When I read Cherie Priest’s Brimstone last month, I’d hoped to use it for an Is Our Writers Learning post. But I didn’t like it much, and that would make four negative reviews in a row, so I decided not to (hopefully whatever I get to this month, I’ll find fun). But I did learn something, hence this post.
As I mentioned in blogging about City of Blades (cover by Sam Weber, all rights to current holder), it seems I find world-building much less fascinating than a lot of specfic readers. What turned me off to Brimstone was that of the two POV characters, Anne’s chapters for the first half of the book were all about world building and scene setting. See Anne go to Florida! See her learn all about spiritualism and tarot reading! See the small town she lives in! The other protagonist, Tomas, carries the weight of the plot at first; Anne’s just sort of there.
But the book sold, and garnered some good reviews. Which made me think again about all the scenes I cut from this draft of Southern Discomfort. As I’ve mentioned before, I had a lot of scenes with the townies discussing politics and life in Pharisee. They didn’t advance the plot, just explored and developed the concept of life in a sleepy Georgia county controlled by elves. They didn’t go over so well with my beta readers, and they didn’t work that well for me when I reread them. So I cut or reworked them.
So …. did I make a mistake? Is this something that my someday-audience would delight in if I kept them?
I honestly don’t think so. If I’m not satisfied with them, it’s unlikely anyone else will be. I could rework and improve them, and I’ve done that in the scenes that I’ve kept. Part of the problem was a complete lack of tension or conflict in many of them; I could go back, put some in.
But I don’t think that would fix them. One big difference between Brimstone and my book is that Priest has exactly two POV characters. I have several — Joan, Cohen, Maria, and that’s just the core cast. The world-building scenes (or county-building scenes at least) used lots more. Most of them only appearing once. I know that left my betas at sea. And there’s no way I can use Maria for them, even though she’s an outsider like Anne. The truth is, Maria just wants to get out of Pharisee ASAP, so she really doesn’t care about politics.
For the background scenes I did think worth keeping, I used Liz Mitchell in many of them. Giving her a larger role and tying her more closely to Pharisee ties them together. Plus in this draft she has conflicts that will (I think) add some conflict to the scenes. All that will help, I think. I’ll see what I make of it when I reread it, probably at the start of August (I think a month break will give me a clearer head.