I’m pleased to re-introduce my friend and fellow writer John Abramowitz! John wrote Atticus for the Undead, and now he wants to talk about his latest upcoming release, The Void. I’ll let John fill you in on the rest:
It is fitting that The Void is a tale of two characters’ coming of age (One of the characters is Alex Cronlord, the protagonist. I won’t say who the other one is to avoid spoilers. For purposes of this blog entry, we’ll refer to that character as Bob. Yes.). The Void is the second book in my young adult Weaver Saga, and the story of the Saga’s creation is the story of my coming of age as a writer. After all, its predecessor, Weaver, is the first book I ever published. Together, the two novels bookend my writing career (ba-dum-ching).
As I moved Alex and Bob through their journeys in roughly parallel action, I often felt like the novel was a case of art imitating life — Bob’s story arc was a metaphor for writing Weaver, while Alex’s story symbolized writing The Void. Just as Alex and Bob must make similar choices at various points during the novel, I confronted many of the same choices while writing The Void that I faced while writing Weaver. I’ll leave it to you to decide if the second book is better than the first (though I hope it is), but I would like to share with you some of the lessons I learned:
#1.) Don’t try to rush through your plot. Before I wrote Weaver, I made serial fiction, not novels. Serials allow a writer to be very ambitious, since they provide a lot of time to stretch out the plot and character arcs. When I started writing novels, I was determined not to dial back my ambitions — but I had less space to tell my story. I think the final product still turned out well, but I definitely tried to cram too much into too few words. As I re-read the first book in preparation for writing the second, there were some scenes that I definitely looked at and said, “I wish I had gone into more detail about this.”
I’m happy to say that I didn’t make that mistake this time around. In fact, I altered my original plan for the book to avoid making that mistake. My initial outline called for me to essentially tell Bob’s entire story in this book, but as I got down to writing, I saw that it wouldn’t work. After all, I wanted Alex’s progression to parallel Bob’s, and Alex’s story would not end with this book — the rest of the series would be very boring if it did! Since I knew how far I wanted to take Alex in this book, I decided to stop Bob’s story at the same point. This was painful for me, since I’d been looking forward to writing some of the scenes that didn’t make the cut. On the other hand, now I can torture my readers with the suspense!
#2.) Keep up with your characters. This wasn’t an issue for me in the first book, since I only had one set of characters to contend with. But by the time I wrote The Void, I’d also self- published Atticus for the Undead, a totally different type of story with a totally different cast of characters. By the time I finished Atticus, I’d bonded so thoroughly with Hunter, Kirsten, and Sabrina that I’d completely lost touch with Alex, Moira, and James. I didn’t know what was going on in their heads. I’d lost track of their motivations.
And then Michael, my friend and beta reader, suggested that I write one-page sketches of each of the characters before writing another word of the manuscript, which I did. I cannot overstate how much easier those sketches made the writing process. They forced me to define the characters and their motivations in my own mind. They also served as a “cheat sheet” I could use when writing the scenes, to make sure I didn’t forget details that might influence their decisions.
#3.) Listen to your critics. Well, not all of them. Don’t listen to the ones who just want to call you names, for example. There are also some people whose tastes in reading will differ from your taste in writing. That’s okay. But I highly recommend reading any review offering constructive insights into issues or problems the reviewer had with your book. Detach your ego and ask yourself if there’s a kernel of truth in their criticism, or something you might use to build on your own work.
This is how I learned Lesson #1, above. A kind reader e-mailed me to say that, while she had enjoyed Weaver, she felt that the book had pacing issues, and hoped I would take that into consideration in writing future books. When I thought about it, I realized she was right. As a (terrified) first-time novelist, it was hard to read criticism of my book, but if I’d ignored or dismissed her criticism, I would have done myself a disservice. I truly believe that both Atticus for the Undead and The Void are better books because I took what she said to heart.