Friday, October 15, 2010

Taking Risks in your writing

I once listened to a famous author talk about taking risks in her books. She told a workshop full of readers that she sometimes scared the shit out of herself when she wrote certain scenes. This author had once taken the risk of killing off the heroine and then bringing her back as a ghost. She really made her fans mad with that one! That particular risk didn't pay off for her, but others she took certainly did. J.R. Ward is a huge bestseller in the Paranormal world.

The problem we have, as writers, is deciding whether it is actually worth it to take those risks. A recent example, for me, is my newest Honeybun book, A Honeybun in Hell. The book is a standalone psychological thriller/paranormal in a romantic suspense series. I did scare the shit out of myself with that one. I knew there would be some readers who just don't like paranormal and would be disappointed to find one in the middle of a romantic suspense series. But I felt strongly about the story so I wrote it and sent it off to my editor. She didn't throw up all over it, so I took a deep breath and went with it.

Of course my first review of the book was not glowing...though she gave it 4.5 stars for the Honeybun factor #:0)...because the book was different from the others. The jury is still out over whether my risk will pay off, but I stand by the decision to write the book the way I did. The Honeybun Hunks series is about 8 brothers, each brother gets a book. I made the decision early on that the books wouldn't be cookie cutter. With eight books in a series you just can't have them all the same. Even the most rabid fan would lose interest by about the fifth or sixth book if there was nothing new on the pages when they read them. So far I have honored that vow to myself...I've remained true to the series...and I'm okay with the occasional disappointed reader because of that.

Another risk I took recently was in the third book in my Gods of Love series, Nocked Senseless...absolutely one of my favorites of all the books I've written. Hermes is a hoot, and the chemistry between him and Nidras was downright nuclear. But, although most of the book is written from Hermes' POV, I took a risk and wrote the final scene in the book from Nidras' POV, because I know most of my readers are women, and I thought it would be fun for them to read the HEA from a woman's perspective. Did it work? I'm not sure. Again, the first review lamented the ploy. But I haven't gotten any hate mail from readers so I think that's a good thing! #:0)

The moral of the story, I think, is this. We need to follow our hearts when we write. Even if we disappoint someone else along the way. I firmly believe that our stories are already created in our heads, and the process of writing is really a process of digging them out a little bit at a time. If that's true, then those risks we think we're taking really aren't risks at all. And in the process of putting ourselves out there, scaring the shit out of ourselves, if you will, we keep the blood pumping and surprise our readers.

I'm sure you've heard the old adage that there are only a handful of stories in the human realm, and that every tale we tell is just a derivation of one of those stories. Well, if you look at it that way, it's truly a gift we give our readers if we can surprise them.

So get out there and follow your heart. Break a few writing rules. (sorry editors #:0) If you do it well, your editor will support your decision to do it. And try to look at the naysayers as proof that you've done your job. If you had exactly met their expectations that would mean you were predictable.

And let me be the first to tell you, predictability sucks! #:0) Have fun!


Anonymous said...

Fabulous post!
I, for one, absolutely agree with you. What’s the fun in writing if you can’t take a few risks and break a few rules? One of my main goals in writing was to step outside of that little box we authors are placed in. In the big scheme of things, all readers want is a great story. Something that makes them mad, something that makes happy, laugh, cry, curse out loud…It’s our job as authors to pull that plethora of emotions from our reader, then get them to the point where when they put the book down, they’re glad they read it. A few gasps along the way makes the read all that more enjoyable. ;o)

Sam Cheever said...

Thanks Yvonne! You're absolutely right, strong emotions are what cause a story to stick in the reader's mind and make it worth the journey to read the book. I'll admit I don't have much patience with lukewarm stories. I lose interest very quickly. But give me an emotional roller coaster and I'm in that seat, screaming, with my hands up in the air. Delicious! Thanks for stopping by!