Readers, the Unfolding Story and the Author's Prerogative
Prerogative. There's an arrogant sounding word if ever I heard one. It almost requires a haughty tone and a straight back even to say it. But I'm neither haughty, nor am I sitting here writing this with a particularly straight back. Largely because I don't mean it to be arrogant. It's just the most appropriate word to describe the fact that the best person to tell any story is its author.
Recently I was told a reader was frustrated because the protagonists from The Heretic were not present in Defiance. They did not enjoy the book as a result. Perhaps the book as a whole didn't meet expectations, but the change of characters was identified vehemently as an issue. Now, I always knew it was a risk, stepping temporarily away from Jordi and Shepherd, but I felt that Weaver and Natasha, and also Elias, would suck the reader in too, given half a chance. I saw them, as do many readers, as extremely compelling characters with a major part to play in the telling of the story. I knew that in the third instalment, A Shroud of Night and Tears, the protagonists would be brought together and given answers to their most urgent questions (and the reader's). The major reveal that acts as the structural half-way point for the whole series, and the start of Act II for Shroud itself, would serve to explain all. New questions will arise, and more twists are to come, of course, but this is a series. I am spinning a tale that spans more than a handful of characters and takes place across a complex, diverse setting. It is not about a single set of events, but many sequences of events that interrelate and will make sense only when I want them to. I am weaving a story, creating suspense, unfolding it carefully and intricately to give you, the reader, what I feel will be the greatest pleasure. It may at times be frustrating, but aren't all good books? Don't they make you want to turn the pages to resolve that cliffhanger from the end of the last sequence?
The Heretic and Defiance are both complete stories. There are three acts in each; they are each structured to tell a story that has a conclusion. Sure, there are cliffhangers suggestive of more to come, but there is a denouement in both. Were I to have told the stories contained in those books in an interwoven way, in say one 500 page volume, neither would feel as if they were complete, because there would be no link between the two. They would be truly disjointed – an A-story and a B-story that never, in that volume, intersected. Told as two separate stories, but with a trail of breadcrumbs hinting a links to come – down the line in that all-important third volume that joins them together – they are more satisfying. Believe me, I have considered carefully how best to tell you this story.
In addition, some readers have seemingly been somewhat, albeit not tremendously, affronted by the preacher's tale scene at the end of The Heretic. This surprised me a little. The preacher tells that story, not some omniscient narrator. His motives are at that point unknown, and human history is otherwise shrouded in mystery. Why would any reader assume that Earth's true demise is as the preacher describes it and not some other root cause? Simply because the preacher said it? The words may written on the page, but they come from a character's mouth. Characters have desires, motivations and are not above misleading. It's not as if the preacher has been above manipulation throughout The Heretic – so why would you believe him now? I'm not preaching to you, he is preaching to Shepherd and Jordi. His motivations are his own.
I hoped readers would, by the end of Defiance, be able to trust me and realise that yes, I do have a plan and yes, I am not disorganised enough to introduce characters that I will not later weave back into the story. This is epic space opera, and it is a series. It was never going to focus on just two characters nor would those characters always tells the truth in the story. I realise readers will like the characters from The Heretic and will miss them in Defiance. I'm thrilled they do. But what other author writes a story which has an epic scope without introducing new characters at some point? We all have our favourites (I love Tyrion Lannister) and those we skim-read (I find Caitlin Stark tedious). I wondered briefly if I was opening myself up to criticism and/or unfavourable reviews by adopting the course I did. Should I care? Only if it stops others from reading the books. Reviews are social proof and poor reviews make it less likely to sell and therefore remain invisible in the Amazon slush pile (and unlikely to be picked up by new readers).
So we come back to prerogative. It is my prerogative to tell the story the way I want to. It is the reader's prerogative to be frustrated by it, perhaps even enough not to read the next book. I hope they won't be. I hope they will stick with me and wait to see what I have in store for them as the story unfolds in the way I want it to. If you liked The Heretic, and, despite missing Jordi and Shepherd, you liked Defiance, you will like A Shroud of Night and Tears even more. The story will unfold the way I want it to, because I want you to love it.
I wanted to explain why I've made some of the choices I have, so I've done it here. There is no more appropriate place to do it. I welcome readers expressing their opinions and hope even those that might have been frustrated still come back and read the next two books. And to those frustrated few, saddened by Jordi and Shepherd being absent from Defiance, I hope I can change your minds with A Shroud of Night and Tears.