show publishers that they might ask to have changed than to have *nothing* for fear that they won't like it in the first place.

Alyssa said...

When I read subplots, the ones that bother me are those that don't seem like part of the story. They are just included to introduce new characters and oh, by the way, buy the next book to get their story.

It sounds like the subplot you want to include is a meaningful part of the story. These kinds of subplots work for me.