Confession #6: Giving Your Book What it Needs vs What You Want it to Need

There’s something that I’ve sort of started to realize these past months. It was a slow realization, because it was a complex thought. And that is, the difference between what my book needs, and what I want it to need. You’re forewarned, this is a fairly long post (at least in comparison to my other ones), but I feel like it’s a pretty big issue. I’m willing to spend the time on it if you are.

If my post’s subject was a bit confusing, then let me try to explain it like this: Books are kind of like children. A book comes from a writer’s mind. The idea is conceived there and it develops there. You begin to plan for it, what it’s going to need and where it’s going to go. And then you release it into the world. You start writing it. And suddenly that story has a will of its own. Suddenly you realize that a much-loved character simply must die. Or that the romance between your two main characters can’t happen, at least not yet. Or the protagonists must begin to face his/her demons here rather than there. It’s not just the storyline itself, of course. Ideals for chapter lengths, word counts, that sort of thing… all of those can change once the story actually begins to flow.

Now, I’ve mentioned I’m a college student. I don’t have any actual experience with having a kid. But I do have younger siblings, and while I know that my love for them cannot match a parent’s love for their child, I also know how it feels to worry over their future and, to a certain extent, how it feels to want to push them in a certain direction rather than let them choose where they want to go.

Books are kind of the same way, especially for authors who prefer to plan. I have certain expectations for my book. And, as the author, there are certain things that I feel that need to happen in the story. And, of course, no matter how wild or off-course it gets from my original plan, it is still my story. However, beyond that, I must let my book become what it must. The more I try to dictate where it must go, the less it’ll read like an actual story.

For example, points of view in my book. As a fantasy novel, it seems like the best choice of PoV would be to write it in third person. And some may think that’s the best way to go. But my writing partner wants it in first person, and after some consideration, I feel inclined to agree with her. It’s not about breaking genre norms. It’s that I truly think that it would be a completely different story if I told it any other way. This example is a mesh of what I need and what my story needs.

I write the story from three points of view: the male main character, the female main character, and the male antagonist. And this was something that I originally struggled with. I read somewhere (I don’t remember where) that a story really only has one main character. And, I think for my book at least, it’s probably the male MC. But the female MC is just as important to the story as he is, and she’ll get her focus in Book 2 anyway. So while I considered the possibility that the story might be told better with one perspective, I decided that ultimately, having two was the best way to go. And then the antagonist came along, and I didn’t really want to write chapters from his perspective, because that felt like cheating somehow. But there were things that he did that my readers needed to know about but my MCs had to remain oblivious to. So I write his in a third person PoV, and write less chapters in his perspective, to mark how he’s not quite a focus character in the story. And, in the end, I might change his perspective to one of his cohorts, one who knows less about what’s actually going on but who still plays a fairly large role in the story. Either way, structure-wise, this was something that my story needed that I wasn’t sure I wanted to give it.

Plot-wise, there was a character who I know needed to die (or at least leave the scene) in order for the female MC to move on with her life. But the exact scenario of his death/departure was up for grabs. I didn’t really want to kill him, because there was a very select number of scenarios in which I could construct his death, and most of them seemed so dark that it would kill any possibility of a strong bond between MMC and FMC. But to let him go would mean there being a possibility of him returning and messing everything up. I was lucky, because it turned out that the plot of the story ended up leading me to a place where neither of the MCs killed him, but he did end up dying. Changes in plot are easier, in my opinion, because it’s easy to recognize how the plot will make it better. But the structure of the story? The format? That’s harder.

Now, onto an example of what I needed. Simply put, as I have two first person PoVs, I knew that the hardest part of the story was making sure that their voices (and their chapters) were distinct enough to tell apart. Before this became an actual series, my writing partner and I simply used two different colors for the two different characters, so we’d be able to tell who was who. At that time, our changes in PoV were not linked to chapters, but simply to parts within the chapter. People call this head-hopping, but even if I’d known about it then, I doubt it would have been a big deal. At that point, it was still just a project. When we decided to do it chapter-by-chapter instead, we kept the color coding because we thought it was a good idea.

But, at least in my books from the series, maybe it just gave me an excuse not to make sure my character’s voices were really developed. (I mean, for the books we’re coauthoring in the series, when two people take charge of two different perspectives, the voices automatically sound different, because the characters are pulled from two different people.) Perhaps I thought ‘hey, as long as I have two different colors for two different characters, the voice doesn’t matter quite as much because the color says it all’. I don’t think it’s as bad as all that; they are two distinct characters in my mind. However, naturally, in my last draft, I will ensure that the color does not have that effect. Probably, to submit to an agent/publisher, it needs to be all black ink anyway. I was able to get some outside advice on the subject, which makes it a little easier to decide what to do, but I’m still conflicted.

Any personal thoughts from you guys would be amazing, of course. But other than that, have any of you found yourself in a situation where your book needed something that you didn’t want to give? Or vice versa, perhaps?

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