Unless I have a whole lot more people out there reading this blog than I realize, I don’t exactly have a busload of folks to take a poll with. In fact, I’d say it’s a good chance I’d have trouble filling up a minivan with my readers, even if it meant a free trip to Silver Dollar City.
But I’m gonna throw this out there anyway, see what kind of responses I get. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
Okay, so here’s the situation: I’ve had to do a revision of Pipeline: Startup, the first novel in my Pipeline duology (hereinafter referred to as Startup). If you didn’t read that blog—or have forgotten the details—in brief, I submitted my ms to Aaron Priest, one of my dream agents. He rejected me, but gave a brief critique, in which he said:
Your writing, line by line, is skillful. Your main character Lyle Villines is interesting, likable, and even compelling. However, a crime novel must have a strong sense of forward motion in its pacing, and this is what your manuscript lacked, in my view. Your query’s synopsis told me of a plot that sounded enticing, yet by page 75, almost nothing had happened. My best advice to you, as you write, is to put at the forefront of your consciousness the concept of storytelling that sustains a tireless forward motion.
There were a few more things, but that’s the bulk and essence of the letter. I wrote back, asking if I could resubmit my ms if I could revise it. I was answered by one Francis Jalet-Miller (no relation that I’m aware of), who said “…in most cases Mr. Priest does not do second readings, but if you would like to re-send your revised manuscript, Mr. Priest said that he would be okay with my giving it a reading. If you check our website, you will note that my role here is as in-house editor (I do not function here as an agent).”
So, to motivate myself, I count this as half a rejection. I would like to add that I thanked Mr. Priest for his words, because they pointed out something I wasn’t seeing, but should have. All I can say is I must have been entirely too close to the work to get a proper objective look at it. Even a friend of mine, who usually sees this kind of thing, admits he was in the same position: he saw it once it was pointed out, and can’t figure just why he didn’t see it in the first place. And he definitely wasn’t too close to the work.
So, anyway, I set about revising it, after giving it a lot of thought (and having the bejesus scared out of me when my computer tried to crap out on me), and agonizing over it more than I rightfully should have. Heck, I’m a writer. Just sit down and write the damn thing.
But, see, based on opinions I trust, about page 100 or so, it really starts to take off, get really interesting. So, okay, that’s good news. Means I don’t have to revise everything. Just a third or so of it.
I gave it a fresh look, decided the first twenty-three pages were good as is, and went from there. I re-wrote some scenes, deleted others, and changed the entire timeline. The idea I had was, while I’m at it, might as well see if I can reduce the overall word count. Never hurts, so long as you don’t cut out something vital.
So that’s what I did. Then, last Thursday, I took it to group. I started at page twenty, since they’d never heard my revised version of the first section the reporter wrote (the idea behind this book is that Lyle is telling this story to a reporter). They hadn’t like my original reporter section, so I’d rewritten it a long time ago, made it shorter and more to the point, and changed where it occurs in the novel.
Well, most of ’em still didn’t like the reporter bit. And, since it doesn’t happen till page twenty, they pretty much had the idea that nothing has still happened until after the reporter section, at the least.
Crap. I can’t win for losing.
My problem is, this isn’t like going to apply for a job and getting it. You don’t just drop off into the drug world and start moving up. And, since the plot involves Lyle getting close to someone high up in one of the cartels, he sure as hell can’t just walk up to them and make friends. You don’t stay in the business long if you do that. Not on either end of that situation.
So, the first part is necessarily a bit slow. But, at the same time, I gotta make that interesting.
One of the members said that, the problem he had with the reporter being there is that it means Lyle is telling the story, thus we already know he survived his encounter with the drug world.
Okay. That’s a valid point. Then you add in that it’s a first-person POV, which many authors say is not a good POV to use because, supposedly, the first-person narration also denotes that the protagonist survived.
And yet…and yet, I dare you go pick up a crime novel or mystery. Based on the many that I’ve read, chances are very good that it’ll be a first-person narrative. It’s a common technique, especially in mystery, but since crime is a subgenre of mystery, it shows up a lot there, too.
Plus, first-person narrative is very popular these days. So, strike that as a negative. It’s obvious readers today are willing to suspend disbelief in that direction.
So, what about the reporter aspect?
Well, after some thought, and discussing it with my daughter and that same friend I mentioned above, I’m of the opinion that I’ll leave the reporter bits in. Why? For one, there aren’t that many. When you’re reading this thing with a greater sense of continuity than I can give you at writer’s group, I think it’ll look entirely different. Also, the reporter bits, much like the reporter in Interview With The Vampire, add a perspective to it that Lyle can’t give us. Lyle’s too deep in the story. He lived it. The reporter gives us an outsider’s perspective.
Lastly (I think), the point of Lyle’s story, as I’ve written it, is not whether or not Lyle lives. I mean, be honest: how many books have you read in which the protagonist died? The only one I can think of offhand is To Live and Die in LA. Yes, the hero is often in mortal danger. But finding examples of where the good guy dies is hard to do. We know when we pick up a book that the good guy will live (unless it’s a George RR Martin novel, and then no one is safe. But not all of us can kill off main characters like he does). The suspense, the suspension of disbelief, comes not from whether or not the character lives, but how he does it. And, in the case of my novel, how he not only keeps himself alive, but escapes from the drug world and also fulfills his deal with the government and goes back to a normal life (which he realizes fairly early on that he’ll never be able to do. Getting arrested and dealing with powerful drug figures means his life will never be the same again).
So, here I sit, with two opposing viewpoints on how to go about this, which boil down to, do I leave the reporter a part of the story—and by that, I mean an active part, not just an implied one—or do I do away with that pretty much altogether. One alternative I’ve been offered is to start with a short prologue in which it is announced that there will be an ongoing series about Lyle. But, to me, that still does the same thing. All it leaves out is the rare parts actually written by the reporter that some say intrude on the story—while others say they like those parts.
That makes it a wash, in my mind, but I’d like to get a little broader poll, a little more input. Yes, I’m leaning toward leaving the reporter in, but going back to my original idea and framing the story with reporter bits. In other words, do a prologue-type thing at the beginning—one that isn’t very long—and another at the very end. Then maybe open up the second book with another, though I don’t think I’ll end it with one, because it’s structured differently.
What’s your opinion? Does the reporter aspect add anything, at least academically (I know it’s hard to judge when you haven’t read the thing)? Or does it distract a reader? Let me know, if you would.