What Authors Owe Readers

What Authors Owe Readers

Greetings all,

I was just thinking about books I’ve been waiting forever for, and that led me to this post.

caught-front-coverFirst, I’m very guilty. I was supposed to have the entire Oneiros Log done by now (Hey! I’m getting there). I got derailed on quite a few projects, and while I still produced books, I didn’t publish the titles some of you are waiting for.

The thing is, authors owe readers stories. More importantly, they owe readers the stories they’re waiting for. Now, the author doesn’t owe the reader the stories the reader wants in terms of I want Kaladin to marry Shallan, but they do owe readers the next chapter in the story.

There should be some grace in this. For instance, any Stormlight book is some 700 pages. They’re huge, so waiting two years for 500,000 words is probably fair. But what about three, four?

Readers should be patient. I think Towers of Midnight had some issues here and there because they were working so hard to get it out there. So there’s a balance between the fact that the author owes the reader another story and the reader needing to be patient.

I dream of the day someone gets mad at me for not having this book or that book done. It hasn’t come yet, though I do have a few readers who are indeed waiting for Betrayed. Thinking about how angry I was waiting for word on the next Dresden book gave me some perspective on that.

Why is this important? Well for starters, it’s very hard to gain momentum when you’re not putting out product. A guy like George R. R. Martin can make anyone wait as long as he wants because he has his money. The worst readers can do to him is say, “Well, HBO ended it, so I’m good.” Please know that I don’t think that’s the case; I’m only saying if it was, no one could really do anything about it.

However, a guy like me trying to earn a living doing this needs to make sure that he’s always ready with the next book.

I get a lot of questions about being an author, and in the context of this post, I always say, “If you’re writing a story, don’t publish book one until you have the other two books in the series ready.”

Caught and the rest of Oneiros taught me that. For starters, when you publish books in quick succession, you give yourself more visibility. We’re in a binge age, and people want that next series. However, they want that series readily available. Even as I mention the need for readers to have at least some degree of patience, I understand that people want to marathon a whole season of television. I do the same with books. I don’t want to read one book in a series; I want to read the whole series, and I don’t want to wait a year to move to the next book.

Sojourn_Ebook_CoverDoes that mean authors are evil if they don’t release books in quick succession? No. I confess Power of Words, Repressed, and Sojourn all distracted me from the book I probably should have written. Sometimes an artist has to go where the muse takes him.  You may want a book quickly, but you don’t want a quick turd. Again, there’s  a balance. I finally got Betrayed ready and COVID obliterated the chance for conventions (and therefore the opportunity to make what I need to get edits done).

That led me to start working on Discovered, and I even had the chance to return to Images of Truth. I have so many things I want to release, but I live on a budget. Yes, I owe you the rest of Oneiros, and I’m getting it done as quickly as I’m able with that budget.

What about the big guys? Well, I don’t think they’re being rude either. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes wonder what Martin is up to (probably editing another series). It doesn’t mean I didn’t wonder what Butcher was up to. As a reader, I found myself frustrated at the wait. As an author, I feel convicted about not having stuff ready to print.

So maybe you’re not personally waiting for Betrayed, but you might be waiting for the next Ice and Fire book or something of that sort. I agree, it is frustrating to wait. You have a right to that emotion. Authors owe readers stories, and they should be produced in a timely fashion.

On my end, I’ll start drafting Discovered on the first. Once I’ve saved up enough money, I’ll send Betrayed to Sara for edits.

So I’m curious. How long do you feel it is appropriate to wait for “the next book?” Are you satisfied if an author at least publishes something in that time?

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Everyone is A Hero in His Own Mind, Even the Villain

Everyone is A Hero in His Own Mind, Even the Villain

Greetings all,

Mumm-Ra
Image taken from thundercats-ho.wikia.com for study and education under fair use doctrine.

Do you remember 1980s cartoons?  A lot of them are being remade, but I remember a day when villains were just bad guys who did bad things. I’m still a fan of those villains in the right circumstance. Horror movies (most of them) follow that format still.

However, over the last, I’d say, ten years, readers and moviegoers have had a higher standard. They want sympathetic villains. Now, this isn’t exactly a “new” trend. I’d even admit that most great stories had sympathetic villains.  Now, I know I’ve talked about sympathy sliders, but in this case I honestly mean villains I understood and felt a connection to.

I feel this has become the standard. What I’ve tried to do is think about situations where the reader demands a connection to the villain as opposed to those situations where they don’t care so much.

This is honestly just me musing on the subject, and I’d be interested to hear your comments below.

My thesis: The more they see the villain, the more the reader wants to understand him.

Case studies:

John_Doe_2
Image taken from villains.wiki.com.

Jon Doe from Se7en. He’s the shadow in the dark. He’s the mysterious monster who we never even see until the last act of the movie. So when we finally come face to face, he’s a monster. That’s because this story is about Somerset and Mills. We get to know them. We care for them. A lot of mysteries follow this format (of course some don’t). The point is, I’ve never once talked to anyone about this movie and heard that person say, “that movie was terrible. I really couldn’t understand John Doe’s motivation.” That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but we don’t see him a lot, so we really don’t care what his side is. We just want Mills to put that gun down.

As I think, I’d posit that this style is most common in mysteries and thrillers. When the capture of the villain is the main plot thread. Again, there are exceptions, but the point is you can have a huge hit with a villain no one understands, so long as we don’t have to keep interacting with him. Short fiction where the bad guy is one to be chased and captured seems acceptable.

This is less true with larger works. It’s rare in epic fantasy to have a villain who isn’t at least understandable.  But let’s take a look at two huge successes and see what distinguishes them.

The Lord of the Rings:

Mordor
Image taken from lot.wikia.com.

Sure, we understand the motivation. Get the ring; rule the world. But it’s not like we find ourselves ever feeling for the great eye do we? Also note, that eye and all his minions have less than ten percent of the story. This does a few things. It amps up the mystery and the threat. In fact, Wheel of Time shows us that the more we see the villain, the less imposing they are. In Eye of the World, Myrddraal are just horrifying. But after a few more books, we’re not so afraid of them anymore. We only THOUGHT they were imposing, but the Forsaken! Sure, in books 2-5. Now what Jordan did with that problem is he made them more sympathetic. So the Myrddrall are just made to be minions. The Forsaken, however, begin to get personal chapters, strife and pain. I love the series, but I can admit this was a bit hit or miss. The point is, the reader learns about them, and there’s opportunity for some degree of understanding.

Here’s where I admit that I’m struggling to think of a case where the villain is known.  They’re out there, but it’s a challenge. The challenge is because while there is opposition to the main character, that opposition isn’t the main threat of the book. The main opposition isn’t seen much. The less we see them, the less we care (and I’d even argue want) to understand them.

I’m currently look at Best Fantasy Books HQ’s list of the best-selling fantasy series of all time, and I’d argue that while there is opposition to the main character, the main threat is still mostly unknown.

DH-Promotional-Picture-draco-malfoy-27114107-960-1280
Image taken from harry potter.wikia.com.

Harry Potter: We don’t see that V guy (no way I’m trying to spell that name) in the flesh until the fourth book. Sure we know about him, but we don’t really build a bond do we? Was anyone I’m unaware of sitting there going, “Well, I really think he has an argument for why he should be in power”? Nope. Sure, we could argue some affection for Draco, and did anyone not cry when Snape said, “Always”?  But they weren’t “the main threat.”

Lord of the Rings:  Discussed above.

Chronicles of Narnia: Well, it depends on which book you talk about, but in the ones I can remember, that there “main villain” was pretty much only showing up when it was time for the showdown.

Wheel of Time: Discussed above.

Discworld: I’ve only read one book. I’m sorry folks. It just didn’t grab me.

A Song of Ice and Fire: Anyone on team White Walker? Yes, there are many evil, hateful people in that book, and we know their motivations. We even understand most of them. However, that Night King is THE bad guy, and no one has posted a single meme asking “why don’t we know more about why he’s trying to ruin the world?”

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Luke, I believe, dies a hero. Kronos (the big bad) is there to scare people and get beat in the last book.

Inheritance Cycle: Murtagh is a tragic character, but he’s a victim and a pawn. Galbatorix? We saw him at the end for like, a second.

So, after careful consideration and research, I’ve formed a new thesis, especially when it comes to antagonists and big bads.

Conclusion: Fantasy sagas have two forms of opposition. 1) A sympathetic opposition. A character whom we feel something for as the series progresses. (Examples: Draco, Vader, Murtagh.) 2) a “big bad.” This is a force or evil we don’t see until the end unless it’s to threaten the hero and make him feel very small. (examples: Kronos, The Emperor, Galbatorix. Voldemort, (HEY! I spelled it right!))

I don’t feel this is an absolute. However, I do feel it is the standard. I once did a post about the symbiotic nature of heroes and villains, but those are in series and comics where the main conflict is the bond between those characters.

What are your thoughts?

Thank for reading,

Matt