The other day I was chatting with fellow writer Rachel Summerhill, when she asked a question that got me thinking. The subject of our conversation was my novel, King’s Envoy. Rachel had just finished it, and had told me she would post a review on Amazon and Goodreads. I was thrilled, of course. It is always lovely when someone takes the trouble to record what they like about a novel, and say how eagerly they are looking forward to the next book in the series. This is what we writers thrive on – the knowledge that others have taken as much out of a novel as we put into creating it. It’s not necessarily an ego thing (although it might be for some). What it’s really about is knowing you have made a bond, both physical and spiritual, with a complete stranger. That, to me, is still a very special feeling.
But that isn’t what got me thinking. In her email, Rachel also asked me various questions about the plot and the characters. Very interesting questions. She made some assumptions, based on what she’d read in King’s Envoy, about how the story might continue. They were questions I didn’t want to answer (sorry, Rachel!) because I didn’t want to spoil her enjoyment of books two and three. But they did get me thinking. They made me recall an earlier review I’d received, where the reviewer mentioned a feeling of the reader having been “played”.
At the time, I wasn’t sure whether this comment was a negative, a positive, or simply a statement. I didn’t really give it too much thought. Rachel’s plot questions brought it back into my mind and I began to wonder if any work of fiction can be created without the reader being played.
After all, isn’t that what mystery novels do? What thriller or murder novel would entertain so well if the reader wasn’t constantly being deceived, or pointed in the wrong direction? Even the gentlest of period romances have an element of playful misdirection . The heroine is going to marry the dashing hero – Oh no! He’s turned out to be a bounder, or worse, already married, and she’s left nursing a broken heart. Even Agatha Christie wouldn’t have sold half so many novels if the perpetrators of all those foul murders had been easy to spot, hiding behind the butler.
I will be honest. When I was writing my Artesan novels, this issue of deliberate misdirection was not uppermost in my mind. It was only once the series was finished that I realized it was, in essence, a mystery thriller. It came as a surprise to me – I thought I was writing an epic fantasy adventure! It just goes to show how important it is for a writer to read. So much can be absorbed simply by reading the work of the masters.