It’s sweet, isn’t it? You have a sudden epiphany that something you’re doing in your current novel might have a negative commercial impact on a different novel. It can make a reader uncomfortable when a writer starts out glorifying a violent vigilante in one story, then switching to a pacifist one who hates hoo-rah gung-ho bullshit in the next. It shouldn’t matter—an author should be able to write whatever story inspires them—but it kind of does.
I had such an epiphany recently.
A problem that could mean my second novel—the standalone Three Years Dead—might have a negative impact on my third, Reflected Innocence, which I hope to launch into a parallel series alongside the Alicia Friend/Donald Muphy world from His First His Second.
So should I sacrifice my creative vision for my commercial one?
Well, in experimenting, I discovered something quite wonderful. In worrying about my commercial future (in other words, my future sales and therefore my income) I wrote something that actually made the story stronger.
Still, why is that a problem?
Okay, because the protagonists are both males and both are white-British. However, while they’re very different in character, in terms of the basic list of characteristics, they’re going to clash a bit.
In Three Years Dead, Martin Money is a police officer with no memory of the past three years, trying to unravel a) his own assault that resulted in the memory loss, and b) the disappearance of a young male prostitute; he’s in his forties, with a great deal of experience and technical know-how, and spends a lot of time confused
In Reflected Innocence, Adam Park is a private investigator, university-educated, and widely-travelled, so his prose is more succinct and analytical. In fact, they’re so different that I don’t believe it would be much of a problem if I released them two years apart.
I can write in different voices after all.
But one is set to be launched soon after the other, with little in the way of a gap between them, so I was concerned that someone who read Three Years Dead might pick up Reflected Innocence , and believe it—at first—to be a sequel, then be disappointed no matter how good it actually is.
So I tried switching the point of view. I changed Three Years Dead to a third-person narrative. Rather than jumping from head to head as I did in His First His Second, we follow only Martin Money, but we don’t exist exclusively inside him, looking out through his eyes. It has the effect of being a very visual novel, often building on the mystery, but more importantly it allows the reader some distance.
Even whilst writing it, even knowing where the story was going, I found it an uncomfortable experience. There are some pretty sordid things going on, and the character himself discovers some very sleazy secrets about the period of his life that he’s forgotten. Drugs, implied violence, police corruption, and some sexual imagery that, while explicit on the page, is anything but erotic. In investigating Si Larson’s disappearance, Martin explores the awful lives of drug addicts and prostitutes, and positions himself as both a perpetrator and saviour. Spending so much time inside his head, looking out with such candour and intimacy, I think it would have left many readers feeling like they need a bath.
In opening myself up to corrupting my creative vision, and experimenting with a writing style to facilitate my commercial ambitions, I made my novel stronger.
It sounds odd, I know, but moving away from Martin Money’s first-person narrative to make way for Adam Park’s, it gives readers a better experience, and although I still hope a few will feel the need to bathe or shower after reading (it’s that sort of book), it will be in a ‘phew’ way instead of an uneasy one.