When I pick up a novel, or open a reading device, I want to be entertained, to enter worlds that I’m interested in, to provide escapism from the mundane or tortuous elements of life. Or simply for the opportunity to rest and relax. I suspect I’m not much different to you.
Readers often become writers because they’ve been inspired by their experience as a reader. I’ve been inspired by Jeffery Deaver, PD James, Michael Connolly, JK Rowling, Peter Temple, Lynda La Plante, Neil Cross and so many others.
But when you think about it, it’s a wonder there are fiction writers at all and if wasn’t possible to be an indie author, there would not be the choice there is today. Let’s look at what’s involved:
- It’s an exclusive experience. Writers might appear to lead ‘normal’ lives when engaging with non writers, but until my current project is finished, it’s sometimes hard to work out in which world I have a disassociative disorder.
- Unless you’re a best seller fiction author there is no serious money to be made. According to Forbes magazine the top ten authors earn between $US 19 Million (Dean Koontz) and $US 84 Million (James Paterson). However, in more sobering news from The Guardian, we learn almost a third of published authors make less than $500 (£350) a year from their writing, according to a new survey, with around a half of writers dissatisfied with their writing income. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m in this group – at least for now! So I’m certainly not writing for the money.
- There is one hell of a lot of art and craft in what transpires as a labour of love to entertain. I had no idea how much until I wrote Best Served Cold which went through eight revisions. That number of revisions is by no means uncommon.
- When I started, I didn’t know much about a story arc, much less what was required to pace the novels for the genre I write in. I knew what I liked to read and intuitively thought, it can’t be that hard. It is! You hear people say, they’d love to write a book and will do so “one day.” Most won’t! In fact it’s thought, 99% won’t. But I can identify with the desire.
- There is conflicting advice about the writing process. It’s all passionately given, well-intentioned and coming from people including successful authors. Some argue the importance of outlining a book. Jeffery Deaver is the best example I know of someone who does this. He says when he outlines (the actions, the revelations, the twists and turning points in a story) the outline itself will easily exceed 200 pages. But Stephen King in his book, On Writing, says he doesn’t outline at all. He and others say that if they don’t know where the story is taking them, the reader should be kept guessing. Two famous thriller writers with different approaches. Who should I follow? I just do what’s right for me. I’ll say this much – I wish I knew when I started, what I know today about how to make the process easier and have some story milestones.
- It’s an expensive hobby. I pay for my editing. Mostly this is a two if not three read and revision project. Paying for covers, paying for self learning, software, attending courses and conferences, it all adds up.
- So, I don’t write for money. I write to entertain others. But here’s the kicker. People tend to be shy in giving feedback. And reviews are almost unheard of. It’s very hard for Indie authors to get reviews. I hope most people who read my books get something out of them, even if it’s only a single smile at a well chosen phrase or pointed character description. But who’d know? I don’t.
Am I complaining? No. And here’s why.
Despite all the barriers, I get a buzz out of the words that somehow magically appear on the screen. I enjoy the journey and when I start, I don’t always know the exact destination but it’s great when I get there. (Note the big clue about whether I outline of not). And I especially enjoy the editing and honing the work to make it the best I can make it. In fact I probably like this to an abnormal degree, such is the difficulty I have following universal advice to “just get your first draft finished”. I love working with an editor who pushes me the ‘extra mile’ to tease out something more in the setting, the emotion or whatever. Or to let me have my style but also reign me in when she thinks I’ve been over the top. I think with every book we’ve done together she’s said at some point, “Less is more.”
The justice/injustice/tyranny element of the crime and thriller genre has been motivated by a large part of my paid working life in courts. I don’t write pages full of blood, guts, horrors and nightmares. I do render to the page some ugly personalities. My editor describes an antagonist in my latest project, Presumed Guilty, as ‘grotesque’. For me that’s high praise although even the grotesque character needs to have a motivation that a reader can understand if not agree with.
I’m sometimes asked if my stories are plot or character driven. I think the distinction is artificial. My lead character’s actions and the force(s) opposing his or her goals are what determines the plot and the plot is the sum total of the main character’s actions. This one’s a bit like the argument about whether the chicken or the egg came first. I like to think I write stories where some form of justice prevails in the end and my main character repels or impacts on a tyrannic force. The modern thriller seems to mash up action, horror, and crime where the life/death value is at stake. But for me, it might not always be life or death as the terms are commonly understood. Life and death might, in my stories, be psychological or professional life or death.
I enjoy writing thrillers that explore the horrors of real life, real monsters who live in our every day world, rather than the ones we imagined might hide somewhere in our childhood bedrooms. An example of a real life monster in everyday life is the psychopath in the workplace. The workplaces I write about are courtrooms, police stations, law and corporate offices and when you think of all the possible roles in those workplaces, psychopaths are bound to be known. Perhaps just not openly discussed. But nowhere are the stakes of life higher than when people are pitted against forces that might deprive them of their liberty. If you don’t believe that, ask someone compelled to be caged up for many years. Whether guilty or not, that person’s life will never be the same as before they entered prison.
I love to write character ‘points of view’ including writing through the eyes of the ‘bad guys’. I think that’s a throw back to year 7 at school when I played the baddie in J B Priestley’s play called, The Inspector Calls. Or perhaps simply because I started working at courts before I was 17 years old and was deprived some of rebellious teenage years that seem to be a rite of passage when growing up.
I hope that how I feel about writing, comes through. Here’s wishing you enjoyable and stimulating reading experiences, whoever you follow.
And don’t forget Best Served Cold is free for you to download here: http://www.mcginncrime.com/best-served-cold-landing-page-mobile/