You don’t release a book when it’s perfect. You release a book when it’s as good as you can make it OR the deadline arrives, whichever comes first. Since I published Too Close to Miss myself, I went with the former.
Don’t get me wrong: “good enough” is plenty good, if the reviews are any indication. But I struggled in turning my protagonist, Mara Cunningham, into a real character. I chose a female protagonist, and women remain a mystery to me, so that didn’t help matters. But I knew I could add more depth to her. I just wasn’t sure how. She was complex! She had clear motivations and she acted on them! She had doubts but she didn’t let them defeat her! What was I missing?
It wasn’t until I started in on the next book in the series that I realized what else Mara needed. In Too Close to Miss, Mara’s investigating a deep mystery: who killed the wife and son of the married man whom she was sleeping with? She’s a complicated but determined troublemaker, dealing with her own complicated and troublesome past. With, um, determination.
In other words, Mara doesn’t want anything that the plot doesn’t also want.
As far as tight storytelling goes, this isn’t a bad thing. There’s no extraneous business and it keeps the reader flipping pages. But as far as realistic characterization goes, there’s something missing. I honed Mara down into a whip smart crimefighting attack dog and set her loose. It makes for a compelling read. But what would you and Mara talk about at the corner pub?
What does the reader want? To uncover the mystery (“what’s going to happen next?”). What does Mara Cunningham want? To uncover the mystery. These two goals shouldn’t be in conflict, but I’m not surprised some readers wanted to know more about Mara than I revealed.
Fortunately, it’s possible to create a compelling thriller with plenty of characterization. And, fortunately, the next book in the series (of which I’m editing the second draft as you read this) has loads. Fans of the first book will be delighted to learn that Mara has a romantic relationship! She has trouble at work! She has friends who support her, and whom she supports in turn! Normal human stuff.
Of course, she also plunges headlong into a mystery that pits her against ruthless killers, corruption at the highest levels, and her own complicated past. You’d be disappointed if she didn’t.
What I’ve learned about writing: no one wants to read about a shark. Characters need more than just a relentless drive to keep the plot moving. They need the human concerns that all of us recognize. Find a way to evoke these concerns through action, especially action that complements the main narrative, and you have a great story.
If you thought Mara’s characterization was perfectly all right, then let your friends know via Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or old-fashioned word of mouth.