Dilemma: when does a novel need a family tree?
I am in the editing phase of my fifth novel. It is the stage at which my editorial team are reading through the early drafts and giving me their initial corrections. But with this book, I find myself faced with a new dilemma. My series of books are mystery thrillers and often revolve around family secrets and past lives becoming gradually unravelled throughout the novel.
Yet I have received feedback from some of my readers (not the majority) that they would like a family tree at the start of the book. Now, I like to respond to the requirements of my readership and I have taken this suggestion very seriously. In fact, I’ve spent the last two days producing family trees for the first few pages of this new book. However, upon reflection, I am feeling reluctant about adding it. As far as my books are concerned, they tend to revolve around the unfolding of hidden truths. If I lay out all the details at the very start, it will actually detract from people’s enjoyment of the tale. Worse than that, it might give away elements of the plot. My editors all seem to agree.
Sometimes, we have to accept that the whole story won’t be revealed to us until the very end, by which time all will become crystal clear. Patience and perhaps the occasional need to flick back to an earlier section of the book for clarification are required. But this will be more than repaid by a genuine shock and thrill at the conclusion.
If I make the mistake of promising a future surprise to my nine year old daughter, she cannot rest until she knows what it is. I try hard to persuade her how much better the experience will be if she has no idea of what is coming. Sadly, it is often without success, although, I’m hoping this is a trait she will eventually grow out of!
I think I have already decided. The book will remain as it is. I must resist the urge to spoil the natural evolution of the plot. We, as readers, may be occasionally unsure of where the road is taking us, but we should have confidence that the author is leading us in the right direction. All writers want their readers to enjoy the journey, as well as reaching the final destination. Sometimes, less is definitely more.