Mood and tone

While my writing on Cannibal Hearts is going very well at the moment, I am starting to worry about the tone of the novel, which is definitely getting darker as the book progresses.

Catskinner’s Book, while full of violent and inexplicable events, maintained a lightness throughout, mostly due to James.  He had a certain innocence and naivety that I really enjoyed writing.  The split between James and Catskinner let me have the best of both worlds–a narrator who was at once a stone cold killer and childlike.

In Cannibal Hearts, James is losing his innocence.  It’s really inevitable.  The whole point of the first book is that James couldn’t go on as he had been, a disconnected drifter who relied on Catskinner to get him through bad situations.  The rules have changed, and he’s now on the radar of things that Catskinner can’t kill.  James has had to start being an active participant.

And that’s good, it shows evolution of the character.  I knew that Cannibal Hearts couldn’t just be more of the same.  But I am seeing James change in ways that aren’t as much fun to write.  He’s a sadder but wiser man, and he’s experienced some real loss for the first time in his life, because for the first time in his life he has something to lose.

I know how Cannibal Hearts is going to end–basically I have three more significant scenes to write, and the ancillary words to get from one scene to the next.  Each one is, in its own way, an introduction to a new kind of ugliness.

So we’ll see what happens.  I have plotted out five books in my head (after Cannibal Hearts, the next ones are The Worms Of Heaven, Zenith, and The Infanta) but I’m not sure if I’ll go straight into writing them when I’m finished with this one.  I may need a break from James’ world.  And, to be honest, readers may decide that they don’t want any more of this series–it might just be too bleak to be popular.

I will keep writing, I just don’t know if I’ll keep writing this.  I may see  if I can flesh The Knight And The Princess out into a full length novel.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Cannibal Hearts, On Writing, The Knight And The Princess and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Mood and tone

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    It is a tricky balance.

    At least you are addressing the issue; I have read series where the protagonist inexplicably lives an untouched life while discovering more horrors beneath the façade of modern life.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I really have to be true to my world and the characters, and that means following them into some pretty dark places. I wonder what that says about me as a person?

      • Dave Higgins says:

        Some people might say it showed you are a morbid soul open to the whisperings of evil, others might say you are a strong soul who does not hide from the truth of our selfish nature.

        Personally I consider the large number of crime writers who are neither clinically neurotic of psychotic reasonable evidence that imagining horrors and having them part of your life are different things.

  2. Hmm … well, I personally dislike overly dark books, but if that’s the sort of book you want to write, then by all means write it! I know there’s a big market for horror — would you classify Cannibal Hearts as horror?

    • MishaBurnett says:

      That’s a tough one–it’s not what I think of when I think “horror”, but I suppose it fits into horror as well as it fits into science fiction or fantasy.

  3. LindaGHill says:

    It’s funny how sometimes a story – or in my case almost always a character – takes you places you didn’t expect to go. I think the trick is to figure out the difference. If it’s the character then it’s probably a natural progression. If it’s the story I usually try to backtrack a bit, because if the character isn’t true then you’ve lost the plot.
    Am I close?

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Yes, you are, and in this case, I think it’s the characters being true to themselves. Each one is being true to his-, her-, or itself, and unfortunately that means they are acting at cross purposes.

  4. greenembers says:

    Palette cleansers are always good. Writing something different for a few days or weeks helps keeps things fresh, imo.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Yeah, and it just occured to me that I really need to work on The Fauxpocalypse Project when I am done with the first draft of Cannibal. Not that it’s much more cheerful…

  5. I’ve found that characters that are really flushed out will have dark moments. My first book was light-hearted and fun. The second one starts developing dark undertones and the main character’s innocence doesn’t make it through intact. Would you say that as an author, you’re trying to push the character toward the edge to help him grow? Not even on purpose, but it’s just happening as if it’s the natural evolution.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I don’t think I really thought through the implications of some of the choices I made when building my world. Now I’m finding that given the nature of the situation, becoming grimmer is really inevitable. It’s not a happy place that I’ve made.

  6. It sounds like the direction you’re going is a natural part of the evolution of the series and your character. I wouldn’t fight it just because you’re worried about the tone. Almost every book series I’ve ever read has sections or even entire books where the tone shifts while the MC is dealing with heavy stuff.

    I’ll use Harry Potter as an example in the hopes that most people know the story. Rowling’s early books are whimsical, fun, and adventurous, but as Harry gets older and the stakes get higher the tone becomes much darker. Harry himself becomes annoying. Now, some readers abandoned the series at that point, and I considered it. But I realized that Harry’s behavior made sense. I would have been far more annoyed if he had carried on through the entire series as courageous, curious, and never had a negative emotional reaction to all the events in which he’d been caught. That wouldn’t be realistic, even for fantasy.

    Harry eventually conquered and Rowling still has hordes of fans. Just sayin’…

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Yeah, Harry Potter is a good example of a series that starts light and grows dark over time. The difference is that there isn’t one big series villain in my work–there’s not going to be a final battle and evil is vanquished. Evil is inherent in the fabric of the universe, the best that my characters can hope for is to delay their inevitable defeat.

  7. mynewtruth3 says:

    Hi Misha,
    I am not particularly interested in the macabre, but I want to say that I appreciate your writing style. I can see that you are an extremely talented author. I believe I read one of your sonnets. Your use of the English language sets you apart from most others authors.
    I wish you well.

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