Recently I had a tutorial with one of my tutors, regarding my last submission ‘Imogen’s Dark Secret‘, a crime thriller novel that I started. I’m pleased to say I got a high grade, but I still wanted feedback to improve the opening to be able take the story forward. Here are some of the points mentioned by my tutor and my thoughts on them.
Be careful when mixing chronologies
‘Imogen’s Dark Secret’ was the first creative piece and novel that I wrote that had flashbacks within it and my course tutor said that I needed to keep an eye on the clarity of the story as he didn’t understand when I went back into different time periods. As advised previously, I formatted my character’s flashbacks in italics and asterisks and this is what I did. There were suggestions of how to make this clearer, but I didn’t think these suited my story.
However, every reader is different and other people said it was clear to them on which part of the story was which and followed the story easily. Sometimes it can be clear to the writer where we are but it is hard to communicate with the reader when these events are taking place. It is difficult to find the balance between making something complex for the reader or too simplistic. I want to be flexible. But maybe, making a clear distinction between the past and present versions of my characters will help and it would add to the psychological thriller aspect of the novel.
Incorporating subtitles or dates was one suggestion made to improve clarity to make the different time periods more cohesive with the story. However, I felt that adding dates would break the flow and immersion in a story like this. Then there were the suggestions to add extra sentences e.g. ‘It was two years ago when…’ it may become too repetitive, so I don’t think I will be using this suggestion.
Changing the Narrative/Perspectives
A difference in narrative may make the timelines clearer. In my submission, Imogen’s story was told in third person in both timelines. Having a narrator that comments on Imogen’s past is not as powerful as having Imogen dictate her own thoughts. In hindsight, first person and present scene flashbacks make the scenes more personal and accentuate Imogen’s PTSD.
Another suggestion which I’d love to experiment with is after introducing other girls within the story is to change to their perspective, in first person to see how they react to the events and their own state of mind. These may be girls who have just joined the ring or ones that have been in this situation for a long time. I can showcase more key events or repercussions that I have managed to research . This technique may or may not work, but if I can do it I think it would be very impactful and enhance the novel. I found the opportunity could open up multi-dimensional issues these girls can face. Nevertheless, it will be challenging to write these accounts especially if they are in different time periods during Imogen’s story. But I am willing to experiment. These avenues will hopefully draw the reader in even further and dramatise the novel.
Alternatively, diary entries with dates could be used to reflect the characters age and secrets of what’s happening to Imogen as she may not voice these out loud. I want to experiment with different narratives and using diary entries will allow me to create a more personal account from Imogen. The emotional impact of the story will be enhanced with diary entries.
Character Arcs and Psychology
Another change advised by my tutor was to ensure I differentiate between my protagonist’s two mindsets. By making present Imogen naive and present Imogen more hostile. I thought I had started to do this but re reading it, I see where I could build on it. This is something I think is important because sexual trafficking has a massive impact on girls mentally and emotionally. It’s important to show the personalities of the girls before and the lasting impact of abuse. To create dynamic character arcs I will need to emphasise the psychological age of Imogen and the other girls.
My plan is to show the control and influence Alessandro still has over Imogen in the present scenes and in the 10 months gap where she’s been away from him. There is no black and white in a story like this and there is this duality to Imogen and Alessandro’s relationship. It is an accurate depiction of abuse as many victims have an attachment to their abusers, making the story more psychologically accurate. Showing the psychology and the vulnerability of the characters, particularly the girls, will make my character arcs more credible.
My tutor agreed with me on this point so I am enthusiastic about taking this part forward.
Refining Important Events
Now that I have more time to work on this novel, I need to look at what is important to the story and what can be edited out. This story’s main focus is Imogen’s path forward after being groomed and I need to plan the relevant flashbacks brought on by the protagonist’s PTSD and what can be featured in snippets projected by the protagonist. To refine the story I need to strip down each event, see what is important for the progression of the novel. Prioritising some events over others adds momentum and it will highlight the important themes. I aim to keep the past scenes I have already written as they are vital in showing how Imogen found herself being sucked into the ring. I hope to use other past scenes which she can relate to in the present when she tries to help other girls in the ring.
Something else that was advised and I’d like to do would be including newspaper articles of some events made public and letters given to her by Alessandro. It would show smaller but significant events within the letters as her mind thinks back to that time. The newspaper articles and letters could highlight the seriousness of what happened to her which could also induce flashbacks. I also plan to refer to these if she starts to fall in love with Alessandro again.
The subject matter of the novel is based on true events that happen in society, so it needs to be credible as well as creative. It’s about finding that balance and this can only be done by refining my creativity, writing and research.
The feedback I received after my first submission was really helpful and there are some definite points I will take on board and experiment with. Right now, I’m not sure where to take Imogen’s Dark Secret exactly. I have done more research on shows like The Bill to see what episodes I can find with similar storylines. I found several on rape, obsession, domestic violence and drug addiction. Research has opened my eyes and allowed me to write with accuracy. I want to take it further and write it into my own novel. In the meantime, I am taking a break from it so I come back to it with a clear mind and tell the story the way I want it to be told.