Russell Kirkpatrick's Journal
I've just finished my read-through and revision of 'Dark Heart', and I'm thinking hard about something that has become clear to me through this process and from a few emails I've had from beta readers. Apparently I've written my best story yet (or that's how they're humouring me) but it's much darker in tone than my other novels.
Particularly notable are sexual encounters and a fair swathe of violence. I didn't really think too hard about the implications of this as I wrote it, because the story called for it. This trilogy is, after all, set in a much darker land than my first. But I'm now wondering 'how much is too much?'
I should add there's no 'mechanics of sex' writing. What happens is dealt with discreetly and not with voyeuristic glee.
This realisation is of specific concern given the large Christian readership I seem to have fostered through my first trilogy. I receive emails on a daily basis from people wishing to discuss my faith, or that exhibited by characters in the story. While I'll always follow the basic principle of writing to the story, I am nervous about not offending readers.
A specific example. Apparently the local private girls' school has a set of the first trilogy. I wonder just how suitable they might find the current trilogy, especially 'Dark Heart'. Of course, I can always fall back on Jenny Fallon's advice, which is that such controversy can only be good for sales! But how much should I care about the reaction of readers?
Is it much different from what we see/hear on the news everyday?
I remember seeing a picture of a Monk's body floating down a river from coverage of Burma, which wasn't exactly pleasant. At least your story isn't real.
No, I guess a single news bulletin would have more sex and violence than 'Dark Heart'. However, reading the stuff novelised is a bit different to having it reported on. I take your point though!
Sex and violence is a real thing - its the attitudes towards these issues that count.
As a writer, the reaction of readers is something that is very important. The people that write their reactions to you, are most probably only the people that are disturbed by it - there will be many more positive reactions that will go uncovered.
Readers often want things rewritten to meet their preferences. Just ask Trudi. I think you should consider the preferences seriously, but not let them affect things that are fundamental to the tale or its telling. In fact, I think you should always write the best that you have in you. If readers need an explanation of why the sex and violence are important to this tale then give them one. If readers need a warning of sex and violence ahead (which they might if the novel is likely to be bought for a school library) then say so upfront in the same way you did in this post "This novel is darker in tone...". Just don't jeopardise the tale or its telling.
Wise words, Gillian, that accord with my feelings. But it doesn't hurt to ask ...
Maybe unsettling is good, but ending up being sickened by the violence is not. I'd think about this issue very carefully. One violent scene has impact. The more you include, the less impact it has, yet the more sickening it becomes. You said something along those lines to me once, and I think you were right.
You have sold this trilogy to Orbit; maybe it might be an idea to pass it through yr editor there for a second opinion?
That's an interesting thought. I could certainly ask.
This is an interesting question Russell. As you know I always have doubts about contents of books when I am hand selling. I don't want to offend people. Having said that, like Glenda said, there is a definite line between part of the story or unnecessary repetition for so called impact. If it has bearing on the story line and you feel the story would be weaker without it then of course it is necessary. You wouldn't have written it if you thought it didn't belong. Perhaps a little bit of "tasteful" sex and violence will garner new fans?
One thing I do know is you cannot dictate what a reader wishes to read. Most books these days seem to have a fair smattering of sex and violence. One lesson I learned was when the local retirement village asked me to chose 30 books for their library, being mindful that 80% were female residence. 99% of the books I chose were female orientated romance/saga/war bride genre. I put in a few blokes reads...bit of graphic violence and sex. Funnily these were the books they all loved and couldn't get enough of. So maybe Russell you are worrying for nothing.
Don't let your fear of what one part of your audience may think lead you to censor yourself. Personally, I am less offended by explicit, well, anything, than I am if I sense that the author did not fully commit to what he was trying to say.
I've been sitting on the first sentence of a story for a couple of weeks now. I think it's one of the most shocking things I've ever written- well, I haven't actually written it down yet because until today I was kind of scared of it. But I will write it, and then write all the other sentences that fall out of that first one.
Of course, I don't have an audience eagerly waiting my next story, so I don't have to worry about offending anyone. :)
Maybe you need to get an endorsement from someone who writes darker books for the front cover, to give people an idea of what to expect. You know, something along the line of "Although much darker than his previous novels, Kirkpatrick has surpassed himself...", yada, yada, yada! I do agree with the general opinion here though, write the book you need to write, don't try to second guess what other people are going to like or not like.
These are all very useful comments. I intend to do another read-through to see whether I've crossed the line into gratuitous violence - I've never enjoyed reading (or watching) violence for the sake of it. (On that subject, my son encouraged me to watch '300' last night. I knew I'd hate it, and I was right.)
Trying to second guess what your audience wants is of course dangerous, and writing to supposedly please them is likewise fraught with risk. However, it is a thin line between that and ignoring your audience because it's "my book and I'll do what I please and who cares about them..."
You already have an audience - the first book in this trilogy is out there. They pay money to read what you write. And if this book is substantively different in feel from what went before, then you are going to disappoint. As I say, a fine line...
On a lighter note, Russell, check out Jenny Fallon's blog, she has an entry just for you!!!
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