By now, going on seventy-seven, should I expect to have learned everything---or at least most of it? Safe to say I haven’t. Not even close. A couple days ago I was again reminded of that.
Actually, since to my readers have been slow to offer their comments on my blogging efforts, I was glad to have her input. After all she knows what she’s talking about. She works for an agency, representing writers, selling their stories to publishers. She (I’ll call her Suzie) knows what her publishing clients want. And what they want---whether the story is a whodunit, an dark and sinister vampire saga, or a steamy romance---is fast moving action, the kind that grabs the reader on page one and never lets up.
Pretty hard to argue with that, eh? And I didn’t, until Suzie explained that the first chapter of Second Chances was a “painfully slow” start. Should I have let that upset me, even a little bit? Probably not. Did it? Yeah, at least “a little bit,” maybe more. Our conversation was over almost before it began. As often happens it was later that day, as I replayed Suzie’s blunt critique, before I realized why she and I were not seeing eye to eye on something I take so personally.
I began by asking myself where I’d gone wrong. It took a while to understand that, in fact, I was telling the story I wanted to tell exactly the way I want to tell it. Granted, it could probably be told better, but it says what I intended to say.
You see, in the books Suzie represents (I’ll label them “action” stories) it is the characters, the players, who keep things moving along---acting and reacting in ways that keep the storyline intact. That’s their role in the scheme of things, to provide the action, piece together the clues, stand up to the bad guys, and take chances---all in the name of advancing the plot. At every turn the players are there to serve the story.
Second Chances, like each of my books, is about folks who fit the profile of my October seekers---seniors looking to overcome the loneliness of life lived alone. They are the reason I’m writing the story. Their adventures---in the form of conflicts, wrong turns, and disappointments---are meant to help us know them better, rather than simply keep the story moving. The purpose of the story is to learn about them---to know them, to understand what they are dealing with, and how they cope. As one of those “Octobers,” that’s what interests me.
By the time I had worked my way through that line of reasoning I realized I had answered my own question. If the characters in a story exist primarily to keep the plot moving toward whatever action is intended, then my October tales don’t pass muster. If, on the other hand, the purpose of the story is to meet and know individuals I can relate to, and explore how they deal with the trials and traumas of a particular time of life---what I call the October Years---then I’m satisfied that I’ve done my best. Of course, I try to cover both bases---the people and the action. I know that’s what the best writers do. But for me the emphasis will remain on the “people” elements of the story.
Back on May 9th my post was titled Why would he write that kind of stuff? I ended that piece by admitting that I was “staking my claim in the tiniest slice of the market.” After all, I’m telling relational stories about October Years players. Not exactly mainstream.
I still believe that. But now I can see there is something else at work here. Returning to Second Chances, the story does begin slowly---though I might debate Suzie’s “painfully” description. That’s because instead of offering tantalizing hints of a crime, a conflict, or a romantic conquest, I am introducing people---the ones I’ll be following for the next three hundred pages. Truth to tell, I was in no hurry to move on to where their adventures would take them, not until I (and the reader) knew more about the players.
So here I am, an admitted amateur, writing “people” stories about old people. I suppose that means the “tiniest sliver of the market” keeps getting smaller. Makes me glad I’m having so much fun doing what I do.
As always, if you’re so inclined I’d appreciate your comments, posted below. Beyond that, if there are folks with whom you’d like to share this October Years post I hope you’ll pass it on. It’s an easy thing to do. Just click on the “M” at the bottom of this page to email the post, with the video, to any addresses you choose.