As a writer, they tell you not to read your reviews. Once your work gets some traction and a broader audience, what happens is people come across it that turn out to not like it. And they like to let you know, sometimes in perplexing ways. This is the internet, after all. Thankfully, I have yet to be sent a picture of a gaping anus.
I go through periods of reading my reviews and then stepping away from them, not so much because I can’t take the criticism but because when I start nearing the end of a current work in progress (as I am with Commune 4 right now), I tend to go into lurk mode and focus hard on the finish line. When the end is in sight, I start charging for the barn like a tired, old horse.
So yeah. Periods of reading reviews and periods of reading nothing at all. They tell you not to read them, mostly out of some fear that the budding author will see either criticism or praise for a given narrative “thingy” and start to second guess themselves regarding the direction of their story, especially if that direction is a bold departure.
Unless you’re a guy like me, and you tend to read the negative reviews for a laugh.
And I don’t mean the well thought-out critiques – those I read just to learn from. A well written, educated criticism is fucking gold if you have the brains to see it that way. Nah, I’m talking about the other stuff. You know what I mean. This is the internet, after all.
I never respond to this latter form of…oh, let’s call it feedback. Until now. But I’m not doing so for the person who left it – that would be a waste of both my time and the “critic’s”. Given the wording, I’m fairly certain my response would fall on deaf ears.
But I figure I’d better explain myself to you guys – the ones coming along for the ride, and enjoying yourselves along the way (thank you). Mostly, because there are no small amount of you who have pointed out explicitly that one of the things you’ve loved about these books thus far is the interview format in which they’re presented. That the first-person delivery allows you to feel as though your seeing the world through the characters’ eyes.
I’ll post an excerpt of the criticism to which I refer regarding Commune: Book Three here:
“For a series that’s supposed to be the history of a commune transcribed from interviews with it’s [SIC] members the switch to third person narrative was a terrible idea.“
Firstly, I can tell you guys that I, as the author of this series, was thoroughly astonished to learn that I had so totally misunderstood what these books were supposed to be. All I can really say is: where the hell was this guy to guide me when I was writing the damned thing? I feel like had I just had access to his clear expertise earlier in the process, we could have avoided this critical blunder; assuming, as I am, that he knows how the story is going to end, the overall plan, etc…
Joking aside, I don’t really care that this guy took issue with C3 – it seems he read the book and ended up with a sour face because he wanted more of book two. That’s cool. I’m glad he liked C2 and a little apologetic (but only barely) that the 3rd didn’t live up to his specific expectations.
But I did want to let the rest of you know what’s going on and why things have to shift the way they do. Yeah, the third book isn’t told in an interview format. It’s third-person, past tense all the way, with excerpts from Brian Chamber’s journals scattered throughout to kind of ween you folks off the old formula. There were a few reasons why it had to be this way, as I hope you’ll agree:
- Foremost, the world had to expand in this book. I needed to get into the concept of factions (large groups of people aligning against each other) and there really wasn’t any good way to stick to the first person narrative style while realizing this goal. I mean, I guess I could have done, but you would have been left with complete strangers just showing up out of nowhere with zero explanation, wondering why you should care at all about anything that happens to them. Lame. The third book jumps between several different geographic locations and, as the author, I needed a little more narrative freedom to shift from place to place and group to group. Trying to make this work while maintaining the interview format felt, to me, like those shaky-cam found footage movies. You always get to a point about halfway through where the heroes are running away from the monster or the asteroid or the ghost, or whatever the hell it is, and you begin to wonder, “Why the fuck is that guy still carrying the camera around?! Just drop the goddamned thing and run! Get the gun! Drop the camera and get the Christing gun!!!” Well, me maintaining the interview mechanic into the third book felt like the asshole holding onto the camera while the monster was busy eating me from the legs up. It’s kind of idiotic when you think about it. I had to drop the camera and run my ass off.
- Books One and Two happened in the past, so it made sense to do them in the manner I chose. Starting at book Three, things are happening NOW. This is the present. This was always the plan. The only way I could have made it more NOW would have been to write the story in present tense, which I goddamn refuse to do; I hate present tense narrative more than butt-chugging college douche-bags. Call it a personal taste. Like butt-chugging.
- And this is just a minor one, though still significant: you eagle-eyed so-and-sos were starting to use the mechanic to figure out who lives and who dies. Pretty simple: if a person has a POV chapter, they pretty obviously survived long enough to tell their story. Yeah, I’m on to you, buster. I’m not that bent out of shape over it but…sorry. You don’t have that hint anymore. All of the time spent with people sitting down with Brian and relating their tales? That’s in the past. That happened in the before. Nothing’s set in stone from this point forward. Buckle up.
So hopefully this will serve as a reasonable explanation as to why I’m shifting from a narrative style that so many of you seem to have fallen in love with. I get it, man, new shit is uncomfortable. But we have to go explore the new shit, guys, I’m sorry. If I keep doing the same old thing over and over again, this is going to get stale really fast. And then we’ll be here after the twenty third book or whatever, nothing at all will have been resolved within the story, and we’ll all be discussing how tired my writing has gotten and how things just feel like they’re drudging on with no end in sight.
Repetition is no good. The formulae that worked yesterday needs to be burned to the ground on the day after, such that you’ve good fertilizer for the new. It’s that or the story turns into that one joke you’ve heard for the fifteenth time, probably from a precocious kid who fucked up the punchline. We tell ourselves we want more of the same thing, but you know what happens when you actually get it?
Jaws 3D, man.