Every writer when they sit down to start a book is faced with the conundrum of how their characters will come to life. How do they start writing the book? How do they allow the voices of the characters to speak to a wider audience through the page?
That was the challenge I faced when I sat down to write Spirit Warrior recently. Spirit Warrior is Book 2 in the Spirit Pass series and is a romantic western with a time travel component. The first book in the series was Indiana Wild. In the first book, Indiana Wild, we got to meet Allie and Jacob, who then went on to become the main leads in the second book, Spirit Warrior.
There were two options open to me as to how I should write Spirit Warrior; one was to start Spirit Warrior where Indiana Wild left off and the other option was to tell Allie and Jacob’s story as they were telling it to me in my head.
I made a conscious choice to start Allie and Jacob’s story when they insisted I should… when they first met. I did this because I needed to allow readers to see what Allie, in particular, was going through. A number of reviews for Spirit Warrior have mentioned that it was a mistake to write the story from when Allie and Jacob first met – that I should have started it from when they were galloping off into the sunset at the end of Indiana Wild.
Spirit Pass is a time travel/western romance series, which may lead readers to believe that the inevitable tension between the hero and heroine come from the tension between past and present. In actual fact, the conflict in Spirit Warrior comes from the internal life experiences of Allie and Jacob, rather than from their external environment. The setting was based in the past and present, but that was not what the story was meant to be about. It just happened to be where it was occurring. The story was in fact about two individuals faced with the challenges life had given them. For Allie, it was the fear of losing someone who she cared about again. For Jacob, it was knowing he might have to give up everything he and his brother had built and live a life in a world he was unprepared for.
For a moment, I ask that you place yourself in their positions and think of how you would feel and deal with such decisions. In reality, people have lived and done this hundreds of thousands of times before in our history. Every time someone we have loved has died or gone away or for the millions of people who have made the decision to leave their country or the only life they have known to journey to a place of uncertainty, a place that is strange/yet familiar, and given up everything they have for one reason or another.
I admit to being as insecure as the next writer about my books, however the negative reviews suggesting Spirit Warrior were a rehash of Indiana Wild did hurt. Some people understand ‘why’ it is necessary to tell a story a certain way. With Jacob and Allie, I had two choices, continue where Indiana ended and give little bits as to how they met and got to where they were, or tell the story from their point of view and what was happening to influence them. They both told me that was what needed to be done. The focus of the story was on them. Yes, some dialogue was the same because it involved the characters in the previous story, but that was a very small amount and only when it was absolutely necessary to blend the two timelines together. In my mind, I believed that if a reader really read the story, they would understand that it enhanced what was going on in the background of the previous book. It is important to realize that when I share a story, it is much like real life. Life does not always run in serial, but is often parallel. Just as you spend time with someone, such as your partner, spouse, or kids, during the day, then go about your daily life only to meet again, so do the lives of my characters. It would be the equivalent of me writing about your life, then the life of someone else you know. Your stories and timelines will be occurring at the same times and you sometimes meet and interact during that timeline, but then there are other things that are going on that you were not present for. In addition, each person has a different viewpoint of what is happening. As an author, I am fascinated by these different points of view and respect them as being important.
I spoke with several people about the reviews and one comment really got me thinking! My colleague’s comment was, “I think the problem is readers have gotten lazy because the majority of authors have gotten lazy: The next book starts where the previous book stopped. You’re not cookie cutter! You care about the story and take the time to blend & weave. Celebrate that because it’s an important part of who you are as a writer. This story needed to see how Allie & Jacob met and started their relationship. If you hadn’t of done that I guarantee more readers would be on your case for not telling a complete story. Yes, you could have done flashbacks, but blah not for this story. Personally, I loved that I got their full story from start to finish. I got to see Jacob struggle with modern/past times, I got to be there when Chris died, I got to understand in real time why Allie was closed off. That’s all important character development.”
And so the questions I would like to raise with my readers – because you and the characters are the most important part of why I write – are: Have readers gotten lazy? Have authors gotten lazy? Have we become so used to serial type books that we expect books to start where the previous one finishes? What is important to readers?
I would love your opinions. I ask that you be respectful, think about your answers, and be positive (ie. Don’t say something mean, just to be mean). Anyone who knows me and my stories know that I look for the good in everything. I value your opinions and comments.
For those in book clubs, I wondered if Spirit Warrior might be a good book to discuss and so I have created discussion questions for book clubs to use. Click here to download those questions and share with your book club friends.
Aka S. E. Smith