Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Recapping - How to keep repetition from becoming repetitive.

One topic that's been on my mind recently as I progress on with Broken Moon is how to approach the subject of recapping. Since this is technically the second book in a series it draws pretty heavily on the events of the previous novel to inform the actions of one of the main characters, but at the same time I don't intend for the story to be a direct sequel. If I want Broken Moon to work as a standalone a certain amount of recapping is going to be necessary, but how does an author approach that without either boring readers of the previous book, or confusing newcomers to the series by not giving them enough information?

I had a few ideas in mind when I started this, but I think the most critical part of an extensive recap is this: It needs to come from a different perspective.
A series of events retold in exactly the same tone and voice as they were originally is going to become repetitive, but if the author can put a new slant on those events then they can be made fresh and interesting again even to readers who have heard it all before. This also works the other way around, giving readers of the new book a differing experience when they go back to read the old one, rather than feeling like they've already been spoiled on everything.
As a side note, I also like to keep spoilers as minimal as possible. Of course, you have to get into pretty dramatic spoiler territory when recapping critical events, but I like to keep the details vague enough that the reader only gets a general outline rather than every bit of the nitty-gritty.

So! The easiest way to do this is to recap from the perspective of a different character. Wild Instincts was told explicitly from the perspective of the protagonist Lyssa, whereas Broken Moon frequently gets inside the head of Cyan, the previous book's antagonist. While there were mild hints at Cyan's motivation scattered throughout the first novel, he was by and large a clear bad guy with very few redeeming qualities. When Broken Moon gets to the stage where Cyan retells his version of events, my plan is to go into specific detail about how and why he made those choices, and while his actions won't exactly be redeemed by this new information, they will (hopefully) at the very least seem much more understandable and sympathetic.

On top of this I'm also making sure not to reveal too much information too early on. This serves a dual purpose in the story for both new readers and people who are familiar with the previous book.
Despite being frequently pestered by the heroine April to talk about his past, Cyan is understandably reluctant. For new readers this creates an air of dark mystery around his character, and a dangling question waiting to be answered, with a whole lot of anticipation and tension behind it based on the small hints he drops about how sinister his backstory is.
For people who have read Wild Instincts, however, they know all too well what Cyan's done and what he's capable of. They realise that April's perception of him as a good and kind person may not be entirely accurate, and that the tensions between him and the other characters might well boil over into something much darker. It dangles another question in the air for this group of readers; rather than "What happened in Cyan's past?" they instead have to consider "What will happen when April finds out the truth about him?"

So that, to me, is how you should go about recapping past events in a novel. There's always a very pressing urge to just rattle off necessary information as an author; to fill the reader in as thoroughly and directly as possible so that they're all caught up and ready to enjoy the fun part coming up next.
The trick, of course, is making that catch-up period fun as well rather than it just being an expository information dump, for both old and new readers alike.

I'm sure there are other techniques that can be used to put a new shine on recapping (and I thoroughly look forward to giving them some thought in the future!), but for now this is the method I'm going to be aiming for.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Broken Moon Part 3 Published!

Part three of my latest serial is all done and available to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords! We're a third of the way through, and conflicts are starting to kick off for April and Cyan as their relationship develops.

Time has passed for April since the night that changed her life forever, but the reality of her situation is still only just beginning to set in. She must adapt, find a new mate, and continue on as a dutiful female to her pack.
  Still an outsider to the insular Highland wolves, Cyan is unable to leave April to face her fate alone after the night they shared together, but there is little he can do to save her from a life he knows she will live to regret.
  The Highland Pack are beginning to question their leadership, their traditions and future becoming unclear, and amidst all of their upheaval there is only one simple, impulsive desire for both April and Cyan to seek comfort in. A forbidden desire, and one which will have severe consequences for both of them should they give in to it.

Besides the new release, things are ticking along more or less as normal. I'm focusing pretty explicitly on Broken Moon for the time being, though the re-editing of Wild Instincts is still a job on the back burner that I'm getting along with. I've got a few final tax thingies to sort out with Smashwords so that I can finally grab all of my money from them, but once that's out of the way I should be pretty much set up with everything I need as an indie author going forward.

More of my back catalogue should be coming to ArE in the near future as well, along with more blog posts as per usual!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Subtlety: The Art of Making Your Readers do the Hard Work

The image on the left tells a story without spelling it out for the viewer, and the beauty of it is that the story has far more potential by virtue of its ambiguity. Did the woman in the background set those glasses out? Is she waiting for a companion to join her? Is he or she late? Has she already been waiting for hours? Is she leaving, abandoning those glasses on the beach after a lover failed to join her? Or perhaps she has nothing to do with the glasses at all. Perhaps someone else set them out, left them abandoned, and the woman in the background is just a passer by, failing to notice this bittersweet sight as the sun slowly goes down on our two glasses.

This photo is subtle in what it implies, and as a result we the viewers are given the task of doing the leg work to attribute meaning and narrative to it. Subtlety is a wonderful technique to employ in the arts, because it allows the artist to convey ideas that go beyond what they're capable of showing directly.

Readers will always, *always* have their own personal preferences when it comes to a story, and most of us will have small details about even our favourite titles that we'd love to see changed. With a little subtlety, an author is able to fulfil those personal wishes of the reader and speak to them in a way that would otherwise be impossible to convey in words.

Perhaps the most direct examples of effective subtlety can be found within the horror genre. Horror is a deeply personal thing; what scares one person can often be laughable to another. I myself am a massive arachnophobe, yet there are plenty of people who keep the very creatures I find terrifying as cherished pets. This is why a lot of the most effective horror is subtle and ambiguous. We will always scare ourselves far better than another person will be able to, since our deepest fears are always so intimate and personal. It's why a good horror movie hides the reveal of the monster until the last moment; the monster is always far, far scarier when we don't know what it looks like, when we're doing the hard work of creating its image in our own minds, rather than relying on the film makers to do it for us.

A little bit of ambiguity and subtlety offers the audience a challenge, a little puzzle to figure out in their own head, and the reward for solving it is an experience that speaks to you on a more personal level than any artist will ever be able to convey directly.

Of course, getting subtlety right is no easy feat. Too much ambiguity and your audience will start to get confused and disconnected from the experience; too little and it runs the risk of becoming predictable and boring. This is linked in very closely with the adage of Show vs Tell. Showing implies a degree of subtlety, conveying information via association rather than laying it out in black and white for the audience to see, whereas telling offers little to no ambiguity at all.

While conventional wisdom prizes showing over telling, a good author knows that both of these techniques have their own time and place, just as a good author knows just how much subtlety is appropriate in their work.

One of my favourite examples of this is Peter Cheung's 1995 animated series Aeon Flux, a show wherein every episode is heavily driven by metaphor and thematic significance on a visual, narrative, and character level. In fact, this show is so subtle and frantically paced that it often becomes very difficult to follow. It's hard to sit back and enjoy the episodes as individual stories, because your brain has to be constantly double-checking what's happening in every scene to make sure you're not missing something important. On an artistic level it's an incredibly interesting show, but on a pure entertainment level it often succeeds in being too artistic for its own good.

So subtlety is a fine line to tread, and it's certainly something that I'm hoping to get better at myself as a writer this coming year. It's one of those things that really has the potential to cripple and elevate your work in equal measures, but when you get it right, it's one of the most powerful ways for an author to connect with their readers. When you take a story off the page and into the reader's mind, make them think and consider and interpret, then you really start to reach a place that goes beyond simple entertainment value.