UPDATE: Some good discussion on The Passive Voice about this topic. A few clarifications from myself in the comments, as well as some great points from others. Check it out if you’re interested in some further reading: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/01/2014/escapism-vs-reality-check-on-creating-honest-fiction/
I’ll let you in on a little open secret: my fiction is grim.
Not grim in the quality sense of the word. I happen to think it’s pretty good on that front. But grim in mood. Tone. Grim in character, in setting, and in the twists and turns of plot.
Writing grim fiction is something I’ve always done, really. I’m a fan of dark comedy, gruesome mysteries, as well as complex character studies. That’s what I’m interested in, as a reader, and that is reflected in my fiction.
However, I know there is a different kind of reader out there to me. A reader who enjoys positive spins on life; a reader who enjoys transportations to fantasy worlds much more idyllic than our world. I like these works too — there’s nothing like a quality fantasy or sci-fi to transport your imagination elsewhere (note: I am not referring to all sci-fi and fantasy here. This is just a plucked out of the air example for example’s purposes). Escapism is a good way to switch off from reality. Sometimes, we don’t want reminding of the harsh realities of the world. We get enough of miserable reality in the media.
That said, ‘reality check’ works are my personal fascination. One look at my published works should be enough to give that away — What We Saw impersonated a cute childhood mystery, but background themes of marriage breakdown, domestic abuse and mental health issues hung over the story like a dark cloud. Most people got this, but some people didn’t like this — many reviewers questioned whether the book was a kid’s book or an adult book. They spoke of the lingering sense of mystery; the sense that not all was resolved in the conclusion.
This is the exact reaction I was looking for.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Killing Freedom is a thriller with a hit man protagonist. Dying Eyes is a *spoiler alert* detective mystery with a wrist-cutting, self-destructive lead. *spoiler over* The Watching Trilogy… well. Does anybody ever get a happy ending there?
The fact of the matter is, I like writing challenging characters because that’s what I like reading. I like writing escapism too — you can’t read The Painting and seriously tell me I do not enjoy that — so I guess I like interchanging themes.
But the question is, should fiction have to be about escapism? Should it have to be about happy endings, neat resolutions and clean-cut characters?
You know my answer to this already. I believe not. Hell — maybe I’m being naive. Maybe I’m losing a section of the reading market by refusing to adhere to what we are apparently supposed to write. But that’s okay, because I know there’s a smaller section of the market who do want to read these ‘reality check’ works. A group of readers who do enjoy character studies. A group of readers who enjoy being forced to question their fiction.
Obviously, like I said, this isn’t a swipe at escapism writers. There are some fantastic writers at that side of the writing spectrum. But I guess this is just a cue to writers to write to their strengths, rather than writing for an audience. Write with the door closed — write art, in whatever form — and then think about the marketing afterwards.
I’m going to put my hand on my heart and tell you a very honest secret now, something I’ve never spoken about. Back in August, I wrote a sequel to Killing Freedom. I wrote it because I felt I had to write it. I never really intended to follow-up Killing Freedom — at least, not for a few years — but apparently, the series is the way to go.
However, I wasn’t impressed with this sequel. It didn’t hit the heights of anything else I’d written. It felt like a forced thriller; like I was forcing myself to write something I felt I should write rather than challenging myself to write something I know I can write.
I’ve canned the book. Tossed it away. Deleted all eighty-thousand words from my hard drive. Maybe I’ll revisit Jared one day. In fact, I likely will. But it has to be for the right reasons, or I’m failing the characters and I’m failing my readers.
This isn’t a dig at series novelists, either. Quite the opposite. For example, I’ve just finished and am preparing to release my sequel to Dying Eyes. Now, this is a book I’m delighted with. Brian McDone is such a deep and complex character, it’s always such a joy to write him. This book isn’t a sequel for the sake of a sequel — it’s the sequel that has to happen.
Same goes for Dead Days Season 2, which will launch in March. Dead Days is the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything, but I know there is so much still to explore. I want to really study Riley’s reactions to certain character deaths. I want to develop Claudia — believe me, there’s SO much more to come from her. And there are just countless situations I want to explore, not because I can, but because I absolutely have to.
Anyway, I digress. I guess the point of this post is to write whatever it is you are good at writing. There is no right or wrong way. There is only honesty.
If you stay true to yourself, you will write the best fiction you possibly can.
If you try to be someone else, you won’t.
It really is as simple as that.
Anyway, I spoke about the Dying Eyes sequel. I can right now officially confirm the title and share with you the amazing cover, designed by Yoly Cortez. The book is called Buried Slaughter, and is launching this February. More details in the next few weeks. To be notified as soon as it is available, click here (and get a freebie in the process)